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Author fulfills destiny with Booker prize nomination acclaim

By Luton On Sunday  |  Posted: August 14, 2011

  • DREAM BECOMES REALITY: Stephen Kelman, who knew he wanted to be a writer when he was six

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Luton author Stephen Kelman has been longlisted for the prestigious Booker prize for his debut novel ‘Pigeon English’.

Reporter CHRISTINA JOHNSON spoke with him about his dreams of being a writer, as a child growing up in Marsh Farm and how he managed to turn his hopes into reality.

‘It struck me as a bolt from the blue when I was six years old’.

This is how Stephen Kelman describes the moment he realised he wanted to be a writer.

As a youngster he was a keen reader from an early age and this passion was supported by his family and his teachers at Waulud Primary School.

He recalls how his headmistress used to have him read books to her that were for GCSE pupils and his love of reading quickly transformed into a love for writing.

The 35-year-old said: “I always wanted to be a writer but after I did a marketing degree [at the University of Luton] I drifted from one dead-end job to another. I worked in a warehouse, local government and marketing.

“I knew myself that I didn’t have the material or the story to sit down and write then.” When talking about how the idea of Pigeon English came about he said: “I do remember about ten years ago the incident of Damilola Taylor who was killed on a Peckham estate and when that made the headlines I was grief stricken.

“I wanted to write about it but because I didn’t know him or his family I put it on hold.

“As the years went by no one was tackling it in fiction but the same sort of issues kept cropping up. So I thought if no one else is going to tackle this I’d do it.

“Because of where I was brought up I did have some knowledge of those kind of issues.

“My best friend at the age of 11 was from the Dominican Republic and I remember how positive the experience was of living in a diverse neighbourhood.

“I sat down to start writing and the voice of Harri came to me.

“I was happy with my initial work and so it gave me the confidence to carry on with the story, and the rest is history.” Pigeon English follows 11-year-old Harrison Opoku, who has just moved from Ghana to live in a London housing estate.


When a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harrison decides to start a murder investigation of his own.

Mr Kelman started work on his book around December 2009 and it was finished and sent off to his agent in May 2010.

The book turned out to be so popular there was, at one point, a bidding war between 13 publishers who wanted it.

Now he has been longlisted for the Booker prize and is set to hear whether he has made it on to the shortlist next month.

He added: “I have a two book deal with Bloomsbury and my second book is completely different from Pigeon English.

“It’s about a friend of mine who lives in India and works as a journalist but in his spare time breaks world records.

“It’s a part-biography and part fiction and is about an unconventional friendship.

“I hope it will be finished by the end of the year.

“There’s also a TV adaptation of Pigeon English in the pipeline and the BBC is working on that with Scott Free Productions.

“Adam Smith is directing and he is keeping me very closely informed about it and I know they are casting some of the roles.

“No one could have predicted a boy who grew up on Marsh Farm could make it on to the Booker longlist.

“It shows that if anyone has a dream and is prepared to work hard, anything is possible.”

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