October is Black History Month, when we try to pay special attention to all of the great things that black people have achieved throughout history.
It’s a really important thing to do, because often history books don’t do a very good job of mentioning black people, even when they did extremely important things. New books like Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders are changing that, but it’s great to have time to focus on black people’s achievements.
I do a lot of historical research for my books, and what always strikes me is how diverse Britain was in the 1930s. I often hear from people who assume that I am making up characters like Hazel and George – but I’m not at all! There were communities of East Asian people, South Asian people and black people all over the UK, and I’m very proud to reflect that reality in my books.
When I was researching theatrical history for Death in the Spotlight, two black men particularly jumped out at me, and I’m very excited to have created characters based on them. I’m going to give you a quick introduction to them both below – I hope you’ll go on to find out more about them!
My character Inigo Leontes is based on Ira Aldridge, a Victorian American man who became one of the most famous Shakespearean actors in Britain. He played roles like Othello and King Lear, and as well as the UK he toured all over Europe – he performed in Ireland, Germany and Hungary. I really can’t believe he’s not more well known – he was genuinely one of the biggest stars of his time!
Here’s a podcast from the fantastic Stuff You Missed in History Class that describes his life.
My character Simon Carver is based on Paul Robeson, another black American man who found huge fame in the UK in the early 20th century. He was incredibly smart – he went to Columbia law school and practiced as a lawyer for a while – and then he began singing and acting in the USA. He came over to the UK in the late 1920s, and starred in a lot of hugely popular shows. He became very involved with communism and workers’ rights, as well as the fight against racism (people argue about his legacy because of his links to the Soviet Union) – he was an incredibly powerful advocate for the causes he believed in.
I hope you find both of these very short introductions interesting – I loved learning about Paul and Ira! And I hope you enjoy the characters Inigo and Simon … Death in the Spotlight is out very soon now …