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Heartstopper: Rainbow Milk


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Rainbow Milk is a groundbreaking first novel whose young black protagonist tests the limits of sexual freedom - it's a Bookseller favourite at Lighthouse and a Jhalak Prize shortlisted book.

Rainbow Milk is a bold exploration of race, class, sexuality, freedom and religion across generations, time and cultures. Paul Mendez is a fervent new writer with an original and urgent voice.

The kind of novel you never knew you were waiting for. An explosive work that reels from sex, to sin, to salvation all the while grappling with what it means to black, gay, British, a son, a father, a lover, even a man. A remarkable debut - Marlon James

5 questions for Paul Mendez from the Jhalak Prize

Q. Congratulations on your Jhalak Prize shortlisting. Can you tell us a little more about your book? What inspired you to write it?

A. Thank you – I'm thrilled! Rainbow Milk is the story of a Jehovah's Witness from the Black Country rejected by his family and community because of his sexuality. Jesse moves to London and chooses sex work as a means of negotiating the world around him, on the way discovering new notions of love and family. It's based around my own experiences of trying to keep track of my sense of self while unlearning misapprehensions and overcoming traumas.

Q. How did it feel when you first saw your bookshops selling your book?

A. Rainbow Milk was published during the Spring lockdown, so I had to wait for that first experience of seeing it in the wild. Then I walked into my local Daunt as soon as it reopened and there it was. I cried, of course.

Q. When or where did you discover reading for pleasure?

A. As a working-class Christian youth of Jamaican descent, I was conditioned to believe that I should only spend time reading if it was the Bible or when there were no other duties left to attend to. I was 20 and living on the dole in Kent, having quit my engineering degree, when someone pressed James Baldwin's Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone into my hand. I realised I was at my happiest quiet and alone in the universe of a novel, and began to dream of reading being my job, not just what I might treat myself to when Caesar's things had been paid back.

Q. What do you hope that readers will take away from reading your book?

I want people to listen, unquestioningly, to accept, to believe, to recognise the roles they unconsciously (or not) personally play in slowly grinding down people who are deemed to be of marginalised identities, and take radical, definitive steps to change, because we are only ever just a straw away from being broken. We are brilliant humans each with our own energy, enthusiasm and talent, and so much is wasted and damaged by the biases written into every aspect of our lives.

Q. The Jhalak Prize celebrates its 5 th Anniversary this year. What are your wishes for the Prize over the next 5 years?

A. I hope that the Prize grows ever more in stature and the judges have a harder time each successive year picking a longlist and shortlist, because of the sheer volume of brilliant work being written by people of colour in Britain.


Rainbow Milk, alongside Lote, was The Most exciting work of Black Queer fiction to come out in 2020 - it is BRILLIANT and we hope it has every succes.

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