We got to attend the book launch of the 392, by upcom­ing author Ash­ley Hick­son-Lovence. The night was hos­ted by Sophia Thak­ur, and fea­tured a vari­ety of acts with com­edy and poetry tak­ing place before the inter­view itself. You can check out what Ash­ley had to say through his inter­view below.

You men­tioned the title of the book, The 392, was inspired by the bus route. Why was this influ­en­tial to you?

The 392 is a com­pletely made up Lon­don bus route. As far as Lon­don bus routes go, there’s a 391 and a 393 but no 392, so I stole the incum­bent num­ber for the title of my nov­el.

The route 392 in my book goes from Hox­ton to High­bury — the area where I grew up, to the area where I moved to after mov­ing out of my mum’s flat. Both areas, Hack­ney and Isling­ton, are bor­oughs of Lon­don that have under­gone great change: new fancy cof­fee shops, new fancy new-build flats, new fancy people mov­ing in. The bus weaves through the back­streets and estates of these ever-chan­ging gentri­fied areas, pick­ing up a wide-range of pas­sen­gers along the way who rep­res­ent a diverse cross-sec­tion of mod­ern soci­ety: young, old, rich, poor, white, black, bearded etc. as a sus­pi­cious fig­ure loiters at the front of the bus with a big bag on his bag look­ing shifty and sus­pi­cion.

Where did you get the idea for the book in gen­er­al? Were there any spe­cif­ic life events that helped cur­ate these ideas?

My dad was a bus driver and I’ve always been strangely fas­cin­ated by the role of Lon­don buses but the ini­tial idea to write this spe­cif­ic bus-based nov­el stems from an encounter about five or six years ago. I got on a 43 bus in Isling­ton and saw a fash­ion­able, young, black female bus driver; she was so unlike the usu­al ilk of Lon­don bus driver I usu­ally saw, I decided almost imme­di­ately I wanted to write a story about her: where she came from, what her upbring­ing was like, what made her tick (her story even­tu­ally became Sheila’s in the fin­ished ver­sion of The 392). Very soon after this ini­tial obser­va­tion though, the story grew into some­thing much lar­ger than just the tale of this cool-look­ing female Lon­don bus driver, it became a story about race, pre­ju­dice, change, love and fear, all over the space of a single 36-minute bus jour­ney.

I wanted to write a nov­el that was quint­es­sen­tially Brit­ish, a nov­el that cap­tured the dif­fer­ing voices, nuanced tri­umphs and struggles and gen­er­al essence of being a mod­ern-day Brit amid rising racial ten­sions and Brexit uncer­tainty. But also, a story that every­body, from all walks of life could relate to.

My exper­i­ences as a sec­ond­ary teach­er observing young people grap­pling with the conun­drum of liv­ing in Lon­don as the threat of ter­ror­ism (and the sub­sequent pre­d­ju­dice of people of a cer­tain nation­al­ity or reli­gion) loomed large. I wanted to write some­thing that touched a nerve, made people think, made people won­der, made people ques­tion how we view people who might not look like us.

At your launch, you said music played a big part in how the book came togeth­er. Would you be able to explain this a little fur­ther?

Undoubtedly, music played a huge part in writ­ing The 392 for a few reas­ons. Music­al ref­er­ences lit­ter the nov­el, everything from Dav­id Bowie to Luth­er Vandross; doing so amongst oth­er things, was all part of the pro­cess in demon­strat­ing the palp­able music­al­ity that lives in the air as a Lon­don­er. It’s in the lilt­ing way people speak, they way they com­mute, the way they dance on a night out, the way they act street­wise to sur­vive. Quite a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have com­men­ted on the poet­ic and music­al nature of The 392 which I love, because that was — for large parts — a delib­er­ate inten­tion of mine.

I listened to a lot of Kano and oth­er UK grime artists while writ­ing and edit­ing The 392. I’m a huge fan of UK hip hop and drill music gen­er­ally, from Frankie Stew and Har­vey Gunn to Fredo, Frosty, RV, K‑Trap etc. People for­get that the puns, word­play and top­ic­al ref­er­ences found in Grime/Drill is often so tight and clev­er. Head­ie One is prob­ably my favour­ite artist at the moment, I’m a suck­er for a hard drill beat and a foot­ball ref­er­ence.

For someone read­ing this who may have grown up in the same area as you, how would you like them to react / look at them­selves?

I hope The 392 makes them laugh, recog­nise and remem­ber what it means to be a Lon­don­er. Grow­ing up in an inner-city bor­ough like Hack­ney wasn’t always easy but there are so many stor­ies that exist from the people who come from these kind of areas in need of being told — espe­cially in mod­ern lit­er­ary fic­tion. The themes of the nov­el are uni­ver­sal and relat­able to any kind of read­er, but of course, I espe­cially want every­one in Hack­ney to engage with the sen­ti­ments posed.

What oth­er pro­jects are you cur­rently work­ing on?

I’m cur­rently writ­ing my second book as part of my PhD in Cre­at­ive Writ­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia. It’s a fic­tion­al­ised account of a sport­ing hero of mine, so I’m work­ing really hard at the moment to do his story justice. Like The 392, it’ll be writ­ten in a poet­ic style. There’s already lots of repe­ti­tion, list­ing and exper­i­ment­ing with how the words of the nov­el will look on the page. I’m excited to get it out there… when it’s ready.

I’m also in the pro­cess of edit­ing a poetry col­lec­tion I’ve been writ­ing over a peri­od of ten years or so, all on the theme of Lon­don buses! It’s still touch-and-go wheth­er those poems will see the light of day, some of them need a lot of work but stay tuned.

Do you have any advice for young writers who want to get pub­lished?

If that’s your dream, you can def­in­itely achieve it. Try to write some­thing (how­ever small) every day. Find and read books you enjoy (always carry a book with you). Learn how to write a good email for net­work­ing pur­poses.

For any young writers or poets out there, espe­cially those who identi­fy as BAME, if I can help in any­way, make con­tact with me via my socials and I’m happy to try and help you achieve your goals. Some­times, in some indus­tries, we need all the help we can get.

Most import­antly though, nev­er give up, everything is pos­sible.

Click here to pur­chase your copy of ‘The 392’.


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Rohun Batra

Rohun Batra

Rohun AKA Poet­ini­at­ive is a UK-based writer. With a huge interest in Korean Hip Hop and RnB, he looks to devel­op fur­ther into this music scene, and hope­fully work as an artist with­in the scene one day.

About Rohun Batra

Rohun Batra
Rohun AKA Poetiniative is a UK-based writer. With a huge interest in Korean Hip Hop and RnB, he looks to develop further into this music scene, and hopefully work as an artist within the scene one day.