The Man Booker longlist, announced last week, included four first-time novelists. This week we talk to all four about the stories behind their books. First up is Yvvette Edwards, author of A Cupboard Full of Coats.
Yvvette Edwards was packing for her summer holiday when she heard from her agent that she had made the Booker longlist.
“She had to repeat it to me slowly and then I had to go online and look at the Man Booker website and see for myself,” says Edwards, speaking by phone from Portugal.
“It was a very surreal moment. I feel like I’ve gone from 0-60mph in five seconds.”
A Cupboard Full of Coats tells the story of Jinx who has spent her life paralysed by guilt since her mother was murdered 14 years earlier. She is forced to revisit the past when an an old friend of her mother’s turns up on her doorstep.
The seed of the idea for the novel goes back 20 years.
A friend of Edwards, who had managed to extract herself from a difficult relationship, showed her a newspaper article about the ex-partner being convicted for the murder of his next girlfriend.
“Every so often it would come up in my mind and I thought there was probably a book there,” says Edwards.
“Over a couple of years I came up with plot so that there was a murder as a backdrop but there were other characters in the foreground.”
One of her favourite characters is Lemon, whom Edwards says has many attributes of her late grandfather. “When I was writing Lemon I could hear my grandfather chuckling in the background.”
Edwards, who was brought up in Hackney and is of Montserratian-British origin, developed the characters at writing workshops.
After a “false start”, she spent eight months getting the first draft together, and then another year editing it.
“I sent it off into the big world trying to find an agent, and got a series of rejections, and so I did another major edit shifting my chapters around a bit,” admits Edwards.
“It’s really been through the wash many times to get where it is now.”
The author was taken by surprise when her agent pointed out to her that the novel contained no white characters.
“I’m from an Afro-Caribbean background, but I’ve lived in England all my life, so I think I automatically used characters from a background and culture that I’m familiar with.
“When my agent pointed it out to me, and said she really enjoyed that about it, I did an inventory of my characters in my head and I couldn’t believe that I missed something that was so glaringly obvious!”
Edwards’ holiday reading includes Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. She intends to catch up with the other Booker hopefuls when she gets home.
Meanwhile, she is keen to get get writing again alongside her job as a benefits assessor and raising her family in London.
“I do have another novel filling my head, and I’m desperate to get going on it.”
The shortlist of six authors will be announced on 6 September with the winner of the £50,000 annual prize named on 18 October.