A black girl with an afro ponytail in the centre, around her are four other black people with differing hairstyles

Book of the week: read an exclusive extract from People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

This week’s book of the week is Candice Carty-Williams’s drama-filled second novel People Person. Read an exclusive extract below. 

If we were to guess the books that hold a special spot on your bookshelf, we’d bet Candice Carty-Williams’s 2019 bestseller Queenie has a place. Catapulting the writer to fame, Queenie was the humour-filled, heartwarming tale of a young Jamaican British journalist struggling under the weight of a miscarriage and a painful break-up with her long-term boyfriend. It sold over 330,000 copies in the UK alone and is currently being adapted for television by Channel 4. 

And now, Carty-Williams is back with her follow-up novel, People Person – a propulsive story of heart and homecoming or, as she puts it, “the truest meaning of family you can get when your dad loves his jeep more than his children”. The story follows Dimple Pennington and her half-siblings Nikisha, Danny, Lizzie and Prynce, who are reunited when a dramatic event means they must rely on each other. Read an exclusive extract below.  

Their father, Cyril Pennington, was not a discriminatory man. He had five children. Five children that he claimed, with four different women. Though, claiming isn’t the same as paying child support, or being physically, mentally or emotionally present. Claiming, in Cyril Pennington’s way, was being generally aware that he had five children (and possibly more, but he wasn’t going to go looking), remembering their names and sometimes their birthdays, and asking them for money when times were hard. He worked as a bus driver, spending his days doing very little in addition to his job but flirting with passengers, chasing women much too young for him, and playing dominoes with his acquaintances at the barber shop near the bus garage. Although he was, unknowingly, a master of detachment, Cyril saw himself as more of a people person than a father. Sadly for his children, this sociability didn’t extend to the five of them in a way that was mutually beneficial.

Cyril’s eldest was Nikisha Pennington. Fiery, driven and bright, she’d decided long ago that having a man in her life was never essential, more like something nice to pick up when she needed and put back down when she didn’t. She had very little time for daddy issues, and actually found the term offensive; the suggestion that she had the issue as a result of being left behind was unbelievable to her. Nikisha’s mother was Bernice. Bernice’s mum had worked at the dental practice Cyril’s mother Delores ran with her husband. Cyril had known Bernice for a while before he’d got her into bed and subsequently got her pregnant.

Candice Carty-Williams
Candice Carty-Williams' highly-anticipated new novel People Person will be published on 28 April 2022

Bernice was a slim and captivating, wildly flirty Jamaican woman with an outwardly sunny disposition but mainly a tongue that would, and could, lyrically destroy you. Nikisha had picked this up from Bernice as she’d grown older, and sometimes deployed it, but only when she needed to.

Then came Danny Smith-Pennington. His mother was Tracy Smith, a friendly and more than accommodating petite white woman with a dark blonde bob, who lived on the block near the bus garage where Cyril worked. Cyril would help Tracy carry her shopping up the dull stone steps to the flat until the day she asked him if he’d like to come inside for a cup of tea. When she fell pregnant, Cyril, in his own optimistic way, vowed to himself that he’d make strides to be present in the life of this child, and also to Nikisha, the two-year-old daughter he already had. That was the first time Cyril had ever notably lied to himself.

Three years later, Cyril became father to Dimple Pennington, and Elizabeth Adesina. Not twins, but born three weeks apart. Dimple arrived, weeping as gently as a baby could, three weeks early, while Elizabeth, who would be known as Lizzie by those close to her, arrived silently, precisely on schedule, and already seemingly unimpressed by the world she’d been born into.

Cyril had met Janet, Dimple’s mother, at a nightclub on Old Kent Road he was DJing at. His DJ name was Fireshot. It was also the name of the soundsystem he’d built back in Jamaica before London called his name. Cyril had liked Janet because she was big. His type was usually smaller, more lean women, but when he laid eyes on Janet’s heavy chest and big, round bottom from the decks, he was so distracted by what he saw that he dropped a bottle of Red Stripe on the turntables. Her full body piqued his interest in a way he hadn’t been able to let go of, physically or mentally. Cyril had promised her the world, and, suitably, had left her with a child. Janet, an Indian-Jamaican woman who had aspirations to be a legal secretary, knew nothing of Cyril’s previous children, and when she found out, she was equal parts livid and heartbroken, though she hid her disappointment. She wanted a child to love, yes, but she also thought that what she’d found in Cyril was a man who would love and support them both, not a man who could whisk up, on the spot, seventy-five reasons why he couldn’t pay child support this week, but that he ‘might be able to help in a couple weeks’ time’.

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Lizzie’s mother was Kemi Adesina, a young nurse Cyril had met when visiting his mother Delores in hospital. Kemi, the picture of dignity, was athletically built with a long, slender neck, and was a proud and firm Yoruba woman who was committed to a full and prosperous relationship with this man who was to be the father of her child. When she found out that this wasn’t going to be the case, she put the encounter with Cyril down to a lapse in judgement and didn’t speak a word to him until the day Lizzie asked where her dad was. This was around nine years after her conception. Kemi called Cyril up, exchanged some quick pleasantries with him, and put him on the phone to his daughter.

When Nikisha was ten years old, Cyril had gone to visit his eldest daughter for the first time in six years. He had given up all of his false aspirations of being a father to her, but it had been Nikisha’s birthday a couple of weeks before and he thought it might be a good thing to take her a card. Nikisha had looked at her father, and the card, with derision, then went out to play with her friends. Cyril stayed, and reacquainted himself with her mother, Bernice, who looked just as good to him as she did when Nikisha had been just a glint in his eye.

Nine or so months later, one frosty December day, came Prynce Pennington. Nikisha, who was probably more suited to being an only child, actually took to being an older sister well. Mainly because she realised there was no point in fighting it; the first time Prynce took food out of her mouth to eat it for himself, she knew this sort of activity wouldn’t be a one-off. Everything she had became her little brother’s. Even her time. Prynce grew up to be a schemer and a dreamer. Selectively forgetful but sharp, charming and excited, but largely uncommitted to anything.

People Person by Candice Carty-Williams (£12.99, Trapeze) is out on 28 April

Images: Portrait of Candice Carty-Williams by Lily Richards

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