“The trouble with self-publishing is: it’s too easy to do badly.”
This is a phrase I find myself saying far too often, on my travels as a self-publishing author. So, when I find an indie book that is well-written and well-edited, with a fantastic cover design and an author who has truly understood the value of building a platform for her books, I like to shout about it – and that is what I intend to do with the latest book I’ve read: GHOST TOWN by Catriona Troth.
GHOST TOWN is a unique and brilliant book. Set against a backdrop of the Coventry race riots in the 1980s – a period of British history I (shamefully) didn’t know much about – it was not just a compelling read for me, but also a learning experience.
Artfully alternating between the first person voice of Maia, a naïve and conflicted young white 20-something, and the third person viewpoint of Bahjan (Baz: ‘too paki to be white, too gora to be desi’), the story takes us straight to the heart of the racial tensions that erupted across Britain in the early 80s: not the much talked-about Brixton riots, but the persecution of Pakistani and other Asian communities in the midlands.
Then, as now, the mainstream media did little to cover the reality of events and it is clear that the author of GHOST TOWN did a lot of first-hand research to get to the bottom of what really happened. (There is a lot of this on her website.) Young people were killed on the streets in violent clashes. Letterbox fire bombs were commonplace. The police did little to protect Asian families from ugly violence that is seen at close range by Maia and Baz. I get the impression that the gradual ‘awakening’ we see in Maia – her views on race and what it means to belong – is an awakening that the author experienced during her time as a twenty-something in Coventry. The character is utterly believable, as is that of Baz, which must have taken a lot more research in terms of dialect, attitudes and background – again, very convincing.
The plot cleverly weaves the bigger social themes into the main characters’ stories without being clunky or too overt. Much of the plot centres around ‘the Skipper’, a homeless shelter in the heart of Coventry where the two main characters volunteer, and the intriguing range of frost-bitten down-and-outs who use its services. This choice of setting, like the theme of the book and the choice of voice, is unusual and different to that of most books I’ve read. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much.
It’s hard to liken GHOST TOWN to anything else out there, but there were certainly echoes of Alex Wheatle’s EAST OF ACRE LANE. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to step out of their comfort zone and explore a little-talked-about pocket of British history.