A year on from the publication of her prizewinning novel, Keeping the House, Tice Cin reflects on the local people and places that made it all happen By Alice Kemp-Habib
When Tice Cin, 27, was a teenager, she would tail the sound system DJ Gladdy Wax around community centres and party venues. “He was one of my favourite DJs, so up until I was like, 25, I was running after him, cleaning up wires and just being a bit of a fan girl,” she says. Such experiences found their echo in Tice’s debut novel, Keeping the House, which celebrates its first anniversary on 7th September.
In the year since its publication, Keeping the House has deservedly racked up numerous prizes, including the London Writers Award for Literary Fiction and the Society of Author’s Somerset Maugham Award. Set in and around north-east London, it delves into the area’s drug trade and straddles three generations of the same Turkish-Cypriot family. Damla, a young girl who is coming of age on Broadwater Farm, is the novel’s beating heart. Meanwhile, her grandmother, Makbule, is spiralling into dementia and her mother, Ayla, is plotting to import a stash of heroin concealed in Turkish cabbages. Having grown up in Tottenham and Enfield, Tice’s novel is a treasure trove of local knowledge. There are pleasing hat-tips to the historic Swan pub, long-closed night clubs like Eros and The Ritzy and Broadwater Farm Community Centre, where Damla and her best friend, Cemile, dip in and out of a sound system clash in the novel’s closing chapters.
As a Turkish-Cypriot Londoner, such experiences have been fundamental to Tice’s perception of community. “The thing about Tottenham and Haringey is, you never feel completely alone,” she tells me, perching on the edge of a sunken armchair. “I come from a family where we were kind of divorced from our own community – the Turkish community – but there were always other communities that would take you in. Sound system culture is so monumental in Tottenham.”
Like Damla, Tice grew up in the Broadwater Farm area. She moved to Enfield as a teenager, and went on to study English literature at Reading, before transferring to Northampton. But the capital soon called her home; Tice returned to pursue a masters at University College London.
“Going to university outside of London I lost this whole safety net that I didn’t realise I had. Not being able to go into a chicken shop was a real problem. I was just shocked that people were living that way,” she says, only half joking.
Today, we are sitting in The Trampery, a co-working space in Northumberland Park. It’s quiet but for the constant whoosh of buses from the High Road outside. A year on from the publication of Keeping the House, she is reflecting on the local people and places that made it all happen. “I wrote some chapters at Blooming Scent,” she says, motioning to the cafe next door. The owner, Gina Moffatt, would regularly ply her with bowls of puff puff, Tice tells me. Other chapters came to life in Aseptic Studios, a creative agency based in Tottenham Hale. Richard Dixon (Tice’s former schoolmate and co-owner of the studio) shot the book’s lustrous blue cover, too.
She credits Bruce Castle Park and Lordship Rec for “soothing” her during lockdown (when much of the book was written) and LA Fresh Nails in West Green Road for providing some much-needed R&R. “It felt nice to schedule my self care time while also feeling like I was feeding back into the local economy,” she says. “Suddenly I was justifying getting my nails done and in different ways.”
Giving back to her community is high on Tice’s list of priorities. “It’s easy to release something about an area, to tell a story about it and then run off,” she says. Tice works for the feminist book publisher, Tilted Axis Press, three days a week, and recently convinced them to set up shop in The Trampery. “They had a completely mobile team, but I’m encouraging us to have a tangible attachment to the local area and do some deep community engagement,” she says. Tice also manages a locally-based rapper, Domo Gorille, and moonlights as a DJ and producer (she can regularly be found honing her craft at Pirate Studios in Tottenham).
Looking forward, Tice has her manicured hands well and truly full. She is working on two short films, as well as an EP to accompany Keeping the House. Out in November, it features a host of local names, including the renowned producer Acekeyz, who has worked with the likes of Stormzy, Wretch 32 and Labrinth. A German version of the novel is coming out in October, too, and a TV adaptation is currently in the works. A second book – about a female grime producer in North London who is going through heartbreak – is in the pipeline, too.
In the long term, though, Tice’s focus is decidedly more local. She would like to open a community hub, where young people from the borough can receive mentorship and skills training.
“I have a lot of jobs, but it’s not because I want to. Of course I want to stretch out and inhabit a lot of spaces creatively, but a lot of it is just because I’m hustling and trying to find a way to monetise things,” she says.“I would really like to have the income to pump back into the area.”