Like many of us, Monique Dixon is a woman who wears many hats.
A programmatic marketing specialist, Monique also has a background in fashion and advertising. Her debut novel Once Bad Intentions about a teenager trying to make a break from her violent and troubled past, marked her entrance into the literary world. TBB caught up with Monique to find out about the inspiration behind her writing…
How long have you been writing?
On and off for about 17 years.
How did writing Once Bad Intentions come about?
I always dreamed about writing, I just wasn’t sure how to get started. I began writing Once Bad Intentions in my early twenties. I was mentally trying to figure out my place in the world, and often found comfort in memories from my past. I would host parties with friends and recollect hilarious stories we were a part of. The fights we had, the circus show beatings we got by our parents and elders, our cultural insecurities, our boyfriends, the way we dressed in the 90s and entered the raving scene. We’d be crying with laughter at these gatherings and I was often told I should write a book. The actual impetus to start writing Once Bad Intentions came not too long before I graduated from the London College of Fashion. I met this guy at the Cabaret nightclub off Golden Square. He was a stylist, a club promoter and all-round creative. I told him of my interests in writing, we talked about my background and the kind of characters I wanted to incorporate. He put me on to Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. I started writing my novel shortly after reading that.
It reads like a personal account of an actual person’s life. Did you draw on real-life experiences when writing?
Yes. I drew from what I knew. Growing up in the Lewisham borough of South East London, the girls I hung out with, the conversations, experiences we had at school. The camaraderie and loyalty we had towards one another whilst we embarked on our journey of life. The sometimes off-key stories we would hear from other peer groups. I wanted to recapture the honesty in being a young black girl growing up in South-East London in the 90s trying to figure out the dynamics of cultural assimilation, identity, image, love, your worth as a girl/young woman, how to manage your emotions. Effectively, how to figure out life. Fuelled by a desire to do better. To make something of your life that goes beyond what you’ve seen and requires you to create new experiences and a new life to live.
Given the graphic depictions of violence and abuse, how important was it to have a redemptive thread running through the story?
It was critical for me. I’m far more interested in the effort it takes to change behaviours and become a better person. The violence is weighty, so it was important to have a conscience underpinning those actions, to provide reasoning to what was driving the behaviour and show resolution. If only so lessons could be learned. Humour was also pivotal. I wanted to find a place for laughter when writing about getting your lights punched out as a girl, or by a girl. This is very much a 90s, black, cultural story about love, forgiveness, triumph, and redemption. With characters that were big on image and liked to floss.
Although the relationship between the main character Stephanie and her mother was very contentious, it became clear that they loved each other as fiercely as they fought. How easy or difficult was it to strike the right emotional note when writing their scenes, without trying to lay blame on one or the other?
It was difficult to start with and got easier throughout once I could empathise with the villain and victim that lived within them both. Both mother and daughter sought to be loved, understood and respected. To respectfully address the emotional torment that each character was enduring, I tried to keep in mind the intention of their actions, the cultural and community influences, over and above the outcome.
What were your favourite scenes to write?
There were many. I found writing about the drama of the relationships between friends, boyfriends, and family most intriguing. Mainly because of the cultural dynamics, humour and the nakedness of their vulnerability. In chapter three for example when school friends Maria, Shariece, Stella and Tyrone are bogling to Shabba Ranks, and Safire gets caught smoking weed by her mum, Sonya. The trepidation they all experience. The preparation taken by Sonya and her sister, Ruth, to unleash a memorable beating for their children involved. Stephanie and Safire jumping out of the window to run away after Safire’s mighty beating. Of course, it’s wrong, however, the cultural understanding makes it pretty hilarious. I loved writing about the girls going out. Their ritual of buying designer clothing; flossing. How visual they were with their identity and the image they wanted to convey. The preparation in getting dressed to go raving. How in tune they were with the songs they listened to. How they danced. Chapter Eight is a great example of this as Stephanie, Shariece, René and Maria prepare to go to Moonshot, a bashment night in Deptford, with the honourable voice of Dada guiding them into the night.
If Once Bad Intentions was to be optioned for film/TV who would be in your dream cast?
This is a really difficult one because there are so many young black talented actors and actresses coming through, with, I imagine, many more to come. So I don’t know yet. Instinctively I’d reel off primarily US box office actors/actresses, however, in reality, I’d like them to be UK based and ideally from South London.
Who are your favourite authors?
I’m only just getting back into reading fiction after several years’ hiatus. I had so many favourites in my twenties that I still reflect on in appreciation now. Alex Wheatle for Brixton Rock. He introduced me to the comedic aspect of using Caribbean dialect to drive narration and description. Courttia Newland for Society Within, which was my introduction to his work. It was encouraging to read about characters I could actually identify with. Sister Souljah for the empowerment she gave to her female characters. No Disrespect embodied this empowerment. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, again for her empowerment, passion, and candidness of her stories. Richard Wright for the poetry in Black Boy and reality of Native Son. Paulo Coelho for the perception and love in The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die, and of course, the beloved, gracious and courageous women, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, whose catalogue of work speak for themselves.
What are you reading currently?
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I have Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie next on my list.
Finally, what advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write with passion. Write authentically. Be bold and brave in your writing in order to create a voice that’s unique to you. Write daily, to build on your creative muscle of writing so it strengthens. And read as much as you can and as widespread as you can, to widen your literary influence.
Once Bad Intentions is available to buy from popular online book retailers.
Read our Out Of 100 review of Once Bad Intentions here.