On Monday 14th May (my birthday!) Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop became the regional winner of the Independent Bookshop of the year, and it’s a very well-deserved award. Yesterday they were still glowing from the news when hosting Stephan Collishaw’s book launch of A Child Called Happiness.
Five Leaves put on a crazy amount of events throughout the year, and often use their platform as a bookshop to engage with the community. There was a general feeling among everyone at the launch that Nottingham is really being put on the literary map. It helps being a City of Literature, but it also helps to have fantastic authors like Stephan, who also runs Noir Press which publishes Lithuanian (and now Baltic) fiction.
A Child Called Happiness is set in Zimbabwe, which for Stephan is a move away from East Europe where most of his previous books have been set. But it turns out that the setting for this book was present quite early on in Stephan’s life.
When he was twenty, he travelled with a friend to Zimbabwe, and it was his first time out of England. While there, him and his friend were escorted to the police station and questioned about why they were in the country. He explained they were there for a holiday, and the Policeman said, “People don’t come to Zimbabwe for a holiday, they go to Paris.”
In the end, he was released, but Stephen said that the whole experience was very revelatory for him as a person at that age. He even wrote the first draft of a novel set in Zimbabwe and gave it to his brother Matt to read, but the manuscript got left on a train and never saw the light of day. Instead, all these years later, we have A Child Called Happiness.
At the launch, Stephan read a couple of extracts from the book, and talked about the theme of place within the novel, and how this explores the history of what the people of Zimbabwe would have been grappling with. The book has two narratives which are over 100 years apart, but set in the same area.
It’s clear from the way Stephan talks about the book, and about Zimbabwe’s history, that he has a passion for the story, and the telling of it through fiction. At one point, he’s questioned on his position as a white man telling the story, and he agrees that it’s a valid point to make, and he brings up the fact that his previous novels are written from the perspective of women. He asks himself if he’s doing justice to these characters, as a white man, and concludes that no, he probably isn’t. But should that stop him from writing and telling the story, no. Stephan has a passionate awareness for his setting, and his characters, and coupled with his travelling experience makes him a worthy author of the kind of historical novels he writes.
The event had a great turn out, with plenty of his Lithuanian supporters in attendance. In the end, Five Leaves sold out of all the available copies of the book, and sold out of his other titles too.
If you want to find out more about A Child Called Happiness, join me for the blog tour on Friday, when I’ll be featuring an extract from the beginning of the book.
Thanks to Stephan for inviting me to the launch, and congratulations to the wonderful Five Leaves on their award!