I would like to introduce you to Pete Kalu, whose’s latest novel “Being Me”, 3rd instalment in the “Striker” series was recently published. Pete has kindly accepted to go through the usual “Chouett interrogation” that so many of you are familiar with by now and I hope that you will enjoy it! Don’t worry, I was gentle :).
- Which hat do you feel most comfortable with, the poet, the writer or the playwright?
Poetry is the origin of all three for me. There’s usually a moment, a feeling I’m chasing that sits beyond words, and I’m trying to arrive there. Poetry usually gets me closest and I often start a book or play with a few lines of poetry in mind. Speaking of hats, you have to check my hat trick on my youtube channel!
- I find that diversity in writing means different things to many people. What is diversity to you?
It’s that ‘hold a mirror up to life’ idea for me. Britain’s diversity of people – of languages, cultures, backgrounds and ways of being should be reflected in Young Adult literature. The writer CLR James put it a different but perhaps more succinct way. He said writers should ‘bear witness to the times’. That’s what I try to do.
- In your first Striker Series novel (“The Silent Striker), we are introduced to Marcus, a brilliant footballer who has to deal with a disability. How much of you, is in Marcus and what do you like best about him?
Marcus’s experience of disability mirrors mine in nature if not in intensity. As for football skills, I never made it onto the school team, so Marcus is living the footballing life I always wanted to live! I like Marcus’s emotional honesty, his introversion and his determination.
- In “Being Me”, we meet Adele who seems to have quite a different upbringing from Marcus and a rebellious personality. Why did you feel it was important to portray such a unique character, certainly very different from most YA heroines this genre is accustomed to?
I was trying to find some fresh ground – get away from all the stereotypes, tropes, the “ghetto” black characters as well as the lily white girls. Adele’s identity is hybrid and complex – she does not fall easily into any category. Of course I drew on experience – so I have to thank the sisters I grew up with for Adele’s wit, invention and curiosities.
- Out of all the places you have you set up residence, which do you feel inspired you the most, and why?
Hong Kong. During my stay there, the Japanese Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster had just happened. There were lots of people over from Japan and there was a revolutionary energy in the air. Beyond that, the Hong Kong Chinese artistic community had a take on history, spirituality and living that was new to me, and it still inspires me.
- What is the best advice you were giving by your parents or an elder you looked up to in your younger years?
‘Enjoy the ride.’ I’ve had some amazing moments on this earth. When I was younger, I thought they would come thick and fast. Actually some never come round again. So enjoy them when they happen. Enjoy the ride.
- Is there a book or an event in your life that was the trigger to your career as a multi-facetted artist?
I was a poor kid but I had a Saturday job working in the huge garden of a Professor of Medicine – Professor Kellgren. He and his wife, Thelma, became the grandparents I never had. One time he said they were having a family gathering and did I want to join them at their cottage in the country? ‘The country’ was some crazy place full of cows and huge corn fields to me at that time. I was only about 10 and had lived all my life in the city. I weighed it, thinking, should I go, should I stay? In the end I thought, hey, it’ll be a new experience, let’s go. I got there and had a whale of a time. Since then, whenever something new comes along and I have a choice, I tend to say to myself, let’s go, and usually it turns out fun.
- Can you share with us one of your best moments?
Most of my best moments have been simple times with friends, shooting the breeze, putting the world to rights, fooling, riding a wave. Professionally, I’m not sure anything in my life will beat shaking hands with the Jamaican Prime Minister as he handed me an award decades ago. I was so stunned to win I forgot to let go of his hand.
- I find the idea someone exciting but at the same time pretty scary, so I have to ask, what made you take up tightrope walking?
It’s an easy hobby to start – a rope and two trees in the local park is all you need. And it has no practical usefulness whatsoever. There’s something liberating in that. I’m very bad at it but I love to keep trying, and on a good day, when I make it across, it makes me feel like cart-wheeling with joy!
- Can you share 10 things we don’t know about you? (5 is ok too J)
- I seem attracted to fire. I have two large burns as a result, one on my arm , one on my leg..
- When I was 16 I sang in an opera in German at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.
- Smells, and their ability to wake up memories, can bring me to tears.
- I ran into a pillar when I was about eight years old (and out freelance carol singing) and I saw stars – those cartoon stars that spin round cartoon characters heads? – I saw those. I was amazed to see them, even as I howled with pain.
- I swim like a damaged torpedo – very fast but with no direction and churning up water all sides.
(More another time! Thanks for the Qs, hope the A’s work for you)
Thank you Pete!!
You can find fine Pete on Twitter @peterkalu