On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries.
Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after.
Malachi had to grow up too quickly. Between looking after Tristan and nursing a broken heart, he feels older than his twenty-one years.
Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. No wonder he’s falling in with the wrong crowd, without Malachi to keep him straight.
Elvis is trying hard to remember to the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things.
Pamela wants to run back to Malachi but her overprotective father has locked her in and there’s no way out.
It’s a day like any other, until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.
In 2017, Luan Goldie won the Costa Short Story Award for her story ‘Two Steak Bakes and Two Chelsea Buns’, and then in 2018 was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize. Strong pedigree indeed, and this year marks her arrival as a novelist, with her debut Nightingale Point, and it is an absolute stunner. A breakout book that surely heralds the emergence of an author who will be making waves for many years to come, this is clearly the start of a very special journey.
Jade Craddock: Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for Nightingale Point?
Luan Goldie: My husband is Dutch, so we regularly go to Holland. One day we were driving around and a friend pointed out the Bijlmer and described it in a way that reminded me of where I grew up in East London. An area that was once ‘no go’ but was now gentrified. He then added ‘it’s where the plane crash happened’. He said this so casually that I couldn’t quite believe it and had to go home and look it up.
JC: In the novel, Nightingale Point itself is a tower block in London, what about this type of residential setting and community drew you to it?
LG: I grew up on large council estates in Hackney, East London. It’s normal for me and for hundreds of others out there. But for some reason, it’s a setting you don’t see that often in TV, films and especially books. On average I read a book a week and struggle to think of books set on council estates, yet I could easily reel off loads set on country estates and manor houses. I wasn’t trying to make a big statement about class, the tower blocks are just a setting, the same way a terrace street is.
JC: You tell the story from multiple perspectives, how did these characters come to mind? Did you start with one particular character and the others developed out of that or did all or several of the characters emerge at once?
LG: Each of the characters walked into my head fully formed. This is how characters are for me. I think about them for ages, hearing them talk to each other. I then start jotting down conversations in really messy note form. Then by the time I write the actual story I know them really well.
JC: There are five main characters whose voices we hear in the story, did you always have this number in mind or were there any other voices/characters that you considered and how did you settle on Malachi, Tristan, Mary, Elvis and Pamela?
LG: These were always my main characters; I loved them from the start and knew they were going on this journey. But there was another character, who I loved just as much, and in the editing process she was cut. It was really hard to delete so many words (about 18,000) but it made the story much stronger as everyone else got more space.
JC: Although the central characters each have their flaws, they’re fairly “good” characters, was it a deliberate choice to focus on these characters rather than perhaps more antagonistic ones like Jay and Ben Munday and potentially others who may have lived in Nightingale Point?
LG: I think even if Ben Munday or Jay were central characters we would get to see the good in them too. Jay genuinely thinks he’s doing the right thing for his daughter, he loves her. And Ben, well, I’m sure he’s good person, he just doesn’t have much going for him. He’s not very bright and has little ambition. But maybe if we got to know him more we could love him as much as Tristan or Mary.
JC: As an author you seem to slip into the characters effortlessly, how easy/difficult actually was it to put yourself in such contrasting shoes? Did any of the characters come more easily or more difficultly to you?
LG :Tristan was the most fun to write. Elvis was the easiest in a way, because of the way he thinks. Malachi was the hardest because he goes through so much and shows so little. Mary was really fun too, but also challenging as I really wanted to nail the way she would speak, so I had to do a lot of listening. Pamela was tough to write, for reasons obvious to those who have read the book. It always helped me to write them in blocks, for example I’d spend a whole day just being in Malachi’s head and writing his parts before switching.
JC: Each character has their own story, did you feel a particular affinity with one of them?
LG: I love them all. But it’s really interesting listening to readers tell me who their favourite is because they see things I don’t. It makes me think about the characters in different ways now.
JC: Two of the characters are brothers, Malachi and Tristan, how enjoyable was it explore these two brothers and their bond?
LG: I have two brothers with the same age gap as Malachi and Tristan, though they are not similar in other way. I’ve always been interested in sibling relationships, especially when the siblings are polar opposites. I also wanted to make Malachi and Tristan quite unequal, so Malachi seems himself more in the parental role and also Tristan is very immature at the start of the novel. I love how their relationship changes.
JC: You create a really wonderful portrait of Elvis, a character with learning difficulties who is part of the care in the community scheme. With the novel set in the 90s, did you have a sense in which attitudes and understanding have moved on/improved?
LG: I remember quite clearly the discussions people used to have about care in the community patients. I remember how it was seen as something wrong and even feared, the idea of people who were different living next door to them. But this was all background, Elvis’s story is purely about him, what he thinks, feels and does. He’s got to challenge all the preconceptions.
JC: Pamela’s story is particularly tragic, did you always have a clear end in mind for her story?
LG: Yes, because Pamela had to be the catalyst for what happens next. Her story is so important as it has a big knock on effect of everyone else’s.
JC: The incident at the heart of Nightingale Point is a devastating tragedy, how did it feel to write about such an event, especially given the recent context of Grenfell?
LG: Nightingale Point was written way before Grenfell happened. But there are similarities, especially with the aftermath. When I went back to do the final edit on Nightingale Point, it was after Grenfell and this was quite difficult. When I researched the original incident (in 90s Holland) it was quite traumatic learning what the people went through, but because it happened so long ago and in another place it felt like there was some distance almost. Especially as much as what I researched I had to have translated first. But Grenfell felt so close, so familiar, so it was challenging going back to do those final edits on Nightingale Point after it happened.
JC: The tragedy at Nightingale Point is life-changing for its residents, but that moment in many ways is only the beginning of their stories. How important was it to explore the aftermath, to consider how the tragedy continues to shape their lives many months and years after and is this something that you think tends to be forgotten about in real-life events?
LG: We are bombarded with tragic stories all the time. But how often do we hear what happens next? What happens after the disaster or the acts of terrorism? The survivors still have to carry on with their lives. They still have a day to day. Their stories don’t stop there. They still need to work and eat and go out and laugh and mourn. All those things. I was also really interested in how people who go through something like this relate to each other, after all, they’ve been through something no one else can really relate to.
JC: The novel focuses on a working-class community and there has been more of an effort in recent years to encourage more stories from and about this community, how important is to ensure these stories and voices are heard and was that a significant factor in your own decision to tell this story?
LG: As a reader I think it’s so exciting that all these different voices and stories are coming through. The publishing industry is making a real effort to open up, but it’s still quite challenging to break through and be heard. However, I don’t feel that I’m telling stories that are specifically about working class people communities, Nightingale Point is a story about people who happen to be living in social housing. Being working class is only one part of their identities, the same way it’s only one part of mine.
JC: Am I right in thinking you’re a primary school teacher? How do the roles of teacher and writer fit together? What inspiration do you take from your students?
LG: I’ve been a primary school teacher for nine years. I love it but it’s very challenging and at times exhausting. The children give me so much energy but at the end of the term I am drained (and usually coming down with some bug – though over the years I’ve become immune to most kid germs). The two things don’t really fit together, they are opposite in so many ways. But I’m lucky to be able to do both.
JC: Prior to writing Nightingale Point you’ve had great success as a short story writer, including winning the Costa Short Story Award, how did that experience help you as a writer and feed into your work as a novelist? Was it an easy transition to make?
LG: I love short stories but they are so hard. I find a novel so much easier and in a way more satisfying. Short stories are all about cutting while in a novel you can explore. Short stories also take me an extremely long time to write, every word is so precious and I can spend hours on a few paragraphs (which is ridiculous).
JC: Going forward, is it full-length fiction or shorter formats that appeal to you most or can you/would you want to do both? Is there anything currently in the pipeline?
LG: I’m working on my second novel at the moment. It doesn’t have a name yet. I didn’t think it was similar to Nightingale Point at all, but early readers have said the themes are. It feels great to work on something new and I’m so excited about the characters.
Our thanks to both Luan and Jade for this excellent Q&A.
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
HQ 9780008314453 hbk Jul 2019