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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