The Speech, is very much a political novel. It is a fictionalised account of the events leading up to Enoch Powell’s famous 1968 Rivers Of Blood speech. It is by all accounts a thought provoking & educating read. The Speech was one of my favourite reads of 2016, I picked only 20 fiction reads out of a total 242 books read for the entire year! It really is that good!
I was only born in 1983, So long after Enoch Powell’s speech. However, I grew up in a family where reading about history, politics & current affairs is very much encouraged. With the current political system as it is, I think that knowledge of our own history & political history, is important now more than ever & that is what makes this novel so noteworthy! It is a novel that for obvious reasons did evoke many questions and it is for this reason I was super keen to pose some questions to the talented author of the novel. So here goes, my Q&A with Andrew Smith:
Q) For the benefit of the readers new to the novel, please give a summary of yourself & your novel The Speech?
A) I’ve been writing, both non-fiction and fiction, since the late 1980s. I was working as a graphic designer at the time, but I wrote an article for an adventure travel magazine about a rather rigorous journey I’d undertaken in 1988 in Northern India through the Himalayas. I enjoyed the writing experience so much I took a creative writing course and began to publish short fiction in various literary magazines. My first novel, ‘Edith’s War,’ was published in 2010.
In 1968, when Tory M.P. Enoch Powell gave his infamous Rivers of Blood speech, I was studying art in Wolverhampton, which was Powell’s constituency and where he lived when he wasn’t in Westminster. I remember the brouhaha caused by the racist element of the speech and the extreme reactions to it — both for and against. When it came time to think of a subject for my second novel I could see that present-day attitudes, of UKIP and other anti-immigrant elements in Britain, were very similar to that espoused by Powell in his speech. Since I’d had first-hand experience of the town and the era, I decided to write a novel set in Wolverhampton in 1968, in which Powell would feature. My rationale being that it would have resonance with present day politics and policies. I had little idea just how incredibly relevant it would become.
I realised that to be entertaining, the story couldn’t only be about Powell. It had to feature ordinary people whose lives were touched by the subject of immigration. I created a story around Powell about a young Jamaican immigrant, Nelson, who’d been framed by a racist element for a crime he didn’t commit. I made Nelson’s white, art-student friend, Frank, be the ‘detective’ who sets about proving his Jamaican pal’s innocence. So the book is a rather tense thriller as much as it is a story about a flawed politician and his downfall.
Q) As stated above The Speech is a fictionalised portrayal of the events leading up to the speech. What made you want to form the novel from this perspective? Do you think it benefits the reader to see, say Nelson’s character within the larger story happening around him?
A) The novel is set over ten days, on the seventh day of which Powell makes his speech. I used this time period because I wanted to demonstrate what the atmosphere was like before and immediately following the speech. I was reminded during my research how the speech polarised a population, in the same way that Brexit seemed to divide the nation. I was also reminded how the speech seemed to give certain people permission for racist behaviour that wouldn’t have happened before — both spoken and physical, in the form of hate crimes. Exactly as has happened following Brexit. In order to demonstrate this a writer needs characters, which although imaginary, represent the general population — like Nelson, the victimised immigrant; Barry, the opportunist pub owner; Frank, the naive student; Georgy, the upstanding Tory; and blatant racists like Dennis the skinhead, and Fowler, the bent cop.
Q) One thing I loved was that you chose not to demonise Enoch Powell with the writing in the novel but simply let the history of his speech speak for itself. I felt this really added depth to the novel & encourages the reader to think for themselves. It’s a very important part of its message. Is this a tough thing to achieve within writing? Was it tempting to write how you feel about the situation?
A) I remember distinctly a moment during my research when the thought occurred to me that, whatever I eventually wrote, I had a duty to do Enoch Powell justice — flawed and prejudiced as he obviously was. My resolve to portray him in an unbiased and accurate manner may have come when I began to have intimations of the complexity of his character. When, for example, I learnt that he’d voted to decriminalise homosexuality. Or when he voted to abolish capital punishment. Or maybe it was simply when I learnt from various sources, his own writing included, what a solitary and pressured childhood he’d had. So it wasn’t difficult to portray the man as one should any other character — as fully-formed, rounded, and complete as possible. At the end of the day, people must decide for themselves about Powell’s motives, principles, and character.
Q) I think the novel is a brilliant portrayal of closeted bigotry & the sins of the past. Yet it also displays how far Britain has come as a nation in terms of race relations & multiculturalism. There is obvious room for improvements, development & more education. I think this novel would be perfect for students to discuss and debate in an education setting, do you agree?
A) As you realise, the first and last chapters, or prologue and epilogue as they’re sometimes called, are accounts of actual events — past and present — which show the assimilation of immigrants into an English or British way of life. There has always been movement of people in and out of Britain, and across the globe, and there always will be. Admittedly there seems to have been more than ever recently, and probably that increase will continue into the future. But I believe we need to accept that fact and do all we can to facilitate it so that the least harm is caused to the least people. I think the subject would be extremely useful for students to debate, because along with it goes the whole phenomena of multiculturalism and race relations, as well as simple considerations of compassion and tolerance.
Q) Is there a next novel in the pipeline? Will you stick with the same political/historical genre?
A) I think I’ll always write historical fiction because I’m fascinated by how world events, particularly political events, impact on everyday people. My first novel was a story woven around the government policy during World War II of internment of British Italians and about its devastating effect on families, at the time and since. That said, I’d like to revisit Frank and Nelson some fifty years after the time of The Speech to see how things worked out for them. The problem with writers are that they’re slightly insane when it comes to characters, who are often more real to them than friends and family!
*Huge thanks to Andrew Smith for being part of a Q&A on my blog! I wish you much success for your future writing
Big thanks to you for such intelligent questions. It’s been a pleasure. www.andrewsmithwrites.com
The Publisher of Andrew’s novel has kindly agreed to giveaway 2 copies of the novel in printed format. They are also willing to send the copies to countries outside the UK!
I am fairly new to blogging & extremely nervous, all I ask is that people like & share/RT the review and Q&A.
Also sign up for my blog news via fb (Anne bonny book reviews) or Twitter @annebonnybook or the blog itself here! I will pick two lucky winners from the members/subscribers/followers at 12 noon on Friday 10th March!
Huge thanks to Urbane Publishers @urbanepub @urbanebooks
GOOD LUCK, it’s a cracking read!