Alex Renton longlist author interview
Alex Renton, author of ‘Blood Legacy: Reckoning with a Family’s Story of Slavery,’ talks to us about how he went about researching such a controversial topic, alongside readers' reactions to the work.
How does it feel to be longlisted?
Great. I've been a news journalist most of my career, so it's thrilling to be taken seriously as a writer of proper books! More important, it feels like a real result for all the many generous and patient people in the Caribbean and elsewhere without whom I could not have written it - they made the book by sharing their views and feelings on the legacies of the slavery era and how they affect society today. The book was designed to be read and acted upon - being long-listed helps that happen.
Describe how you carried out your research.
First of all by reading through my own family's vast archive of accounts, diaries, letters, going back to the 1760s. Here I found out what actually happened, on the ground, during the 115 year period during which they owned land and enslaved human beings in Tobago and Jamaica. I then visited both islands to find out what those places looked and felt like today - and talk to the descendants of the people who had been enslaved.
What kind of reactions have you had to the book?
Very mixed! I have heard from quite a few families and individuals whose ancestors were, like mine, directly involved in slavery and who now want to learn more and decide what role they can play in changing the ongoing consequences of the era. But a lot of older white British people seem to feel that even discussing this history is some sort of treachery, an assault on their notion of the great and good British Empire. Others, perhaps younger, less narrowly educated, not so caught up in the British origin myths, have been much more interested.
What are you working on next?
A book about food, politics, traditions and the challenges of the 21st century.