Kit de Waal is the author of the new novel My Name is Leon. Her work has won a variety of awards, including the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize in 2014 and 2015. She has worked in criminal and family law and served on adoption panels. She is based in the U.K.
Q: You've said your own background working in adoption affected your approach to this novel and its characters. What impact did it have on your depiction of Leon and his family members?
A: Leon is such a lovely boy. He is also a troubled boy, grieving for the loss of his mother and brother which is impacting on his behaviour. I have seen many children like this and also seen how older children often remain in the care system longer than they should.
The novel was a great opportunity of really allowing people to see how wonderful some of these children are whilst also looking at how professionals such as foster parents and social workers struggle to look after children in a flawed system.
Q: You've noted that Leon originally appeared as an older character in another book you were writing. What about that character made you want to continue writing about him, particularly as a child?
A: Leon as an adult had a lot to say for himself. I don’t want to give too much away about the follow-up book, but let’s just say he isn’t afraid to say what he wants and what he needs which comes from his childhood and not getting what he wanted at the time. Leon still has his sense of humour and his formidable strength of character.
Q: What role do you see race playing in the novel?
A: Leon is mixed-race and his baby brother is white. So often I’ve seen social workers struggling with the issue of whether or not to separate siblings or trying to find adopters to take sibling groups sometimes of different ethnicities, ages, needs.
It is a sad fact that white babies are far easier to adopt than 9-year-old mixed-race boys.
Q: You've called it "an unfortunate truth" that children in care today do not face a situation too different from that facing someone like Leon in 1981. Are there efforts underway to try and change the system?
A: I don’t know what the system is like in the U.S., but in the U.K. there are always some government initiatives underway to try and make it better for children in care. Not all of them work.
The thing that would help the most is for prospective adopters to be aware of how rewarding it would be look after an older child but also that there are many good people in the system that do their best.
People like Zebra in the book and Maureen and Sylvia are important to Leon and make such a big difference to his life. Each of them gives him something to cling on to when the going gets tough.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The paperback of My Name is Leon is coming out in April and I’m putting the finishing touches to my second novel. I’m also planning on writing a short story collection and a novella. Then another novel …. I have so many plans and so little time!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The main character in my next novel is a 60-year-old Irish woman, and you’re going to love her as much as Leon!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb