Tuesday, March 02, 2010

My Interview with author Precious Williams

The Internet is a wonderful thing. It was through the internet that I met Precious Williams and learned of her amazing novel. I wanted to share her and her wonderful story with you all. Enjoy!

Tell us about the memoir “Precious” and why you decided to write it

“Precious” is the story of my childhood, from birth to early womanhood. I was born in London, in the 1970s, to a Nigerian mother and a father from Sierra Leone. As soon as I was born, my mother advertised me in a UK childcare magazine called ‘Nursery World.’ The ad simply invited somebody, anybody – to take me in, because my mother had decided not to raise me herself. My mother was offering to pay the respondent a weekly cash amount. And thus I ended up living in an all-white rural town in southern England, with an elderly white lady who was an enormous fan of the novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and wanted a ‘Topsy’ of her own. In this new home I was nicknamed “Nin” – short for ‘Pickaninny.’ I remained there until I was 18. My father soon vanished completely and my mother visited me only sporadically.

For years I was deeply ashamed of my history. I blamed myself for my mother’s lack of interest in my welfare and I felt a strong sense of humiliation and worthlessness. Once I’d come of age, gone to university and begun to make a career for myself as a journalist, I stopped admitting to anybody that I was once advertised in a magazine and given away to a stranger. I couldn’t bear the thought of anybody else knowing how little regard my own mother seemed to have for me. And so it seems ironic that I’ve now written an entire book about my childhood.

I actually started out wanting to write a novel. I’ve been involved in writing ever since I was old enough to pick up a pen. I won my first writing competition aged around eight. So my goal from childhood was to become an author. Instead I ended up as a journalist, interviewing celebrities for magazines like Elle and Marie Claire. It was while interviewing Mary J Blige several years ago, for Cosmopolitan, that I realised I should write the story of my own life. Mary was in a really amazing place in her life – she’d just gotten engaged to her now-husband, Kendu and she was open, grounded and on a very positive path. During the interview she told me about the sexual abuse she’d suffered as a child and about how she’d moved on to forgive everybody involved and healed her life. Sexual abuse was something I’d been subjected to as a young child, by third-parties outside my foster family and birth family. While Mary was talking about her own ordeal in a poised, calm way I realised that I still felt bitter, angry and hurt inside. By sharing her story with me, Mary really started making me feel that I wasn’t alone in this and that there was hope. After spending that time with her I began to realise that perhaps in working through my own history and putting my story out there, I could, in some small way, help others. If only by enabling them to think “So this happened to someone else too –I’m not alone.”

How has writing your story changed you?

I really, really know myself now! Before I began delving into my past I think I had a fairly superficial knowledge of myself. I’d been so keen to ignore all the painful moments in my history that I didn’t really have much of a clue anymore about who I was, where I’d been and what that meant. Researching and writing the book forced me to really look at it all. And looking at it all was not easy. I had two nervous breakdowns during the process of researching the book! But I feel twice as strong now as I did before.

What has been the response so far?

There’s been a huge amount of interest in my story so far. From the 1960s until the present day there’ve been a large number of Black British children ‘privately fostered’, as I was, in white homes, completely isolated from black communities. Some of these children grow up to be so traumatised that they try to lighten their skin with household bleach. As a child I would scream with fear on the rare occasion I encountered a fellow black person. I had no idea that I was black and the self-hate I had to wrestle with as a child was just overwhelming. It’s a sort of dirty little post-colonial secret and few people talk about it – until now!

Why are there two different versions of your book cover and did you have any say so in it?

I think it’s quite common for a book to have different covers in different territories. I simply feel relieved that both covers are gorgeous! In both cases, JPEGs of the covers were sent to me for my approval and fortunately I thought they were both fabulous. My book also has two different titles. In the UK it is called “Precious” and in the US and Canada it is called “Color Blind.”

Will you be touring with the book?

I definitely plan to and will keep you posted.

How long did the process of writing Precious take?

It took me about a year to write the book but a good five years on top of that to carry out all the research. My research included interviewing family members and digging out hundreds of pages of childhood reports and medical records. Along the way I became increasingly traumatised by the information I was uncovering and I had to keep taking breaks from it all to try to avoid getting overwhelmed.

Has there been any confusion between your book and the movie Precious (based on Sapphire’s novel Push)?

I got my book deal for ‘Precious’ several years ago, way before the movie came out. I read ‘Push’ when it was first published in 1999 and I’m a huge fan of that book and its author. I was thrilled to learn ‘Push’ was being made into a movie but slightly taken aback to then read that the title was being changed to ‘Precious.’ I did receive a strange but sweet email from someone who’d seen the movie and was now congratulating me on my performance on the silver screen– the person seemed to think that I was actually Gabourey Sidibe, the actress. Also, there was an article in the Sunday Times in London recently about the movie ‘Precious’ where the write referred to the protagonist in the movie as ‘Precious Williams’ when really her name is ‘Claireece Precious Jones.’

What is life for you like outside of writing?

I’m studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing right now and I’m also working on an original TV script and on my second book – a novel. I am an enormous fan of yoga. Aside from that, I spend an enormous amount of time reading and when I can, I enjoy traveling.

Tell us your website and how can contact you and get copies of your book

I have a website at Preciouswilliams and I can be reached through www.twitter.com/preciousthebook or by email at precious at preciouswilliams dot net. The book’s available for pre-order at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Amazon.co.uk and will also be in all major bookstores upon release in August. I’d love you to drop me a line and let me know what you think of it!

Publication date

Precious is being published in the US and Canada on 3rd August 2010, by Bloomsbury and in the UK on 2nd August 2010, also by Bloomsbury.

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