‘One of the most exciting writers of the black urban experience’ The Times
NOMINATED FOR THE 2016 CILIP CARNEGIE MEDAL
ALEX WHEATLE'S FIRST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
'What a gripping tale of family and friends, love and loyalty... Lemar's voice is so strong and I loved the humour in it too.' Malorie Blackman, Children's Laureate
'This first young-adult novel from an award-winning black British writer is a treat. Breathing new life into a genre currently obsessed with vampires, dystopian visions or mawkishly sentimental stories, this tale set in a contemporary high-rise estate is topical and also a triumph of language... Wise as well as witty, understanding rather than blinkered, this novel is a joy to read.' Independent
'Some girl called me Liccle Bit in Year 7 and it stuck," says 14-year-old Lemar, the protagonist of Alex Wheatle's debut YA novel. The humour is strong and edgy. A boy called McKay teases Liccle Bit about his "Oompa-Loompa height and slavery days haircut". Someone overweight is called a "fat salad-hater". The novel shows how easy it is for an inner-city youngster to get drawn into a bad situation. Manjaro, who manipulated Lemar, is a menacing gang figure. Although the parts about a turf war on an estate are very bleak (victims of killings are referred to as having been "deleted" or "blazed") the book does contain strong messages about love and loyalty. And hats off to designer Sophie Burdess and illustrator Dan Evans for an arresting front cover.’ Telegraph, Best YA Books of 2015
'This is a book that sings with warmth, in spite of its tough setting - in the midst of a gang war - and contains lines that dance. A gritty delight - a liccle smile on every page.' Herald Scotland
'The novel is a triumph in observational writing, accurately capturing the rhythms and flavours of Black British life. The dialogue is witty, fast and very funny, adding to the tragedy of the action that sees Lemar drawn from being a "good boy", to one who gets in deep with gang life.' Huffington Post
The second shortest 14 year old in his class, Lemar – Liccle Bit to his friends - feels he may never get a chance with Venetia, the hottest girl in school. At home life is crazy too with a mother too busy to pay him any attention, a sister with a foul temper and a baby by the local gang leader, a dad who left when he was seven. He does have his two best friends, his grandmother’s cooking and his talent for drawing. Just when Venetia asks him to draw her portrait, he is pulled deeper into the gang scene with the pressure mounting and the local inter-gang war escalating. He needs to get out of this mess and save his family from harm and he’s about to find out how hard that is. With all Alex’s brilliance for dialogue and bringing to life London’s streets, Liccle Bit is a story of redemption, of love, of family, of trying to hold your head up, of one boy’s journey.
Atom Books/Little Brown UK (WEL)
Au Diable Vauvert France
The Ishmael Tree USA
Material: finished copies (288pp).
'This has "classic" singing from every page. Crongton Knights is a joyous shout of youthful exuberance… Wheatle's Twain-like command of patois never falters. Crongton Knights is as enriching and life-affirming as McKay's jerk-chicken stir fry, the recipe for which is helpfully added at the end. A total gem for any age.' Independent
'Readers who enjoyed Liccle Bit are in for a treat… Continual banter is laced with excellent near-the-knuckle jokes, sustained without a break over nearly 300 pages. Behind the vocabulary there is also a gripping story where group loyalty is put to the severest test. Young readers could learn plenty of useful lessons about survival from this story, which never lets up and has much of value to say.' Books for Keeps
Alex Wheatle's second YA novel.
Living on the South Crongton estate has its worries - and life for McKay has been even tougher since his mum died. His dad has been working all hours to keep the bailiffs from their door. His brother is always out riding the streets at night, tempting trouble. And now, having strayed off his turf on a 'heroic' (if misguided) mission to help out a girl, McKay finds himself facing a friend's crazy ex-boyfriend, a group of kids on a mega power trip and a notoriously violent gangster with a vendetta that hits close to home.
Poor McKay never asked for trouble... but during one madcap night of adventure and danger, he will find out who his true friends are and what it means to stick with your family.
Crongton Knights is a very funny, very moving story that shows that although life is testing, the lessons learned the hard way are the ones you'll never forget.
Atom Books/Little Brown UK (WEL); published March 2016
The Ishmael Tree USA
Material: Finished copies.
'From time to time, a new book arrives which catches its moment in an almost uncanny grip.' The Independent
BRENTON BROWN is a fatal love story about a man who never got over his first love and has been unable to form any real relationships since. That first perfect love was with his half-sister and cannot be.
Juliet is consumed with guilt because she knows that her half brother, Brenton, grew up in children’s homes with no family while she received their mother's love and had it easy. She married Clayton, a successful banker, to please her mother. She respects him even if she doesn’t love him and he treats her daughter Breanna as his own. Clayton has always suspected something went on and is still going on with Juliet and Brenton.
Both Juliet and Brenton cannot let go (physically or emotionally) from each other. His long-time friend Floyd realises this and persuades Brenton to start a new life in another country. Juliet's best friend also advises her to keep away from Brenton. Their good intentions fail and, while Breanna battles with her own insecurities and tragedy, Juliet and Brenton pay the ultimate price.
For all fans of BRIXTON ROCK this is the long-awaited follow up. But it also stands alone and will bring Alex more readers than ever before. It has all the hall-marks that have made his novels such a success – family ties, love, tragedy, humour as well as bringing the streets of London and its characters alive like no other writer around.
'Wheatle's dialogue sings.' Guardian
'What distinguishes Brenton Brown, as with Brixton Rock, is a rich layering of motive and emotion that lifts his protagonist far above the pundits' platitudes... Above all, in Brenton's still-enraged mind, social and psychological obstacles to his contentment fuse. So he – and we - can hardly see the joins. That complex motivation makes Wheatle a true novelist, not a sociologist – along, of course, with the robust dialogue, streetwise humour and muscular, mischievous vernacular that grace this book.
Via the mixed feelings and scrambled identity of its hero (who even in his hard-working artisan's life can seem to younger tearaways like "a proper Brixton badman"), it does perform fiction's proper role. It makes us see that strife – on the streets or in the mind – may have many fathers. Both actors and victims, free to change but pressured to repeat the patterns of the past, Brenton and his fellow-Brixtonians show that acts (however reckless) have multiple causes. But they also have "consequences" – of guilt, of hurt, of harm – that will "last a lifetime".'Boyd Tonkin, Independent
"While this book was finished long before the (UK) riots, it reminds us of the human beings behind the television pictures. Wheatle understands more than he condemns, but he is tough on his characters. (...) ultimately, this book is about hope. A traumatised childhood, a spell in jail, and getting in with the wrong crowd does not have to mean a life sentence." Tribune
Arcadia Books UK (WEL)
WF Howes Audio
Material: finished copies (294pp).
With this novel the Brixton Bard brings the trilogy that starts chronologically with ISLAND SONGS, followed by EAST OF ACRE LANE, right up to date. Dennis is a 23 year old Black British man sitting in jail. In the first person he tells us how he got there, beginning at the beginning. Dennis is from a good hardworking family, not poor, not rich. His parents value education and Dennis has a good brain. But with the need to impress his peers, get the right clothes, earn quick money he finds himself immersed deeper and deeper in South London's gang culture where young black men convert to Islam without the Muslim communities support just to give them a sense of power and the ability to get rid of their rivals, kicking them to pieces in the name of Allah. When his best friend Noel dies at the hands of one of these 'Muslim' gangs, Dennis finds himself with some serious choices to make. A glimpse of real life on the streets in inner cities today, this fast paced, moving, insightful and frightening novel is Wheatle at his unforgettable best.
‘The plot moves quickly, and even though the story is clearly location specific, race seems light years from the agenda. Instead, the author seems keen to detail an urban blight that could affect anyone, from any city. The power of love is evident in every grimy chapter, whether at home or on the streets. Many of the novel's relationships are strong and true. Wheatle is a sharp-eyed observer of the modes of behaviour and language that make up his fictional world. As such, he can't help but fill every page with hard-boiled authenticity. Clever links with previous works mean that former characters are either referred to, or turn up in unexpected cameos, making The Dirty South a welcome treat for fans of his oeuvre.’ Courttia Newland, Guardian
‘Wheatle is a man with a mission. He believes that truth has to be articulated. Good stuff.’ Sunday Express
‘Authentic, witty and gritty’ The Times
'Wheatle has written a compelling novel that does not disappoint. It highlights the temptations of thug life on offer for young black men growing up in Brixton, and disaffected youth culture, as well as engaging with issues of our times.' Aesthetica Magazine
'The Dirty South has many points to make about the black urban youth experience in Britain, but it makes them without bitter recrimination. It’s told with wit, verve and style… I laughed far more than I cried. But I did cry too. Like Shane Meadows in the film world, Wheatle shows that every life has moments of beauty – even lives right at the bottom of the pile. There’s also a deep understanding of the social milieu at work, and although the book is written in a casual style, with patois and slang dialogue, themes of alienation, lack of opportunity, failing education, family cohesion and social history are crafted seamlessly in.' The Book Bag (Five star review)
'Brilliant... Often brutal but always compassionate, a galvanizing piece of work by someone who obviously knows these mean streets.' Kirkus Review
'Wheatle has the ability to describe Brixton and its transformations with a clear, lively and ironic style, which raises his works over so much literature… THE DIRTY SOUTH and EAST OF ACRE LANE are dynamic texts impregnated with strong evocative power, building to real insight into the life of the neighbourhood.' Il Fatto Quotidiano
Serpent’s Tail UK (WEL)
Edizioni Spartaco Italy
Material: finished copies (214pp).
'She wondered what kind of world she had brought her daughters into - the tedious cycle of rural Jamaican life. No chance for them to set off upon adventures and see the outside world.'
But sisters Jenny and Hortense Rodney, descendants of the fierce Maroon people, do get to see the world, and Island Songs is their story. Growing up in rural Claremont, working amid the hustle and bustle, lawn parties and 'houses of joy' in Trenchtown, the two sisters take a chance and move to England with their husbands, that far-off land of riches, where they settle down to motherhood amongst the jazz cafes and bleak streets of Brixton.
'Fire-nettle' Hortense and her husband Cilbert dream of finding prosperity through hard work in England, and eventually being able to return to Jamaica a wealthy family. Whilst Jenny, tied by the strong and complex bonds of sisterhood, follows Hortense in her travels and brings with her Jacob, her husband, who establishes the first black church in south London.
A beautiful evocation of twentieth-century Jamaica, its history and traditions, and equivocal status as an overlooked outpost of the dwindling British Empire, Island Songs is an epic of love, diaspora, and sorely tested family loyalties. Many stories are told, but many more secrets are never revealed.
'The novels, Island Songs and East of Acre Lane, are two must-reads - they grab your heart, not with pity but wonder that such beauty can come from such a life.' The Independent
‘Fabulously witty patois dialogue… evocative’ Independent on Sunday
‘A novel brought to life by a wealth of vivid detail and a superb cast of supporting characters. Alex Wheatle has a real talent for understated, convincing dialogue. Particularly striking are the evocations of the ruthless Maroon people, from whom the sisters are descended.’ Big Issue
‘Most intriguing is the complex love-hate relationship between the siblings. With credible characters and a gripping story-line, this is a fitting tribute to a beautiful island and its people.’ New Nation
‘In Island Songs, [Wheatle] proves that he is an enthralling storyteller of remarkable range.’ Jamaica Sunday Observer
'I dare you not to be mesmerised by the 'susu' talk of the church congregation, the daily annoyances of box drink vendors and the street language of Brixton. Wheatle's description of the simplicity of Jamaican life 'back in the days' floats you into the fields of callaloo and sweet potato with the sound of off-key church vocals in the back. It brings a new dimension to the struggles of the people of that period and shows just how much hope they had for the 'gold streets of Englan'. This novel will be nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in similar circumstances and a breath of fresh Jamaican air for anyone else. So, sit back and pick up the time-travel book that delivers a real insight into 20th century Jamaica and her offspring.' The Voice
Allison & Busby UK & USA
Au Diable Vauvert France
Material: UK & French editions (331pp).
Biscuit feels like his life is running out of control. He needs to sort himself out fast, but how? Biscuit and Coffin Head hustle on the front line for Nunchaks. He wants to give it up but he also needs to support his family – his mother, his sister Denise and his brother, Royston. He knows he should be looking for a job, Carlo tells him that every time they meet. Perhaps he should listen to Jah Nelson, who tells him that education is the key. But Biscuit has chosen a bad time to sort himself out: Brixton is angry – temperatures are high and ready to burst and, worst of all, Denise has caught the eye of Nunchaks. As the riots begin, Biscuit has to make a choice, whatever the consequences, that will change his life forever.
‘Alex Wheatle's second novel is a rhythmic, fast talking tour of the tower blocks of South London… It is this blend of frantic action and thoughtful writing that ranks Alex Wheatle as one of the most exciting writers of the black urban experience.’ The Times
‘A welcome trip down memory lane by the Brixton bard. His prose is sharp as a barber’s cutthroat, the musical references make you jump and prance and the hard-edged dialogue brilliantly captures that London vibe. Thrilling, very funny, and most of all a page turner.’ Courttia Newland
Fourth Estate UK (WEL)
Au Diable Vauvert France
Edizioni Spartaco Italy
Material: UK (309pp) & French editions.
Inspired by personal experience, a powerful, moving and beautifully structured novel dealing with the lives of children in care. Four friends decide to run away from the horror of their everyday lives in a children's home in the English countryside. They head for the woods, their sense of freedom surprises them, and for the first time they feel the exhilaration of adolescence. Yet the forest slowly asserts its own power and what happens there will affect the four boys' lives forever. With his trademark humour, compelling narrative directness, and rhythmic prose, Alex Wheatle here shows himself to be an author of real calibre, exposing the social stigma associated with children's homes, and the psychological consequences of their impact on sensitive children. Never losing pace or failing to engage the reader at every moment, The Seven Sisters is an unflinchingly honest depiction of childhood.
'A gripping, horrifying and moving adventure story.' Maggie Gee
'Wheatle's picture of childhood in a care home evokes the trauma and the tenderness between four friends, as well as brilliantly recreating a lost era. The Seven Sisters is subtle, moving, and written with real moral and artistic purpose.' Ben Richards
'This is a brave, brutal story, told with a shocking immediacy. Alex Wheatle has created a disturbing portrait of life in a children's home, in language which is plain, unsparing, and heart-rendingly poignant.' Daily Mail
'Alex Wheatle is already an award-winning author, but with the publication of his latest novel, The Seven Sisters, expect to see him soar into a totally different league as a writer.
With this groundbreaking work of fiction, Wheatle has produced what is truly the most moving book I have read this year. It's a heart-wrenching coming of age story. […]
Wheatle weaves complex and controversial issues such as mental health, child abuse and neglect, into an intense tale of enduring friendship. It's the illustration of how true friendships can survive and even thrive through the most disturbing of times that makes this book so very special.' The New Nation
'With a friendship of unspoken confidences remaining the focus, the four boys negotiate a mutual search for understanding and freedom. The narrative is strong and meaningful.' Vanessa Smith Holburn, Independent on Sunday
'It’s hard to imagine a gritty-realism novel about emotional, physical and sexual abuse in children’s homes also being a beautifully written poetic portrayal of loyalty, friendship, and boyhood adventure. Wheatle, however, manages to blend the two into one perfectly painted story. The author himself spent his childhood in care homes, and this gives The Seven Sisters an uncomfortable resonance. The underlying themes of friends replacing family, childhood shaping adulthood, and the very thin line that separates madness and sanity combine to produce a horrifying account of under-privilege.' The Big Issue
'This is a book to read and nourish… For it is a book which never gives up on its characters and, doing such, also never gives up on its readers.' Morning Star
Fourth Estate UK (WEL) (rights reverted)
Au Diable Vauvert France
Material: finished copies (274pp).
WINNER OF THE LONDON ARTS BOARD'S NEW LONDON WRITER'S AWARD
‘Brixton Rock is a pacey document of teenage angst… which is why the pockets of humour… prove to be such a triumph. This is a debut which confirms its author…a pro in prose.’ The Times
‘The story trundles along energetically but the novel’s real strength lies in the dialogue. Wheatle gives us a fascinating snapshot of black English in the early eighties’ Daily Telegraph
'Alex Wheatle's narrative is pacey; witty; his characters real and recognisable'
'Alex Wheatle's narrative is pacey; witty; his characters real and recognisable.' Linton Kwesi Johnson
Set in South London in the 1980s. Brenton Brown is a 16-year-old mixed-race youth who has lived in a children’s home all his life. He has never met his mother and is haunted by her loss. The best thing happens: Brenton is reunited with his mother, Cynthia. And the worst: he falls in love with his beautiful half-sister, Juliet. At the same time, Brenton meets his Nemesis in the shape of Terry Flynn, a killer who scars him for life. Brenton seeks revenge. All this leads to an explosive climax with the troubled teenager struggling to hold on to his sanity.
Arcadia Books UK (WEL)
WF Howes Audio
Material: finished copies (256pp).
Eddy Maynard needs to get an illegal shipment to its destination. A simple operation – he ‘could do it with his eyes closed’. But there is just one problem – he needs someone to fly a plane. Baron, a member of a black Southside gang, is the only one he can turn to. His white East London ‘firm’ needs to work closely with the crew from Brixton to be able to pull this one off. Things start to go pear-shaped when Eddy appears to turn up dead and what was supposed to be gang co-operation turns out to be the start of an East vs South gang war. Each trying to outsmart the other, for every move there is a deadly counter move. As the body count rises, both gangs realise that they have been double-crossed…