A few years ago, I was sitting in a room full of teaching colleagues attending a compulsory Prevent strategy training session. A general murmur of dissent went through the room at another case study of radicalisation of a young Muslim student in a school hundreds of miles away. This school’s percentage of non-white students was well below 10%. There had never been a Muslim student on roll. Radicalisation was Someone Else’s Problem.
The next case study involved a young white male. Teachers in his school had grown concerned after he voiced several right-wing opinions in his lessons. Following an investigation, a number of bomb-making materials were found in his bedroom along with plans to attack a nearby mosque. The earlier murmur of dissent turned to one of realisation – radicalisation wasn’t just one way. We’d all been having more and more frequent conversations with students around the increasingly polarised sides of the Brexit debate, and the rising tide of nationalism. Pupils were getting angry – the kind of anger that bubbles up when young people are engaging in vital but un-nameable conflicts with aspects of themselves; aspects that cut straight to the heart of identity and selfhood. All around me, names of certain students started to circulate, and questions were asked about how to challenge radical and pervasive viewpoints, and to address this anger in the classroom. This is where the book that became Grow first started.
I wanted to write a book which addressed that anger; that explored the difficulties of coming of age against a backdrop of increasing animosity and xenophobia towards elements of our society, of toxic ideologies that try to breed and harness that anger, and of competing models of how to be a good citizen. I wanted its central character to be pulled by the extreme ends of this spectrum, enticed and revolted by them in equal measure. I wanted him, above all, to suffer through his anger in the way one suffers through grief. But I also wanted him to come out the other side wiser, more aware.
And I wanted to write a book that was believable, now. A book about multiculturalism that rings true for the many people who don’t experience it on a daily basis except mediated through their computer or phone screens. People in a society where suspected far right radicalisation now outweighs any other referral to agencies involved with the Prevent strategy. Perhaps those two things are connected.
But most of all I wanted to write a book about growing up, about changing, about becoming the person you want to become, about relationships with mothers, fathers and friends. I wanted to write a book about connections, that might speak beyond its immediate context to the core of that anger; the need to be understood.
The book that I wrote is Grow. The wonderful team at Firefly Press have helped me to bring this important story into the world, and for that I’m eternally grateful. It will hit shelves on July 1st, 2021.
I hope that you enjoy it.