Tuesday 6 September 2022

Kit de Waal, "Without Warning & Only Sometimes"

We'd like to welcome the brilliant Kit de Waal, who'll be joining us in the School of Arts at the University of Leicester! 

Kit de Waal, photograph by Sarah M. Lee

Kit de Waal, born to an Irish mother and Caribbean father, was brought up among the  Irish community of Birmingham in the '60s and '70s. Her debut novel My Name Is Leon was an international bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Kerry  Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. In 2022 it was adapted for television by  the BBC. Her second novel, The Trick to Time, was longlisted for the Women's Prize and her young adult novel Becoming Dinah was shortlisted for the Carnegie CLIP Award 2020. A collection of short stories, Supporting Cast was published in 2020. An anthology of  working-class memoir, Common People, was crowdfunded and edited by Kit in 2019. Kit founded her own TV production company, Portopia Productions, and the Big Book  Weekend, a free digital literary festival in 2020 and was named the FutureBook Person of the Year 2019. Kit is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor and  Writer in Residence at Leicester University. Her memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes is published in August 2022. Her website is here

About Without Warning & Only Sometimes

Kit de Waal grew up in a household of opposites and extremes. Her haphazard mother rarely cooked, forbade Christmas and birthdays, worked as a cleaner, nurse and childminder sometimes all at once and believed the world would end in 1975. Meanwhile, her father stuffed barrels full of goodies for his relatives in the Caribbean, cooked elaborate meals on a whim and splurged money they didn't have on cars, suits and shoes fit for a prince. Both of her parents were waiting for paradise. It never came.

Caught between three worlds, Irish, Caribbean and British in 1960s Birmingham, Kit and her brothers and sisters knew all the words to the best songs, caught sticklebacks in jam jars and braved hunger and hellfire until they could all escape.

Without Warning & Only Sometimes is a story of an extraordinary childhood and how a girl who grew up in house where the Bible was the only book on offer went on to discover a love of reading that inspires her to this day.

Below, you can read an excerpt from the opening of the memoir. 

From Without Warning & Only Sometimes, by Kit de Waal

I will die.

I will die for wanting Christmas, for the slip of red ribbon from a huge box, for dreaming of the presents inside, Fry’s Chocolate Cream, things off the telly, other children’s presents. I will die for a taste of turkey and the imagined feel of the frilly white cuffs around its juicy brown leg. I will die for the dream of a mince pie I have never tasted and the magic blue flame on a Christmas pudding. Just the picture of it. I will die because I want to pull a cracker, because I want to wear a hat. I didn’t know about the jokes inside, I didn’t know about the little gift. I will find out about them when I am seventeen.

I will die because I want a birthday party.

I will die for my grinding embarrassment when the teacher halts the school assembly before the worship bit starts so that me and my sister can walk out. And I will die for the shame I feel when I walk back in again past superior girls and sniggering boys in time for the announcement of detentions and who won the Art Prize, who won the English Prize. My sister, usually.

I will die because while I sit outside assembly and they sing ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away,’ I sing along but only in my heart. Worst of all, in my heart.

I will die when the earthquakes start. I will be walking to school and the pavement will rumble and hiccup and a crack will start under my feet, small at first, and nobody else will realize what’s happening, but I will know that the end has come. Then the road splits in a zig-zag fracture and the tarmac breaks in half and the buses tip in and the cars and lamp posts, and if there are any women with prams, they’ll tumble in too, and dogs and motorbikes and trees and shops and anyone walking home with bread or potatoes, in they’ll go. Everyone who doesn’t believe. Or anyone who does believe but doesn’t do as they should. In they’ll go, toppling sideways into the chasm with their mouths open, screaming for forgiveness, but it’s too late because they had their chance, we all had our chance. And when we are dead, the earth will close over us so the world can heal.

I skip the cracked paving stones on my way to school because it can start at any time, the Wrath of God, any moment, without warning. ‘Stay on the watch! You do not know the day or the hour.’ Kim doesn’t know and Tracey doesn’t know, nor Dean, nor Karen. Not even Mom. So I stay alert, ready to straddle the split if it’s not too wide or outrun it by dashing around the corner or in the opposite direction or maybe straight inside someone’s house, begging them to save me.

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