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Cloth Girl


short listed for the Costa Awards debut novel of the year


Cloth Girl is set in the Gold Coast at the end of British rule. It tells the story of Matilda, who is fourteen when her childhood is ended by her marriage to Robert, a lawyer who already has a wife and children. Matilda is a 'cloth girl', the term used derogatively to describe women who wore traditional cloth (a blouse with a piece of fabric wrapped around the waist as a skirt). She is uneducated and humble in her expectations. Nevertheless, both are confined by the culture of ancestor-worship, which impacts every aspect of life. On the other side of the Colony, a world away, is Alan, a colonial administrator and his wife Audrey. Audrey cannot acclimatise to life in Africa and fears she is losing her mind. When Audrey meets Matilda, the two have a tremendous impact on each other.

Cloth Girl: inspiration

Cloth Girl was inspired by my paternal grandmother, who died when I was eight. I remember her as a warm, kind, soft figure, who smiled a lot, and didn't speak English very well. I didn't know my grandfather, as he died the year I was born, but my grandmother, whom we all called 'Aunty', came to see us every Sunday after church. She was my grandfather's second wife, and when I myself had children, I began to wonder what her life had been like as her background was so different from my grandfather's. He had been educated at boarding school in England and had studied law at Cambridge University. When he married my grandmother she was only fifteen or sixteen. My grandfather saw her one day in her school uniform and sent for her parents to ask for her hand in marriage. My grandmother was poorly educated compared to her husband, and she never lived in the same house as him, but she bore him seven children. Sadly, her only daughter died young. I especially remember when my grandmother arrived one morning when I was about four or five to pierce the ears of my three sisters and me. She used a threaded needle and a cork and then she tied the black thread into a loop, which we had to clean with hot water every day. I remember being so happy when a short while later, she brought me my first pair of gold earrings.

read an extract from Cloth Girl.