When I wrote my first novel Poppy Day, I couldn’t have predicted the way people would fall in love with Dot, Poppy’s Nan. This funny, lively lady living her latter years in a nursing home and under the fog of dementia, struck a chord with many. Her precious moments of lucidity and sage advice were valued as much by Poppy as they were my readers who, like myself, have experience of this cruel disease.
Dot often rambled about the unlikely and imaginary, which was sometimes amusing and often sad. But it got me thinking, what if in some of her garbled stories lay a kernel of truth? What if her ramblings actually revealed some of her inner most secrets, experiences that she would take to her grave, but that continued to haunt her nonetheless?
I wanted to show that Dot and people like her were not always the people they had become. I wanted the world to see Dot at eighteen, full of life, spark and hope – just like us. And with this idea in my head, Clover’s Child was born.
Set in London in 1961, it charts the tale of Dot Simpson, an ordinary working-class, East End girl who dreams within her horizon and likes a laugh and a fag with her mate. She could not have imagined how, on one rainy Friday night with Etta James’ ‘At Last’ playing in the background, her life would be turned upside down.
Dot meets and falls for Solomon Arbuthnott, a West Indian boy. The two embark on a passionate, magical love affair and plan for a future together in the sunshine. But this is 1961, and Dot’s family are horrified at the idea of their daughter dating a black man. Solomon’s family are wealthy and powerful, and they are equally against the union. Marrying a poor white girl is far far from what they have planned for their only son.
The families conspire to rip the two lovers apart with devastating consequences. The relationship lasts only a matter of months, but the shockwaves of it will be felt decades later. Dot and Sol’s love affair shaped the people that they would become.