Stephen Kelman set for Edinburgh Book Festival appearance

This article is from 2011.

Stephen Kelman set for Edinburgh Book Festival appearance

Photography | Jonathan Ring

Author of Booker longlisted Pigeon English

Probably most humdrum offices in Britain hide an aspiring creative type who dreams of ditching the day job and succeeding at what they love. For Stephen Kelman, the dream came dramatically true. Penned while he worked as a council administrator, his debut novel Pigeon English was subject to a 12-way publisher auction in 2010. ‘I never expected that it would attract the interest it did,’ he says. ‘When a dozen publishers entered the bidding it was surreal.’ Kelman signed with Bloomsbury, but only after meeting the competition. ‘I think that’s known as a beauty parade in the industry,’ he laughs.

The funny and poignant tale of an 11-year-old Ghanaian boy, Harrison Opoku, and his charmingly naïve efforts to solve a murder on his London sink estate, Pigeon English earned glowing reviews and has just been longlisted for this year’s Booker. Its engagement with resonant issues, chiefly knife crime, is one of the book’s undoubted strengths. But Kelman hopes Harrison is what really makes it special. ‘He has a spark and spirit that I’d like to think readers have responded to.’

And he also hopes that others can take inspiration from his overnight success. ‘At points I was considering knuckling down at the day job and forgetting about being a writer,’ Kelman admits. ‘If there’s a lesson there, it’s to just keep plugging away.’

17 Aug (with Faïza Guène), 3.30pm, £7 (£5).

Faïza Guène & Stephen Kelman

Hailed as the 'Françoise Sagan of the highrise', Faïza Guène has given voice to the 'invisible' immigrant communities of suburban Paris. Her third novel, Bar Balto is a jaunty whodunnit and an insight into everyday racism. Across the Channel, Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English tells the story of an 11 year old Ghanaian…

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