1917 | Film Review by Jude Yawson

Rating: 4.25/5 

Runtime: 1H 59M

Director: Sam Mendes

Production Company: DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, New Republic Pictures, Mogambo, Neal Street Productions, Amblin Partners

The Great War is more often explored in soundbites and grey scenes of soldiers venturing into unfathomable conditions. States of combat and invigorative warfare, aided by the technological advancements and challenges in the dawn of the 20th century, which beckoned the destruction anthropogenic intelligence would produce with years to come. Instruments of mass justified killing, conflicting nude morals paraded without the shame turned to civil society’s, which comes into play when the world seeps into a consciousness of war. Though machinery, shell shock, and the metallic consequences of war, were not so relevant in this breath-taking spectacle of a film, that uplifts the human conditioning and lack of resource as its main contention of war. 1917 assured viewers were immersed in aspects of this Great War. It boasts a simple yet death-defying plot, following the mission of Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his favoured comrade Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) on a seemingly endless journey to deliver a message to hold back an attack on a suspicious retreating German force to the Hindenburg Line. Though this straightforward plot infused with an entrancing and very much heroic do or die endeavour is fixated on these two characters, it is enamoured with a continuous sequence of shots which had me second-guessing when they actually broke to capture another scene.

1917 boasts brilliant cinematography, it stands as a character in itself. You watch the lens pan and manoeuvre around bumping bodies bobbling through crowded trenches, swerving to capture raw emotion in facial expressions, and signifying a horror of unease by environment by featuring the waste and nature working its way around it, whether through decay or insects circling its deceased prey. The indicating movement of scenes amounts tension where it needs to be. At times I felt a genuine fear for the main characters mission and the journey they embarked on. It also encouraged growing favour of these characters and their personal ambitions, the way they narrated their own experiences and livelihoods, with only several moments of relief from the realities of this tremendous scale of warfare managing to segregate the blended imaginative scenes which depicted it. The splendid examination of everything produced a war film I had never seen before.

Some of these moments were representationally honest, shedding light on a Sikh soldier, picturing a few Black soldiers plotted in different battalions. It was somewhat refreshing and not lingering on a force, though makes me consider when we will get a wartime film based on such experiences. The blend of accents from all over Britain also infers the interconnectivity of these great Wars. In many moments I found myself at the edge of my seat, cemented in the danger and paranoia of this mission. The well worked settings of trenches, and contrast of materials and crafting by the efficient and more technologically readied Germans to the more honest and at times random livelihoods of the British. I feel this is displayed to show some backward amounted respect. The old, now not so contentious rivalry of two former grand nations enthused with their own greatness. Even the much more sudden depictions of the German soldiers make them seem like bodies, human beings, plus ones experiencing the gruesomeness of war similarly to the British. Some shots and scenes were ethereal, despite being led into by existential views of the fragility of these human beings enveloped by war.

This is another war film captivated by the individual, the human state of mind, and the hideousness of this Great War from an unseen angle. In bits it gave me vibes of Saving Private Ryan, though with a scope of a thriller attached and the perks of a huge never-ending setting. The thriller came in horrific shots of ambiguity that made me witness these characters as just bodies in numbers, in the dark, and individuals with immaterial weights of their family, friends and ultimately mission by war. Sam Mendes is a brilliant Director, and some of the thriller vibes I acknowledged from the film Road To Perdition (2002) where shots so dark but lit by accessories of the scene, like headlights, weathering, gunfire and shadow, sink you into story. In the same respect Mendes demands your attention in periods it is merely observing. Considering how some events occur, the element of worry deters you from taking your eyes off this film. My favourite moment comes during a burst of pace and movement through the depths of night, where the impression of bodies really drew me in. Where bodies illuminated by flares, gracing the shadows with some visibility. The outlines of figures in the distance, with not so much emphasis on their insignia or brand, added to the paranoia of living through such dangerous encounters.

It was visually emphatic, from beginning to end, and the blend of immense actors in this cameo cast is brilliant. They interject with prowess and carry the film in those segregated moments commendably. The likes of Colin Firth, as General Erinmore, the man who gave the mission, Mark Strong as Captain Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie, Daniel Mays as Sergeant Sanders, and a Stark in Richard Madden who plays the brother of Lance Corporal Blake, Lieutenant Joseph Blake. The acting was all around wonderful, and it made it that much more exciting to see such a prominent cast accept these supporting roles. As well as the beautiful visuals, 1917’s score withdrew more suspense as it engaged with the grittiness of the situations. Even though dialogue was controlling enough, the score was planted mindfully, setting off like mines in moments of unease, such as breaching secure lines for the enemy’s and venturing into the wilderness of unseeing light. As well as those clean transitions of scenes, the score lulls you into a change of tone and mood. This is masterfully done, and in an odd way it reminded me of the Joker. It felt as if the score was engineered for these moments perfectly.

In short, 1917 is a stunning spectacle that commands respect. While it was expected to continue the theme of War films sweeping the best awards at the Oscars, Parasite (2019) had seemingly buried expectations by collecting Best Picture. To trump this grand film in its moment of glory surely infers something great to me, hence I expect to review it next.

Queen & Slim | FILM REVIEW | by Jude Yawson.

Rating: 3/5

Runtime: 1H 59

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Production Company: 3BlackDot, Bron Creative, Makeready, De La Revolución Films, Hillman Grad Productions

Queen & Slim

Whenever I watch a film composed by an orchestra of Black and/or ethnic minorities, I believe its reception will be split by those who identify with such distinctions. Hence, Black trauma always evokes an emotional chemistry within me I feel, a white mainstay in audience will not. I felt it whimper in my heart as I watched Black Panther, several times, witnessing Black children run around the cinema in Black superhero costumes, a scene I had never acknowledged I’d see before. I read it within reviews and the ridiculous extensions of critics of Blue Story, and the association to incidents of violence nationwide. I sensed it in the reactions of the audience in the few times I watched Get Out. Where White moviegoers snigger at what could be consumed as comedic to them, added to the unease the Black audience conceived as relatable everyday microaggressions, in which a majority identified with wanting to fold into themselves at the awkwardness of how real every moment was and could be. Get Out was the film that made me realise that division was the brunt of our different perceptions. How numerous white critics witnessed Get Out as a comedy, as did many film award categories, due to an incapability of relating to such livelihoods/a privilege they are perched on, whereas a majority of its Black audience recognised it as a Horror, a Thriller even, that contains aspects of well-worked comedy. I always refer to this commonality as negritude, insofar as we will always receive this content differently to that mainstay of Western Societies. Queen and Slim is another beautiful film that encapsulates the Black experience in a romantic, invigorative and visually absorbing manner.

Down & Out?

By no means is Queen and Slim as epic as Get Out or entrancing as Black Panther. Nevertheless, I have always wanted cinema to reach a point where Black stories can be told without it needing to be outstanding in every sense. Written by Lena Waithe, Queen and Slim as it joked itself has been conceived as a “Black Bonnie and Clyde” and yet it is not a romanticised stint of criminal endeavour they are running from. It is the harsh realities of injustice, the unlikelihood of the right thing, and the vilification of their actions as black individuals – as well as people simply opposing the law. What was illuminating to me in this film was the contrast of relationships, the looming tension and expectation of trauma that desensitises while lulling you into the favour of Queen and Slim’s adventure. It is brilliantly done in most parts, and I was amazed at the opening scene. It starts in a gloomy green diner in the middle of Ernest (Daniel Kaluuya) and Angela’s (Jodie Turner-Smith) first Tinder date which turns out to be an overextended run. There is a comfortability as the conversation starts in the middle, with their tones set from their body language and responses. Ernest seems humbled by a gratefulness of being, in a sense of being at ease with the goodness he receives – which in this case is food. The cook forgot to scramble his eggs and he is fine with that, knowing of her background to a point he empathises with her mistake, and yet Angela’s meticulousness points this out as an issue for her. She comes across as stiff, hard to impress, articulate and too honest. The pair’s date is seemingly in tatters, and she points out she only dated him after considering his depressive outlook on his profile pics as in need of a date. It was a pity pick, in which Ernest doesn’t mind until she is damning enough to alienate him. It comes across as an honest and realistic relationship, that builds over time through a silent tone of identity that acts as a prompt to act from. Hence when stopped by a white snappy and presumably racist cop, the identity and trauma sink in. With police brutality such a prominent issue in America, along with dash cams, the vastness of the Internet, the tone sets itself. An altercation ensues with the aggressor cop that becomes gun-happy, and Queen and Slim become romanticised for their lucky escape. Instead of focusing on the wider world and the conceptions of the incident, the film focuses on their relationship on a journey to salvation. It contains a bearable and lovely light spread of characters, such as Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine) who is Angela’s estranged Uncle, Goddess (Indya Moore) one of his prostitutes, Junior (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) the sun of a hardworking mechanic, and others who are people seemingly privy to this viral situation. Their interjections are strong, and dialogue, as well as the smoothness of their moments, serves the flow of the film.

A stop on the way South

It becomes entrancing by the cinematography, stunning visuals, at times with dialogue overriding shots that capture the motions of their journey. The cinematography by Tat Radcliffe, known for 71 (2014) by Yann Demange and to me personally for capturing episodes in the 1st season of Top Boy, carries a personal touch that keeps you engaged in the setting. He does not fret to hover over views from a distance, or intensify the moments with in-depth shots that immerse you into the action, such as a spellbinding view of intimacy and hard-hitting shots of facial transformation. The cinematography marries a beautiful score pieced together by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, which honeymoons over scenes that seamlessly intertwine as the cast is so contained within the bouncing journey of people, that they can either trust or must place their trust in. As the film is focused on Queen and Slims rampant relationship it is empowered by this awkward journey to the South. I refer to these relationships as negritude because moments of that common trust and relief come through that likelihood of blackness, a hopeful empathy that is not available in most cases, as we see on-screen and in reality. “Stop killing us” and “Let them go” protested in scenes as people realise this common theme of Police brutality. Although some moments were wayward in terms of writing, the film carries sentiments that illustrate the beauty and humanity of people. It does not uphold the system to be all-powerful but acknowledges the extent to which people can act.

Not so Slim, Ernest

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie-Turner Smith are fascinating actors. Both Black British and phenomenal in their display, they captured the beauty and elements of those tricky relationships and values. They step into these characters and changed conceptions of them, even in the enthralling pictures of their scenes before the film’s arrival. Whether it is within their own characters, conceptions of God, their families and ties, as well as their eagerness to reconnect with a reality taken from them. The concept of being immortalised and becoming a hero, being present in the here and now, adds tint to the romance of the film. The smoothness of the soundtrack, alongside the illustrious cinematography, seems masterfully pieced together and directed by Melina Matsoukas. She is a renowned director of music videos, commercials, TV, and I was initially surprised to learn she was the director of Beyonce’s tantalising Formation (2018) video, as well as We Found Love, S&M by Rihanna, along with her other lists of commendable accolades. She also directed episodes of Insecure, which made a lot more sense in terms of some scene’s visuals and the plot behind them. Her feature-length film debut is stunning, and although I sometimes witness content based on Black trauma as emotionally exhausting, a double-edged sword of, sometimes, necessity, the prodding was not so cutthroat but rather enlightening, endearing and enjoyable.

Joker – Remember…That’s Life – Review by Jude Yawson

Rating: 4.5/5 

Runtime: 2H 2M

Director: Todd Phillips

Production Company: Warner Bros, DC Films, Village Roadshow Pictures

A stark contrast of surroundings illuminates Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) as he sits in front of a mirror applying his infamous face mask. A zooming camera shot hints toward surrounding activity, a working days score of everyday noises ambience in chatter, card games and radio play, and the odd man himself, Arthur, who is not engaged with anything except his own face. He looks a lonely and pitiful figure. A clown, literally and by curse, who aspires to be a comedian while remaining the brunt of everyone’s jokes. The visceral camera focus and sullen tone of Gotham only enthuse the perception of this man’s loneliness and glaring weirdness from the moment the film begins. But most importantly it keeps you fixated on this individual’s story and asks you to watch. For me, the Joker is a film that asks you to take a look at yourself and how you reflect and impact other people’s lives. From the beginning, it is prompting you to consider “what is wrong with this guy?” by the end of the film you may be thinking “what is wrong with people?” and more importantly, questioning how you treat them. Having watched the film twice now, I understand why it led me to feel that way and I wanted to dive into its creation by expanding on the words of the creators themselves.

Overall, I think the Joker is a wonderful film, with enthralling cinematography that at times is simply spell bounding. Joaquin Phoneix’s display as Arthur Fleck was wonderful insofar as he lost 52lbs for the role, immersed himself in understanding the setting, and would spend hours at night discussing with Todd Phillips how they could play with so many aspects of the story. In an interview with Peter Travers, he explained his working relationship with Todd and how such collaboration is what excites him about filmmaking. He described the process as transformative, his most intense collaboration for a film. They bounced ideas back off each other constantly, and there was even a suggestion they go for a heavier route with the Joker instead of the skinny and frail. Although, his harrowing looks in the film is another facet of this character and the weight loss had to happen. Joaquin felt way more in tune with his body throughout this process, it was somewhat holistic and encouraged him to perform beyond his means. As a result, this impacted the character along the way. Specifically, this reminded me of a scene where the Joker frolics and dances. Joaquin stated he was starved at times during filming, and he very much looked it. What was captivating to me was his style while donning full makeup. He dances like a pantomime, swivels like a ballet dancer, but looks and acts like a maniacal clown.  All this fused with a stunning score that creeps alongside your thoughts, it is a perfect marriage of notions portraying an unease. From the way Arthur expresses himself, the tailormade clown-shoes to the running style and childlike tone in voice, all were specific and necessary for his character to work.

As an origin story it seeps the Joker into a desolate and starved Gotham, the cast is not unnecessarily spread, and nothing felt out of place. It was a neatly contained movie and a standalone story that alluded to a few renditions of the Joker’s elusive past but did not relegate its potential to be fixed on just one. I find this was masterfully and purposefully done. Though very much grounded in the hypothetical city of Gotham, Todd Phillips, the director of the film, stated he witnessed the entirety of Gotham’s elements as characters alongside the Joker/Arthur Fleck, as it is an individual story. Hence the music, location and time-period, were all very much important. The film is set in 1981, and Gotham is on the brink in many ways. This is the basis Arthur Fleck develops from. My understanding of the Joker is as a phenomenon with multiple origins, one of the main nemeses of Batman’s, and a thrilling wildcard obsessed with rattling people’s cages. Though this film is different and exposed a route to understanding what could lead to ‘The Joker’ in this hypothetical setting. At its bare bones, the film itself makes me consider how we interact with people on a human level. There is a “one-upmanship” with communication, where we impose on each other, we see someone as weaker, a joke, and demean them whether playfully or at their expense, we are naturally inconsiderate by just how we exist. There’s a cold shoulder, lack of accountability and expectation to see people or help by not contributing to the animosity in already stressed lives. It contains a lot of nuance and elements of Gotham that mimic real inner swollen city livelihoods. Such as the coldness in acknowledging people, the preconceptions and status we exact on each other and the volatile and damaged states of mind.

I really appreciated Todd Phillips interpretation of Gotham and Joaquin Phoneix’s brilliance in acting. The film truly has a handmade feel. Another thing that impressed me was Todd asking the composer Hildur Guðnadóttir to write music, based only off material she read in the script. Joaquin’s performances were inspired by the sound written to the music, and I find that fantastic. Hildur also composed the Chernobyl (2019) series music, which makes a lot of sense, and the score is dark, unnerving and is very much a presence in the film. As someone who loves a score, I adore the composition of the film. Joaquin also had the freedom to utilise a room and see where he saw it best fit to perform a part of the script. Todd describes this all as the magic of making movies, and it certainly had an ethereal touch. Thinking about it, I actually love this film. It ticks all the impressionable boxes for me. Instead of a now usual Comic Book genre type film with “big CGI events” as Todd describes it, we received a deep dive into a character and the daunting city they’re from. There’s no overcooked action sequence that occurs just to show the violent range of the protagonist.

Joker is a perplexing story that recognises trauma through the lens of a psychological thriller. In conclusion, when asked about the criticism of mental health issues being related to an infamous character like Joker Joaquin stated how irresponsible it is to discuss. In this social media age, we do tend to look to critique and cancel as it’s a culture. For such media platforms to threat over cinema shootings or violence is indirectly inspiring, Todd Phillips even made some comments on this “woke culture” and how it has impacted comedy, this was his first thriller and it was more than well done. Similarly, to ideas within the film, I do not think woke culture has entirely overridden comedy, but it is more-so weary of the impact we have on each other. To what degree its concerns should be capitalised on I am unsure, but as long as the conversation is recognised and not simply damning, we always have something to learn.

Three nine two…months in

Author of The 392 Ashley Hickson-Lovence tells us about his first two months as a published debut author.

It was moments after I had just got off the Megabus at Stratford that I finally felt like a proper published author. I hopped off the coach and braved Westfield to have a look in Foyles and, as I entered, I immediately spotted my recognisably red and black cover sitting alongside the likes of Michelle Obama, Candice Carty-Williams, Akala, Jeffrey Boakye and others under the ‘Foyles Choice’ section. I had spotted The 392 in shops before – sometimes on the main table, sometimes hidden on a shelf, sometimes on a trolley – but this sight took me by surprise, being in such esteemed company felt special.

My little novel is told from different passengers’ perspectives as a single-decker London bus negotiates the gentrified streets of Hackney and Islington. We hear from a range of different characters, of varying ages and backgrounds, over the course of 36 minutes as a suspected terrorist loiters at the front shouldering a cumbersome rucksack. Today, two months after its release, I’ve been reassured that The 392 continues to sell steadily which is a pleasant relief. I knew in signing with an indie press, with a small/non-existent marketing budget, it would be a much slower burn compared to releasing it with a bigger publishing house. This is not to say that this has been to the detriment of the success of the book so far; in just two months there have been some incredible highs. The London launch at Second Home London Fields in April for example, was probably the best night of my life. Former colleagues, friends and family all joined me to celebrate The 392’s release into the world in style. In a packed programme hosted by JJ Bola, featuring a Q+A with writing royalty Irenosen Okojie and mesmerising poetry performances by Deshawn McKinney, MC Angel, Sophia Thakur and Suli Breaks, there is no doubt that this was another example of a fantastic OWN IT! launch event.

Since then, I have had a second smaller but equally lovely launch at Norwich’s The Book Hive, appeared twice at Stoke Newington Literary Festival, including as part of a ‘Rising Stars’ panel alongside Elizabeth Macneal and Rosie Price. I have been on BBC Radio London twice with Robert Elms and Judi Love. I featured on an episode of Tim Clare’s ‘A Death of a 1000 Cuts’ podcast. Publishing superwoman Sharmaine Lovegrove said that The 392 made her “laugh, cry, nod and remember what it means to be a Londoner” on Twitter. Fellow bus fanatic and writer Travis Elborough said “the whole thing had such pace” and the “plot was compulsive”. Even Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has been pictured handling my book.

All this, and more, in just eight weeks. Although, one of my proudest moments was when a close friend messaged me to say it was the first book that they had read cover to cover, ever. This for me epitomised one of my main initial aims when writing The 392, to engage reluctant readers.

I am still somewhat anxious of having people read – and sometimes review – my work but I try my best to embrace it. I had very particular aims when writing The 392 and for these reasons I appreciate it mightn’t be to everyone’s taste. I wanted it to be a pacey, accessible read, quintessentially British, written in an authentic youthful vernacular at times to appeal to, among others, some of my former students I used to teach. Although I label it a love letter to London, the wider themes of gentrification, otherness, growing old and unconditional love are hopefully relatable to readers from all walks of life, so I am encouraged by hearing from readers – who are sometimes not even from London – engage with and enjoy this story I’ve written.

I am so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read or review The 392 or tweet me a picture of them reading it on holiday or on a bus! This really means a lot. I hope to continue to be just as generous when I read new works I enjoy. I am ridiculously excited about what the future holds for The 392 and otherwise; excitingly, as part of my Creative Writing PhD, I have already started work my second novel. I also have some very exciting events lined up in the coming months, including: Riff Raff (July 4th), Africa Writes (July 6th), Greyhound on the Green book club appearance (July 23rd), WOMAD (July 27th), Primadonna Festival (30th August); I look forward to hopefully getting the book into more people’s hands and sharing my story as a young, black, working-class debut novelist.

If you haven’t already, you can buy a copy of The 392 from all good bookshops (including lots of London indies) as well as Amazon, Waterstones and the OWN IT! online shop. I have already had some lovely ratings and reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and Waterstones but I would greatly appreciate some more if can spare five minutes, I’ve been told these can make a big difference.

Reluctant reader? So was I!

Author and Creative Writing PhD student Ashley Hickson-Lovence with ten book suggestions to get you reading. 

In October 2018, I started my PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. Getting accepted – with full funding, was probably my greatest achievement last year, possibly in my entire twenty-seven-year life. The Creative Writing courses at UEA are famous for producing such names as Ian McEwen, Kazuo Ishiguro, Louise Doughty, Joe Dunthorne, Diana Evans and a wealth of others, so acceptance was a huge surprise considering I was rejected by the same university for undergraduate study some nine years earlier. Considering now I obviously have to read quite a lot to achieve my doctorate, you might find it hard to believe that while in secondary school – like most of the other boys in my Catholic single-sex North London school, I found reading boring and difficult. My daily life at this time was centred around playing football and messing about with my friends, there was no time for books.

It wasn’t until Year 11 that I started to take some joy in reading finally in a deliberate effort to make myself feel smart and impress girls before I started sixth form and hopefully university. I found out that my English teacher at the time – Bo Fowler, was also a published author after I stumbled across his novel, Scepticism, Inc – told from the perspective of a talking shopping trolley, one day in a second-hand bookshop in Ealing. He was amazed I had found it when I quizzed him the following Monday, but something about that relationship of Mr. Fowler being both an English teacher and a published novelist really spoke to me as an impressionable adolescent. I have since learned that he too studied for his PhD at UEA, doing the very same course I am doing now. More than just being my secret internet password answer to the question ‘Most memorable teacher?’, Mr. Fowler’s success was (and still is) hugely influential for me.

As an avid Manchester United fan growing up, at around aged sixteen, I became engrossed by the autobiographies of the likes of Roy Keane, Lee Sharpe and Rio Ferdinand which my family were happy to buy for me – despite not having a great deal of disposable cash to hand, to curb time I spent playing on my Game Boy or PlayStation. My mum read, but not regularly I recall: I remember her reading Memoirs of a Geisha, Constance Briscoe’s Ugly and some Stephen King now and then but not much in the way of fashionable literary fiction and certainty nothing from the canon. To be fair, there weren’t huge amounts of room for a vast library of books in our small two-bedroom Hackney council flat. 

I chose to study English at A-Level. I was fortunate enough to have been taught by three fantastic teachers during my two-year spell at sixth form and between them, they coaxed me into joining the weekly after-school book club which unknowingly became a hugely influential period in my reading journey. I look back at those moments reading and discussing seminal texts like Shelley’s Frankenstein and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye for the first time with such achingly-warm fondness. 

In my most recent role as an English teacher and Key Stage 3 coordinator in charge of reshaping the curriculum to be more engaging and rigorous, I was always on the lookout for texts that would appeal to the ever-growing group of boys who clearly just didn’t enjoy reading. Evidently, my list of ten book suggestions below are shaped from my experience as a secondary school teacher trying to engage reluctant readers in my classroom, but hopefully apply to anybody who’s hoping to ignite, or reignite, a desire for reading for pleasure. Admittedly, many of the works are personal favourites but bias aside I hope you will engage with these incredibly compelling, sometimes funny, sometimes bleak, often gritty and voice-driven texts that in their various and intuitive ways helped myself or others around me quench that indescribable thirst for good literature. Yes, unashamedly, I am passionate about getting more teenage black boys reading literary fiction (so please do share this list with any that you know!), but in an ideal world, I want to see everybody reading, no matter your age, sex, colour or creed. The works below are just informed suggestions of course, fundamentally I am keen to stress, that whatever you read – whatever form or genre, it doesn’t matter, you are still a reader. It all counts. Reading is important, fun, healthy, sexy and everybody should be doing it all the time. 

  1. 1984 – George Orwell: Having grown up amidst the noughties Big Brother craze, I was fascinated by the fact that the concept for the show was based on this classic text. It might not be the easiest read on this list but it is a novel that makes you question topical issues around government policy and censorship. Winston Smith is an unlikely protagonist but one we’re rooting for till the bitter end.
  2. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger: The archetypal coming-of-age story: strange, frustrating, fantastic. Hugely accessible for a novice reader and a must read for all teenagers.
  3. The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon. This gritty voice-driven narrative of Trinidadian Moses negotiating life in bleak 1950s London is utterly compelling from start to finish. A succinct snapshot of life as a black man in a white world.
  4. The Outsiders – S.E Hinton: Published when she was just seventeen, S.E Hinton’s debut is an emotive tale of family, friendship, gang rivalry and always looking cool. Heart-wrenching and hugely memorable.
  5. Prisoner to the Streets – Robyn Travis: A raw and painfully honest memoir of life on London’s mean streets. To say that my students were totally captivated by it when added to the Year 9 curriculum at my last school, would be grossly underestimating just how impactful teaching it was.
  6. Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman: Poignant story of a young protagonist desperately keen to integrate into his scary new South London environment. Incredibly funny, incredibly sad.
  7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon: Hugely important, entertaining and inventive, always popular when read with secondary students.
  8. N.W – Zadie Smith: Books that are subsequently turned into films or television shows are helpful in understanding the cinematic qualities of particular written texts. I read N.W after watching the BBC adaptation a few years ago. The novel is a masterclass in writerly craft; an ingenious weaving of stories and seeing setting as an active aspect of novel writing, something that is just as important as character.
  9. In Our Mad and Furious City – Guy Gunaratne: Raw, uncensored, emotive portrayal of fractured lives in a gritty London estate. My favourite read of 2018, deservedly longlisted for the Man Booker last year.
  10. The 392 – Ashley Hickson-Lovence: A shameless plug, but I wrote The 392 with reluctant readers in mind. Relatable voices, real places, short chapters, I want everyone to enjoy this story of a London bus journey that goes wrong when released with OWN IT! on 25th April 2019.