A new novel tells the story of the passengers aboard the Empire Windrush | News

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LONDON:

A new book, which tells the story of Windrush from a different angle, will be launched later this month when Tony Fairweather publishes his first novel, “Twenty-Eight Pounds Ten Shillings – a Windrush Story” via HopeRoad Publishing Ltd.

The title is taken from the cost of the ticket passengers paid to reserve a seat on the HMT Empire Windrush, as it set out from the Caribbean on its two-week voyage to Britain carrying a variety of qualified people who responded to the call of the ‘mother country’.

It’s 1948 and post-war Britain is on its knees. The appeal was made to the British Empire for volunteers to help rebuild the country and young men and women from all over the Caribbean responded quickly, paying the hefty sum of 28.10 shillings to board the ‘vessel dreams” that will take to their new life.

Meet Mavis, a 22-year-old Trinidadian nurse who just wants to see the world. Chef, the best cook on the island, desperate to get to London and his wounded soldier son. Norma, who wants to teach Brits how to teach, and her funny best friend Luquser, who’s sure every man wants her, and English food is very… English.

Their epic journey lasted two weeks, but for some it was a lifetime. Friendships were made and broken. There were loves and fights; dancing and dominoes; gambling and racism. Many of the young people aboard this ship had never left their parents or their parishes, let alone their islands. Their lives would never be the same again.

Much has been written about the Windrush generation after they arrived in Britain, but the stories and experiences of the passengers on board the ship have been little explored – until now. Joyful and poignant, this compelling debut novel brings their hopes and dreams to life.

Mix of true stories

This is Tony Fairweather’s first book despite the fact that he has been in the publishing business for most of his life. He was born in Clapham, south London, to Jamaican parents – his mother is now 90, but his father died in his early 60s.

He opened one of the first black bookstores and art galleries named Narada, located under the Brixton Recreation Center in south London. He then ran The Voice Book Club for the black newspaper, before founding an events company called The Write Thing in 1989 to promote black authors. This led him to work with a veritable who’s who of the black literary world, including Bernardine Evaristo, Dr. Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and many others.

Fairweather is also the founder and curator of the Windrush Collection, a traveling exhibition of artifacts associated with the Windrush generation.

This is why writing this historical fiction novel is very special for him. When asked what prompted him to tell the story of those passengers who came on the Empire Windrush and the many other boat trips that followed, he said:

“I decided after the Windrush scandal in 2017, I wanted to put a face to these people, how did it happen, how did they get involved in this and show that they are human beings, real people, so I felt compelled to rewind to when they actually boarded the ship and what were they doing on their respective islands.

“The ship actually went to Trinidad, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica and Bermuda and took two weeks to arrive at Tilbury Docks. At each stop different characters were riding on it. But before that they don’t go up, you can read their background.It’s historical fiction, a mix of true stories told to me and what popped out of my brain to make the book what it is.

“It shines a light on things as all of these characters begin their two-week long journey. They start mixing on the ship with former Caribbean soldiers and other people there, and then all the adventures begin. Relationships were formed, some had disagreements and you got immersed in those discussions finding out what soldiers thought about the war, how they were treated, what people were going to do when they got to England.

“Some people have even started businesses on the ship. I remember a Mr. Graham once told me that when he was coming to another ship he met another passenger and they started a car mechanic business and he had that business until the day of his death. We didn’t just come with a cap in hand; we came to work to better ourselves in the “motherland” because it was indoctrinated to us, especially Jamaicans.

The migration chain has begun

Fairweather also wants the true story of the Windrush to be known. He said: “What we need to remember is that the Windrush ship was a propaganda story from start to finish.

“After the war Britain was on its knees and industry was at a standstill. The British Empire was there so they said bring in the workers. The King of England encouraged the British government to send out invitations to commonwealth people to come, we were invited to come here, even some people with special skills were given free tickets to come and stay for five years.

“When the ship arrived at Tilbury all those images you see of people boarding the ship with smiling faces were used on PatheNews and BBC films to promote Britain and make people feel comfortable with all these blacks coming from the Caribbean. You don’t see the movies of the other ships that came after, or even the two ships that came in 1947, one carrying 270 people and the other carrying 475 people, one of which was a banana boat.

“My father always told me that he came here to stay for five years, like most people who came then. Almost everyone I spoke to for the book said they came to stay for five years, earn money, and send it home. BBut as the people back home started expecting that money, you didn’t want to leave with an income for them to come too, and that’s how the whole chain of migration started.

But the 2017 Windrush scandal ruined this whole story, and Fairweather has only one word to describe it: disgusting.

He said: “It was blatant racism because it’s not like these people weren’t paying their taxes, buying their houses, putting their kids through school, doing everything according to the books and then knocking on the door to say you are actually illegal in this country is disgusting.

That’s why he’s now planning to write a second book, which will be about life after Windrush.

For now, however, he is looking forward to the virtual launch of his first novel. Twenty Eight Pounds Ten Shillings – A Windrush Story on May 26, when he speaks with writer and filmmaker Veronica McKenzie.

The book will be published in June, but people can pre-order from www.hoperoadpublishing.com and obtain a signed hardback copy. The book will also be available in Jamaica at Sangsters bookstores.


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