Luan Goldie: ‘The characters were stuck in my head – I wanted to get this story out there’
- Credit: Archant
Luan Goldie is a primary school teacher with a 4-year-old daughter: she does not have a lot of spare time. And yet, when she can muster a few quieter moments to herself, Goldie writes short-stories and longer tales about working class communities which are winning plenty of fans, and quickly.
The 37-year-old writer - who grew up in flats on Hackney's Pembury and Kingshold Estates - is about to release her debut novel as part of a two-book deal with HarperCollins, after she won a £3,500 short-story prize at the Costa Book Awards in 2017. Goldie's first novel is called Nightingale Point and is to be released on Thursday, July 25.
"It took quite a few years to complete, there were a lot of false starts and a lot of thinking: 'why am I doing this?' I still teach, and at times you think that it's just not going to work," Goldie explains.
"But even in the times I said I was giving up, I always kept going back to it. The characters were stuck in my head, and I wanted this story to be out there.
"Now that it's coming out as a real book, it's quite surreal. People are talking about it and there are early advanced copies out there, but I still haven't seen it in a real bookshop. (When I do) I'll probably be really weird and start telling everyone in the shop to look at it!"
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Nightingale Point is set on an east London council estate on an ordinary Saturday in 1996. It follows the story of residents Mary, Malachi, Tristan, Elvis and Pamela after an extraordinary and life-changing event takes place. Without giving too much away, it's inspired by the Bijlmer air disaster which killed at least 43 people and rocked Amsterdam in October 1992.
"With a lot of those big 90s disaster films, they start in the morning and you see the characters getting on with their day," adds Goldie. "It's set in east London - on a council estate with three large tower blocks. This disaster happens in the afternoon and it's about how they get on (with their lives).
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"I spend quite a lot of time in Holland, and we went to Bijlmer. My husband was explaining that it's kind of like Hackney, and it's also the place where the plane crashed. It was such a horrible accident and it sounds like something quite sensational.
"When I started researching it, I was interested about the disaster and how people affected were treated afterwards."
Earlier this month, Nightingale Point was featured on BBC Radio 2's Book Club, which involved Goldie introducing her story to Jo Whiley and her national audience.
"That was exciting, it's really hard to get on that list - especially as a debut writer," continues Goldie. "It features some big names so I was really nervous; they have the Book Club phone-in so I was anxious about saying the right thing on live radio! But she's so familiar, everyone's grown-up listening to Jo Whiley and as soon as I saw her, it was fine."
Like much of Goldie's material, Nightingale Point started out as a short-story which continued to develop and blossom until eventually her writing teacher said it was a short-story no more. The book will be published two years after Goldie won the Costa Short Story Award for Two Steak Bakes and Two Chelsea Buns.
"It was amazing to win. The other two stories I was up against were brilliant, I loved them so much. I thought: the third prize is for £500 and I would be happy to get that! I was shocked to win. My book was floated around, but they weren't sure if a story set on a council estate would sell. When I won the Costa, publishers got a bit more interested!"
Goldie, who was formerly a journalist and now works at a primary school in Barking, was also picked as a member of the Almasi League, a writers collective championing authors of colour from across east London.
Though she lives in Newham these days, Goldie's close family are still based in Hackney. You can tell she'd be open to a return.
"For a lot of my friends, we were told you need to study, you need to get jobs, and you need to move away from here (Hackney). So you're working hard to get away, but now we're in this weird space where we'd love to go back - Hackney is a different place now.
"I've been talking about growing up in Hackney a lot, and people ask 'oh, 80s and 90s Hackney - what was that like?' but I don't have all those negative associations. Maybe I was protected but I remember playing out a lot and always running around the estate. I would be out for hours and hours, I had quite a lot of freedom."
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie is out July 25. It can be pre-ordered for £12.99 here.