Meet our Futures finalists: Candice Carty-Williams

·6-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Candice Carty-Williams, 32, cannoned onto the literary stage with a bang in 2019 with her first novel Queenie. When it was named Book of the Year at the British Book Awards Candice became – incredibly – the first Black writer to ever win this award in the 30 years the prize has been running. As well as pushing literary boundaries, Candice has used her platform to raise others and was the driving force in setting up the Guardian 4th Estate BAME short story prize. She's recently written her first book for teenagers, Empress & Aniya, and an original drama called Champion for the BBC.

What was the inspiration behind your novel, Queenie?

The inspiration for Queenie was being a Black woman in my mid twenties and navigating all that it threw at me and my friends.

Tell us about your journey to publication.

I worked in publishing, so was aware what was floating about the market; what had been published, and what was yet to be published, and there wasn’t anything around or anything on the horizon that spoke to my lived experience. When I decided that I wanted to change that, I applied to Jojo Moyes’s writing retreat; I was very clear about the fact that I worked in publishing, wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell, but didn’t have the time, the space or the money to get away and actually just get anything on the page. Months later, I got an email to say I’d been chosen, and I remember thinking that that was the beginning of something. I borrowed my friend Lydia’s car, drove the two hours to the retreat (which was, amazingly, a cottage by Jojo’s family home) and as soon as I sat down to write, this story just came tumbling out. By the end of the first night I’d written eight thousand words and by the end of the retreat I’d written forty thousand. In the next few weeks I finished writing it, then I sent it to my now agent Jo Unwin, who immediately kept sending me lines from the book — I wasn’t sure if she liked the lines or was telling me to correct them. Turns out she did like the lines, and the whole book, so after a meeting with her the next week, I was represented by her. Next came the process of Jo sending the manuscript out to various publishers; I think it was thirteen in total. Nine rejected Queenie, four put in offers to buy the rights to publish the book, and I chose Orion, the publishing house I thought would publish the book best.

What motivates you as an author?

Hoping that young Black writers can see me and know that their stories are valid too.

What is your favourite book by a woman?

My favourite book by a woman is Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn, a tale of love, heartbreak, and women doing what they have to do, even if it doesn’t serve them, to look after the people that they love, set in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I read it while in Montego Bay and it felt so connected to the story and to the world it was set in. Reading Here Comes The Sun was a really blissful time that I won’t forget.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

I can’t actually remember any, so I’ll give you the advice I tell myself: just get on with it!

What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?

Even though I worked in book marketing, I don’t think I could have carried on doing that for very long. I really still want to do something that facilitates the needs of young people, like run a youth centre. I used to go to this dilapidated youth centre in Ladywell every summer and it changed my life. I can’t believe they don’t exist anymore, so maybe I’d like to run one of those.

Photo credit: Orion
Photo credit: Orion


Which female author do you find most inspiring?

Toni Morrison. She began to write at a time when works by Black women weren’t as popular or indeed as commonplace as they are now. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was written when she was a single mother of two children and had a full time job, so she’d wake up at 4am every morning to work on it. For the next thirteen years, she worked full time; I don’t know how many people know that her first novel didn’t catapult her to fame and success, she just kept on working. And if you haven’t seen her interviews, you should rush to YouTube to see her speak about her work, and about the world around her. She was so dignified and brilliant. Transfixing, too.

Do you have any writing routines or ticks?

I don’t have any, but what I do know for certain is that I write best in the dead of night when nobody is messaging me, and when I’m the most awake. I’m such a night person.

What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book?

I can’t choose between An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and On Beauty by Zadie Smith. An American Marriage is all at once full of heart, pain and longing, all themes I’m obsessed with in life and in writing, and On Beauty is an exquisitely written examination of racial identity and how it can drive and shape those who are concerned with it. How could I pick only one?

What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?

I hope that I can carry on reaching readers who can find themselves in any of the characters I write. The characters I’ve written and continue to write are complex, they’re far from perfect, but they try their best. And I think that that is all we can do.

Vote for the Futures winner

In order to find our Futures winner, we need your help. Vote now for your favourite writer. Everyone who votes will enter a draw for the opportunity to win a £100 voucher to use at bookshop.org.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

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