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An Interview with award-winning author, Mike Phillips

Library Manager, Kevin Duffy interviewed award-winning author, Mike Phillips, who appeared at Harborne and South Yardley Libraries for Black History Month 2003. He told Kevin that starting to write was both an opportunity and a problem for him. I felt that the expectation of a black writer was to report on issues: an area without a broad readership, but I chose a different path. By focusing on crime fiction, I was able to change the stereotype from the black man being treated as a criminal, to the one writing about crime.

By working within this genre Mike is able to comment on contemporary society in the way that authors such as Graham Greene did a generation earlier, but from the perspective of an outsider to that culture. He told Kevin that his interest is in the underdog, the characters on the margins of society.

In his books Mike gives a voice and a chance to the disenfranchised, whether it is to those who arrived in England on the Windrush in the 1950s or a character in his crime fiction. His recent novel A Shadow of Myself was set in Eastern Europe because it reminds him of what Britain was like in the 50s when he arrived here. He sees parallels in the relationship of Eastern Europe to Western Europe and how the colonies relate to Western Europe: the same sense of fury, resentment, and poverty. Mike says, One of the experiences that made me a writer was the realisation that I was written out of a small piece of literary history in the film Prick up Your Ears; the biography of controversial playwright Joe Orton, author of Entertaining Mr Sloane. Orton and his friend Kenneth Halliwell were frequent visitors to Essex Road Library where I worked as a library assistant. I regularly spoke to them and didn't know that they were defacing the books, an act that eventually put them in jail. When the scene was depicted on film I felt I should have been included, and realised that you cant rely on others to write your story, sometimes you have to do it yourself.

Mike Phillips' novel A Kind of Union about British identity in the 21st Century was published in December 2005

Black History in Birmingham Libraries