“The producer loved the songs my band was recording but didn’t think I was a very good singer. In a way, he did me a favour by forcing me to focus on my song writing; I never felt comfortable standing in front of an audience anyway.”
Music is still his first love, but the day one of his cousins suggested he should write about the lively Jamaican street life in early 90s Hackney, Victor Headley started a journey which he is still a little bewildered about.
At the time, after several years of trying to earn a living in London in activities as diverse as musician, hospital porter, market trader and catering company operator, Victor had opted for freelance journalism. Not an easy road but he realised he might have talent in this field when one of his first published articles was picked up by a major South-African newspaper.
Fuelled by the confidence gained from this early success in journalism, in 1990 Victor began writing the story that became Yardie, writing it in longhand at night and typing it up on a borrowed computer whenever he could. It took him the best part of eighteen months.
Victor brought the story to two of his journalist friends and they decided self-publishing the novel was the way to go. An initial print run of Yardie copies under the XPress imprint was sold in local record shops, barber salons and through publicity on the ‘pirate’ community radio stations in 1992. The novel soon got the attention of the publishing industry and a deal with Pan MacMillan was signed.
Initially, the success of his novel was an unnerving experience, and Victor’s sudden exposure in the media, plus the interest of both the police and street hustlers, made him take some time out in the Jamaican countryside. By 1993, the BBC had expressed an interest in producing a film based on Yardie but after some time spent developing a script, the project was put on hold.
Meanwhile, beyond the hype and the pressure from publishers to produce more of the same, Victor’s main concern was whether he could escape the ‘gangster stories writer’ label. Reluctant to do so at first, Victor eventually wrote two successful sequels to Yardie, Excess (1993) and Yush (1994), confirming him as something more than a one-hit-wonder.
Victor’s next two novels, Fetish (1995) & Here Comes The Bride (1997), written at a time of deep introspection, explored a wider range of topics. In this transition period, the writer wrestled with the concept of being misunderstood: the charge of glorifying drugs and violence, levelled at him by some in the UK media, didn’t sit well with him.
In the mid to late 90s Victor Headley set off for Africa, where he travelled across the continent on a journey of self-discovery. The exact details of his activities in Africa over the next ten years are not known (he said he worked in ‘logistics and security’ in several countries) but his next two novels published under Hodder & Stoughton, Off Duty (2001) and Seven Seals (2002), reveal a more mature writer, bringing out a broader vision through still captivating plots and vivid characters.
After what he describes as an ‘extended inner journey’, Victor resumed writing in 2016, completing three stories over an eighteen-month period. His latest novel, Domino, a UK-based urban drama, was published in July 2018. Victoria's next titles, Shadows of Eden, an anthology of short stories, and new novel Long John, will be published in 2019 on the Ankh-Sun imprint.
Around 2010 Warp Films secured an option on the Yardie novel, eventually producing the film adaptation directed by British actor Idris Elba. The film was released in the UK on 31st August 2018. Work is also underway on further film adaptations of Victor Headley’s novels.