An evening with Roma Tearne

Brixton Beach Book Group

I went to an author event with a difference last night. Roma Tearne, author of  Brixton Beach which I reviewed here agreed to join in a book group discussion at Mostly Books and I was able to join in with the regular book group.  We all met and discussed the book for half an hour before Roma joined us. Most, but not all, had really enjoyed the novel and when Roma arrived we had plenty of questions for her…

The obvious thing we wanted to ask, was how autobiographical the novel is, for  Roma, like her heroine Alice, is half Tamil, half Singalese, and her family fled to England from Sri Lanka when she was ten.  Alice is an artist, like Roma, and specialises in working with found things, making art that deals with history and memory.  In the story, Alice’s mother Sita, nearly dies in childbirth, and loses her second baby due to a doctor refusing to treat her as she was a Tamil.  Roma told us that happened to her late mother, and the book is dedicated to her memory.

Roma was an artist before writing novels, and she still sketches and makes collages all the time. She brought one of her sketch books to show us – it was full of  spiky pen drawings of people, found photos and cuttings, and neatly scribbled observations. She told us how she’d lost all her family photos, and since had loved to find old pictures and postcards in junk shops.

She views her three novels as a sort of trilogy, the first Mosquito deals with the war in Sri Lanka, the second Bone China has the main theme of emigration to escape the war, and Brixton Beach is primarily about integration. Roma won’t go back to Sri Lanka until the problems remaining are resolved.

There were other questions, themes and parts of the novel discussed but I don’t want to give any plot spoilers. Her fourth novel The Swimmer will be published in April, and she’ll be at the Oxford Literary festival in late March talking about it, and also as writer in residence at Blackwells in Oxford during the last week of April.

As a group, we could have talked with her for ages – it was a real delight to have such an informal author event with a great two-way discussion.  Roma was lovely and stayed chatting for some time and stylishly signed books in sepia pen.  I hope we can invite more authors to do similar evenings.

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