Saturday, 23 July 2016

Greenacre Writers Groups

Greenacre Writers have four groups:
Fiction Writers Group meet every 6 weeks on a Tuesday. 
The format involves selected members’ work sent to fellow members for critiquing and feedback at the following meeting. We provide guidelines for feedback. We do not carry out writing exercises at meetings. Membership requires a commitment and regular attendance (ie: you should expect to attend the majority of meetings.) 
Finish that Novel group meets the third Monday monthly.
The FTN2 group is for writers currently working on novels, autobiography or memoir. The format involves selected members’ work sent to fellow members for critiquing and feedback at the following meeting. We provide guidelines for feedback. We do not carry out writing exercises at meetings. Membership requires a commitment and regular attendance (ie: you should expect to attend the majority of meetings.) 
Memoir Course starts in September 2016
What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? Let's start with that question,  where so much confusion lies. Now get this clear.  A MEMOIR is a part of your life.  An autobiography is the whole thing, the whole life.  OK.  Got that now?  Let's move on. 
Anna Meryt will be running a Memoir Course as part of Greenacre Writers
There’ll be seven 1.5 hour sessions, the venue will be in North London and the cost for the entire course will be £70 (payable in advance for the course, (concessions price available on request).
You've got a story only you can tell.
Novel Focus Group starts in October 2016
Allen Ashley has been successfully running a Novel Focus Group on behalf of Greenacre Writers since October 2015. The current round of sessions concludes in July. Allen is keen to take on a new cohort of would-be novelists for the next academic year, starting October 2016. Subjects covered will include:  Novel planning, Structure, First pages and chapters, Characterisation, Location, Dialogue, Pacing, Style and Editing techniques. If you are serious about settling into writing your novel, this is the course for you. 
For more information contact Greenacre Writers: 

Monday, 11 July 2016

from Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings by Frances Mensah Williams

Pasta fanatic Faye Bonsu loves her job as Junior interior designer at Cayhill’s - one of the top design consultancy firms in the City of London. Her relationship with long term boyfriend Rocky Assante, is deteriorating due to his heavy work load and Faye felt that:

lost in a haze of work, her high-flying investment banker boyfriend was fast becoming a stranger

The story begins with Faye taking a break from her busy work life to go to Hampstead Heath with her best friend Caroline and Caroline’s daughter Coco. Surrounded by ‘yummy mummies…and shiny buggies’ Faye reflects on her life situation as she watches children running around on the Heath and families spread over colourful picnic blankets.

Faye feels her relationship with Rocky is not moving forward. Approaching thirty she is now ready to settle down. The problem is, Rocky gives no indication he feels the same way. His job involves long hours and a lot of travelling leaving Faye to wonder what the future holds.  Despite enjoying her career, which is heading in a very positive direction, Faye has other aspirations and:

continued to harbour her secret dreams of a big family of boisterous, noisy children

Friends and family, realising she is ready to settle down, are urging her to put her needs first and talk to Rocky about how she feels. However, Faye continues to send Rocky mixed messages about her feelings and their relationship causing them to drift further apart. It seems like her resolve to speak to Rocky about her frustrations disappear as soon as she sees him.

“She just stared at him, struck yet again by how utterly beautiful he was”

She is still drawn to him and although he is unreliable she almost melts the minute she sees him, all her frustrations and annoyance pushed aside.

“Rocky’s low drawl sent familiar shivers juddering straight through her body

When they both return to Ghana for the wedding of Rocky’s sister Amma, Faye is wary of spending a whole week in the same house together and her fears are realised as he becomes even more distant.
Although Faye struggles to confront her own relationship issues she is busy helping others with theirs. Best friend Caroline and husband Marcus have their own problems along with Caroline’s dislike for her mother-in-law and Faye steps in to get them to see sense. Faye’s client Harriet Woollaston is in a similar situation with her husband Jamie and Faye helps to bring the two back together.

It is only after her return from Ghana that Faye begins to reflect on her own desires, looking deeply into a past relationship to find clarity.

from Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings is a story about the complexities of relationships. Many will empathise with Faye’s inability to discuss her own feelings, resulting in an unhappy relationship. It is always easier to see the problems of others rather than one’s own.

It is an entertaining novel which reflects modern day living. The juggling of career and family life and trying to achieve a happy balance between the two. The characters are authentic and it is easy to get caught up in the day to day struggles of their personal issues.

It is also a story about love – which is ultimately what drives everyone forward. Love for friends; love for relatives and love on a more personal level. We see the issues that arise between people once the initial excitement has worn off but there is also the delight and hope of new love when Lottie, Faye’s family housekeeper, falls in love with the dashing, aging actor Sam Molloy who has recently moved into the street.

Cultural references to Ghana, the African food and way of life through Fay and Rocky's experiences also give added dimension and interest to the novel 

Second Helpings was a very enjoyable read and Frances Mensah Williams has achieved a good balance between reality and fiction to enable the reader to identify with the characters in a positive way.

We thank Jacaranda Books for the review copy

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Conversation with Frances Mensah Williams

Frances Mensah Williams was born in Ghana and although she moved to the United Kingdom when she was just six years old, Ghana – and Africa in general – is still very important in her life. This interest is reflected in her writing of both non-fiction and fiction and in her work. Frances studied at Reading University and took up a career in Human Resources Management, Training and Consultancy where she worked in both the UK and Africa.

Before embarking on a career in fiction, Frances wrote two non-fiction books: I Want to Work in Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent and Everyday Heroes: Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals. She also wrote articles for magazines and newspapers and has continued to do so while holding the position as publisher of ReConnectAfrica.Com and working as Chief Executive of Interims for Development Ltd. She also speaks at events in connection with Africa. Frances now lives with her family in London.

The draft for her first novel Pasta to Pigfoot (May 2015) was written when she was living and working in Ghana and Frances’ follow up novel from Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings was recently published in May 2016.

Pasta fanatic Faye Bonsu seems to have it all: a drop-dead gorgeous and successful boyfriend, a bourgeoning career as an interior designer and a rent-free mansion in leafy Hampstead to call home. But with all her friends shifting into yummy mummy mode, a man who seems to have no desire to put a ring on it, tricky clients, and an attractive and very single boss, things are not quite as straightforward as they might appear.

Hoping to escape from her suddenly complicated life and revive her wilting romance, Faye returns to sunny Ghana for what she hopes will be the time of her life. But life doesn’t always offer second chances and when disaster strikes, she is forced to confront the biggest question of her life and to make a choice that comes with consequences she will have to live with forever.

We thank Frances for joining us in conversation and wish her lots of success with Second Helpings and happy writing for the third novel she is currently working on.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey started as a voracious child-reader who simply devoured books. My author training came from years of Saturday afternoons sitting on the window seat of Hampstead Garden Suburb Library reading as much as I could before being turfed out, and then carrying at least five books home with me until the next weekend. Spending so much time in the worlds created by others, it seemed only natural to me to create my own characters and my own version of the multicultural world that I grew up in. My journey took me from London to Ghana where, for a few years, I experienced first-hand the challenge of blending two cultures and the fascinating – and sometimes hilarious - clashes that could arise; a period of time that informed some aspects of my first novel. Writing has taken many forms for me along the way, from book reviews, contributing chapters to journals and books, numerous articles and opinion pieces, to establishing an online magazine. It was only after writing two non-fiction books that tackled the paucity of black ‘everyday people’ role models and revealed career opportunities in Africa respectively, that my journey has a fiction writer finally came to fruition in 2015 with the publication of my first novel, From Pasta to Pigfoot.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

For me, writing is a way of giving voice and structure to ideas and characters that appear randomly and swill around my brain until I put them to paper. It’s a way of releasing stories that I can visualise internally, almost like a movie, hoping that others will also find them interesting. What I like most is that it gives me a platform to take people into a world that many people don’t get to see often or at all, and to introduce characters that may have a different ethnicity but who have the same hopes, dreams and insecurities and who suffer the same mishaps as any reader.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I have to hand that prize to Michael, who is the boyfriend of Faye, the protagonist in From Pasta to Pigfoot – and judging by the hissing he gets at book readings, I’m not the only one who thinks so! He’s patronising, opinionated, insensitive and has a completely overblown Pygmalion complex. I’m sure everyone has met and detested a ‘Michael’ at some point in our lives – that person who criticises what you eat, wear, do, and even think. But I can also understand why he has developed into such a culture fascist. We all want to belong and to feel part of a group or society that accepts and validates us even if, as in his case, he takes it all far too seriously.

Last October Greenacre Writers organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience writing about characters of colour?
Characters of colour are the real-life characters that surround me every day so writing about them doesn’t feel any different to writing about white characters. As a black woman, I’m the norm to me, and because my family and friends of colour are as much a part of my daily world as my white friends and family, I don’t see us/them as different, except in their personalities. Growing up, I lived in several different countries and while I recognise differences, take for instance those between my country of origin, Ghana, and the UK; I don’t feel wedded to any one worldview or culture so strongly that the other feels ‘alien’. I tend to believe that fundamentally people are people and when I write, my concern is that my characters should be engaging and entertaining, whatever their skin colour.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Somewhere with a warm climate where I can write on a cool balcony overlooking the sea. And ideally where there’s no kitchen, so I don’t have to stop writing to cook dinner for teenagers.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

It would have to be The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency because Alexander McCall Smith created not only an unforgettable character in Precious Ramotswe, but a world of courtliness and humour where even the scoundrels are charming. The book informs and entertains, but also shows a different facet to Botswana and the Africa we tend to see in novels.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

I tend to think that, like me, most people nod wisely at words of advice and then promptly forget them. My contribution to a nodding-wisely moment would be to encourage anyone who wants to write to quite simply just do it. Don’t apologise for your voice or feel the need to explain the stories you want to share; just write what comes to you, and write it well.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m working on the manuscript of what I’m hoping will be my third novel and trying to live with the different voices from the characters constantly popping in and out of my head. My second novel, From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings – the sequel to From Pasta to Pigfoot – has just been published. As with the first book, Second Helpings is set in London and Ghana, and follows the next phase of Faye’s adventures in life and love.

From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings is published by Jacaranda Books.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Finchley Literary Festival

We are happy for you to RSVP via Meet-up - BUT, you are also very welcome to come along to any event on the day.
Most events are FREE

Only workshops must be booked in advanced either email or Tel 020 8346 9449 

Friday 24th June:

Writers’ Workshop.   11.00-12.30pm North Finchley Library, N12 9HP
Memoir writing workshop led by Anna Meryt, author of A Hippopotamus at the Table
Booking required: RSVP here.

Harry Parker      and      A.L. Bird
Author Event.   2.00-300pm Church End Library, N3 1TR
Meet Harry Parker when he discusses his debut novel, The Anatomy of a Soldier, based on his army experiences which reached The Times top 5 bestseller list. No booking required. 

Author Event.   3.15-4.15pm Church End Library, N3 1TR
Local author, A.L. Bird, reads from and talks about her fourth novel The Good Mother, a psychological thriller. No booking required.

Writers’ Workshop.   6.30-8.30pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Adaptation Workshop has been CANCELLED
Allen Ashley

Book Launch.  7.00-8.30pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Allen Ashley, poet and author, welcomes you to the launch of his latest book The Planet Suite. Following an interview, Allen will take questions about science fiction and writing in general. No booking required.

Saturday 25th June 

A Trio of Authors.  11.00-12.30pm   Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Three exciting authors discuss their latest works and their writing process. Yvette Edwards, author of A Cupboard Full of Coats and The Mother, will be joined by Irenoson Okojie, author of Butterfly Fish and a short story collection, Speak Gigantular, and Catriona Ward, author of Rawblood. The session will end with a panel discussion with questions from the audience.
Free but please RSVP here.

Trio of Authors
Yvvette Edwards  and  Irenosen Okojie  and  Catriona Ward

Dragons’ Pen.  11.30-12.45pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Pitch your novel or story in five minutes to literary dragons for instant feedback from award winning writers and editors. Plus small prizes for the top pitches. 

Dragon's Pen
Gillian Stern  and  Antonia Honeywell  and  Cari Rosen

Literary Delights.  1.30-5.30pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN

Joanna Campbell, Antonia Honeywell, Sunny Singh, Vaseem Khan
Short Story Competition results.  1.30-2.30pm  
Joanna Campbell, judge of the FLF and Greenacre Writers short story competition, will announce the winners. Joanna will then read from her latest collection of short stories When Planets Slip Their Tracks and will also talk about her first novel Tying Down the Lion.

Orphans in Fiction.  2.30-3.30pm  
Antonia Honeywell, author of the highly regarded novel, The Ship, and Rosie Canning discuss the literary representations of orphans through the ages with readings from classic and contemporary texts.

Tea Break with book signings.  3.30-4.00pm

Author Interview.  4.00-4.45pm
Sunny Singh, author of three novels including her latest, Hotel Arcadia,
Will be interviewed by Lindsay Bamfield, talking about her extensive writing career and her influences. 

Meet the Author.  4.45-5.30pm
Vaseem Khan reads from his bestseller debut novel The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra.
Free but please RSVP here.

Katharine Norbury
Sunday 26th June

Meet the Author.  11.00-12.00pm Waterstones, N12 9QR
Katharine Norbury presents her acclaimed book The Fish Ladder, a memoir, incorporating travelogue, mythology and nature writing.
Free but please RSVP here.

Finchley in Fiction  – Guided Walk. 12.00-4.30pm  
Meet Waterstones, N12 9QR
Mike Gee and Rosie Canning lead us on a literary walk with a lunch stop at Redwood Café (one of our sponsors) in Swan Lane Open Space, and a tea stop at Finchley Golf Club.
£3.00 pay on the day, please RSVP here.

Music and Poetry Palooza.  6.00-8.30pm Café Buzz, N12 8JY
Join Anna Meryt and guests for an evening of lively performance poetry and music. 
No booking required.

Stop Press: We are delighted to announce that The BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP will be the festival's book sellers at Trinity Church Centre on Saturday 25th June.

Friday, 17 June 2016

In Conversation with Sunny Singh

Sunny Singh will be appearing at the Finchley Literary Festival

Literary Delights: 
Saturday 25th June - 1.30-5.30pm
Trinity Church Centre, 15 Nether Street, N12 7NN.

See more here.

Sunny Singh was born in Varanasi, India. Her father’s work required the family to move regularly to various locations all over the globe giving Sunny the opportunity to experience many diverse and interesting cultures.

Sunny holds a degree in English and American Literature from Brandeis University, USA and a Masters in Spanish Language, Literature and Culture from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Sunny also obtained a PhD from the University of Barcelona, Spain.

Her first novel Nani’s Book of Suicides (2000) was described by Goodreads as ‘a first novel of exceptional talent’ while her second novel With Krishna’s Eyes (2006) was praised for its ‘profound insight’. Although an outstanding novelist, Sunny does not restrict her writing to fiction. Author of Single In The City: The Independent Woman’s Handbook (2001) Sunny documents her personal experiences and that of other single women in present day India.

As well as having short stories published by distinguished magazines such as World Literature Today and Drawbridge, Sunny has also written academic papers which have been published worldwide.

Currently living in London, Sunny is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the London Metropolitan University, blogs about her passion in politics, and is actively involved with the Jhalak Foundation of which she is the founder. The Jhalak Foundation funds and organises paediatric cardiac surgery for disadvantaged children in India.

Hotel Arcadia is Sunny’s third novel, published March 2015.

A terrorist attack at the Hotel Arcadia leaves photographer Sam, famous for her war pictures, holed up and unable to leave. Abhi, the Hotel manager and unlikely hero, tries to keep some of the guests safe while his lover, Dieter, is among the hostages held by the terrorists. Billy, a small child, is found alive and Sam looks after him. Inevitably, bonds form between Sam and Abhi and Sam and Billy as their situation becomes desperate.

Hotel Arcadia is a gripping thriller which combines the fear and terror of a hostage situation with the strong bonds that form between people when experiencing such a traumatic event. Among the many excellent reviews the book has received The Independent says it is ‘powerful and absorbing’.

View the book's trailer 

We thank Sunny for answering our questions and wish her every success for Hotel Arcadia and her future writing career.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

I always wanted to write stories. One of our neighbours was an acclaimed Hindi writer and I used to be in awe of his library. I was fortunate to grow up in a house full of stories. We had lots of books but the adults – my grandmothers, my parents, uncles and aunts – constantly told stories. From history, from daily life, politics, mythology. Moreover telling stories – real and made-up – was encouraged in my family. This also meant that when I reached my teenage years, I was encouraged to send out work for publication. My first work – a poem – was published when I was fifteen in a newspaper. It was after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. I still remember feeling thrilled to see it in print and simultaneously furious that the editor had ‘changed’ the final stanza to be more hopeful. It was an early lesson in how editing and publishing function.

I have continued writing and publishing regularly since. Over the years, I have worked as a journalist, as a freelancer, a translator, and editor. At university, a friend’s mum was a refusenik writer and she told me that ‘there is writing for the soul and there is writing for the stomach. Writing for the stomach sharpens the pen.’ I have always held that lesson dear and used all sorts of writing related activity as a way of honing my craft, of sharpening my pen.

This means that in addition to my fiction (three novels and a clutch of short stories so far), I also have over ten years of journalistic experience. I have written a non-fiction book on single women in India, the first and only one of its kind so far. I also publish academic research, mostly on film and culture and have just finalised a book for BFI/Palgrave’s film stars series on the Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan.

I don’t see myself as a writer necessarily, but as someone who writes as a craft and profession. So anything that catches my interest – fiction or nonfiction – gets written up.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Because of the way I grew up and because of political engagement from a very young age, I have always seen the role of a writer as that of bearing witness, of raising ethical and moral questions, speaking truth to power, and of attempting to lead deep structural change. At different times and in different ways, I like to think my writing does some and all of these. I was raised to believe that writing was an exercise of power and therefore, as with all forms of power, needed to be wielded carefully, thoughtfully and with great restraint. I am still learning how to do it well.

As a writer, I love creating narratives that can make a reader think, and hopefully just begin to rethink and even alter their own imaginary and lived worlds a tiny bit.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
Oh constantly. I write a great deal about armed conflict as well as structural inequities and injustices. I think my first novel – Nani’s Book of Suicides - was written entirely from a standpoint of hating everyone who populated that story world. I understood and empathised, but didn’t like any of them. Even in my latest novel, Hotel Arcadia, I am not fond of Sam. She is not a likeable character in a traditional sense but as I wrote her, I understood her more and found myself mourning on her behalf.

4. GW recently organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about characters of colour?

I have been quite fortunate as I grew up reading Indian literature, primarily in Hindi. This means I am used to women who look like me or have similar backgrounds, experiences, worldviews, ambitions within the pages. On the other hand, as I started reading in English, I also grew more alienated. Except for specific writers of colour there are even today few attempts at engaging with the full range of diversity. It is also important to note that writers of colour are still generally put into that specific category rather than seen as writing 'universal' works.

My writing came from this lack. As I moved out of India, I found few stories of women like me. Actually, let's be honest, there are still all too few stories for any women that defy cultural norms and narrative tropes anywhere. So I started writing the women I knew and loved, the women I admired, and also the woman I wanted to become. Increasingly - as my skill and understanding have grown - I have started writing not only women of colour, but also other characters of colour who can be complex, complete and not serve as stand-ins for their race, culture, ethnicity, but exist as full beings.

5. Do you think literature accurately reflects the diversity of society we have today?

I would have to say no. And this is not just about going down a checklist of 'types' but trying to reflect the full complexity of our social, lived experience. So there aren't enough non-typical women characters. But there are also not enough queer characters who aren't condemned to tragedy by all too many writers. Or men of colour who can go past the cliches. This is lazy writing at best, and outright damaging at its worst. How will those of us who are not at the elite heart of society learn to value ourselves, or even begin to hold dreams, when we are so comprehensively excluded from narrative.

6. If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I don’t know. I am terrible at this because I write best in my own home. I have lived in so many different countries that the geographical location makes little difference to me. But I want my own room, with my books and laptop, my music, and my thoughts. The rest is really immaterial. Having said that, I do like swimming regularly when I am working on something complicated and long so anywhere with a pool nearby is extra lovely.

7. What is the one book you wish you had written?

Is it completely terrible that I can’t think of one? There are many books I love and writers that I admire but I can’t think of one that I wish I had written. Perhaps this is because I had access to a very wide range of books. I began reading Indian (in Hindi, Sanskrit, Prakrit) books but also a lot of book translated into Hindi. This meant that I read Russian literature – translated into Hindi – before I read western works. By the time I was eight, I could read in English which means I read a lot of European, north American, Latin American and African works. Often I would rewrite them in my head, reworking the characters and storylines in ways that I preferred, but I have yet to come across a book that I would wish to write entirely.

8. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Gosh! This is something I say to my students, don’t I? I would say read. Read as much as you can, and not only fiction. Critical theory, analysis, academic work, all of it. Read as widely and fully as possible. And then read some more. And alongside, keep writing. Keep practising that craft. And I would repeat the advice from my friend’s mum: don’t have contempt for writing for the stomach. It is all practice of the craft and all of it nourishes the writing.

9. What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I am currently finalising a collection of short stories around the theme of contemporary warfare. It covers some of the ideas and themes that are closest to me : gender, human rights, injustice. The stories are set and drawn from conflicts across the globe and deliberately focus on people who are often left out of the conventional ‘war stories. ‘ I hope however they manage to convey our shared humanity

You can follow Sunny on Twitter: @sunnysingh_nw3

Hotel Arcadia is published by Quartet Books Limited

Monday, 13 June 2016

A Conversation with Anna Meryt

Anna Meryt will be at the Finchley Literary Festival with her Memoir Writing Workshop Friday 24th June 11.00-12.30pm
North Finchley Library, N12 9HP.

Plus Music and Poetry Palooza at Café Buzz
Sunday 26th June 7.00-9.00pm
783 High Road, N12 8JY

Anna Meryt is a member of Greenacre Writers 'Finish That Novel' group. She has published two collections of poetry, Dolly Mix: A Take Your Pick Poetry Collection poetry and Heartbroke described as a collection " inspire hope through experience and identification...Meryt does her motivation proud with titles like 'Hurling Bricks', 'A Shell Explodes' and 'Give Me A Break'."

Anna has had numerous poems published in magazines and anthologies and is part of Highgate Poets. In 2011 she won 1st prize in the Lupus International Poetry Competition with her poem ‘Bulawayo’ which is about her birth place.

Anna has published her memoir, A Hippopotamus at the Table, the story of a journey to a new life in Cape Town, South Africa in 1975.

We hope you can join Anna at the Finchley Literary Festival.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I was a sporadic poet, but nothing I ever showed anyone.  My ex-husband was an actor/writer and I never thought I’d match up to him. We moved to South Africa in the 1970s really because we both had African connections from childhood. When we came back I missed it so badly, so much had happened there, I wanted to write the story.  One day, I was sick in bed and started to write it all. It took 20 years of writers groups, workshops, an MA before I could think about it being published.  Meanwhile I was getting poems published, every time I sent one off, in a variety of anthologies. Eventually I produced two poetry collections and I was given a big push to finish my book by one of my daughters – she got me a TV interview for an online news channel she worked for.  I realised I had to have a book in my hand for the interview.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I’ve had an interesting life.  The South African story was an important one to tell as not much has been written about living with apartheid from a white observer’s perspective. But I have more stories to tell about things in my life that happened, things people might find hard to believe that have happened to me. I’ve started writing my next memoir, getting good feedback from the Greenacre Writers group I’m in.  The problem is that everyone else in the group writes fiction and although there are aspects of memoir that cross over with fiction writing, it really is such a different medium. I do see myself as chiefly a memoir writer, although I also write articles for my blog and sometimes a short story. Stephen King says ‘If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.’ He’s talking about fiction writing, but it is particularly true for writers of memoir.  I love being able to put myself back into a different part of my life from the past and immerse myself, recreate what happened, bring the story to life.  Essentially I just like telling the story I think.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
As a memoir writer, I don’t ‘create’ any characters.  In my life and work (I used to be in Criminal Justice) I never met anyone I couldn’t empathise with, I’ve always had an ability to strongly empathise with anyone.  I  had to teach myself to maintain a boundary between me and others. I cannot hear about someone’s life without seeing the suffering underneath and empathising –that has shaped my experiences and probably the stories I have to tell.  There’s only been one person whom I had to deal with in Indonesia who I felt had made choices in his life which led to him slipping over into evil. Once I realised who he really was I cut myself off from him, even though it meant not achieving a very important goal at the time.  I’ve known, through my work, plenty of people who’ve done bad things, including committing murder. Somehow though I always saw their deeds or actions as separate from who they were as human beings. This is bound to be reflected in my writing.

Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

My memoir was set in South Africa under apartheid so there’s a considerable focus on the racial differences and the way different groups were treated there. I think white people are often very nervous of talking about racial issues and diversity because they’re so afraid (rightly so) of saying the wrong thing due to their lack of knowledge or experience. I have mixed so widely amongst black and mixed race Africans (plus two African partners and current partner is Afro-Caribbean) and also because I have this facility for talking to any person as one human being to another, I don’t have such a fear response about dealing with the topic head on. I’ve also, both in family and Criminal justice contexts had lots of experience of all kinds of personality disorders and mental health problems, so I can write about all these issues with some knowledge and experience and empathy. In my memoir, For example, I wrote about a black hunchback friend of mine plus another dear friend who was (he’s dead now) a brilliant poet but also schizophrenic.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

All my best places for writing have been warm and sunny with a view of the ocean. The sound and the smell of the sea – usually sitting in a comfy chair in a café – staring out an open window at the sea. But once I go into writing mode, my surroundings fade out and I hear and see nothing around me for hours sometimes. Some people like total silence and being alone to write in.  Not me, I like a quiet hum of voices (like in a café) or lots of people around like in a library.  I don’t like silence and aloneness, I came from a big family, I like people and sounds (not too loud) and a comfy chair and my laptop. A specific place would be Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Well several authors write so beautifully that as I read I feel envy, I feel totally inadequate beside their beautiful prose.  Firstly Dylan Thomas will always be my absolute poetry hero, Secondly for prose fiction that brings characters to life in an almost magical way – Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall  and then Ryzard Kapucinski who writes such beautiful travel memoirs of Africa in the 1960s.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
Read, read, read and learn your craft.  Keep true to your own voice, listen to it and your own drive to write.  People will tell you a heap of crap about your writing.  They are often putting their own projections onto you and can often BE WRONG about your writing.  I think you’re best getting feedback from people who can be neutral and unsubjective – NOT friends and mostly not family either.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

My next memoir starts off in London, then shifts to Indonesia and finally back to London. It’s about getting someone out of an Indonesian police cell, overrun with cockroaches and rats. .It’s about all that that took including bribery with large sums of money and dealing with someone evil, but also finding the wonderful goodness in unexpected people.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I always liked George – the tomboy in the Famous Five adventures.  Because she didn’t have to behave like some cissy girl. She could be herself.

You can follow Anna on twitter: @ameryt

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Conversation with Irenosen Okojie

Irenosen Okojie will be appearing at the Finchley Literary Festival. 

A Trio of Writers: 

Sat 25th June 11.00am-12.30pm
Trinity Church Centre, 15 Nether Street, N12 7NN.

See more here.

Irenosen Okojie was born in Nigeria and sent to England at the age of eight to attend a boarding school in Norfolk. The difference between the rich and diverse culture of Nigeria to her new life in England took some adjusting to and Irenosen wrote diaries to put her feelings into words.

This appears to be a thread in her life as Irenosen expresses her thoughts and emotions through writing. When her mother was in hospital for an eye operation, Irenosen passed the time in the waiting room penning a poem. During bouts of insomnia in her younger days the natural remedy was to pick up her pen and write.

Irenosen gave up her study in law to pursue a career in the arts. She has had articles published in many magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian and the Observer. Her short stories - no doubt influenced by the custom of storytelling at social gatherings in her early years - have been published in the UK, the USA and Africa.

Now Irenosen has written her first novel Butterfly Fish released on 8th July 2015.
The novel links contemporary London with 19th century Benin, Nigeria through Joy. When her mother dies, Joy is heartbroken and is pulled towards an artefact which she inherits from her mother: the cast of a warrior's head of a 19th century king in Nigeria. Her interest in the artefact results in Joy dreaming of a mysterious woman of the past which leads to revelations of family secrets. Butterfly Fish is a powerful novel of love, hope and loss written in Irenosen's unique and compelling style.

The following questions and answers allow us to get to know Irenosen more personally. We wish Irenosen all the success she deserves with the novel and her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.
I've always been obsessed with books from a young age. I carried them everywhere. I always wrote poetry and kept diaries. Even then, there was something about documenting my interactions and experiences that was intriguing. Not because of me but because of what I could glean about other people and their lives through these encounters no matter how trivial. I did different types of writing in my twenties; essays, articles etc. I wrote for a film maker's magazine and for a couple of women's magazines. Then, I penned a short story which morphed into a novel when I joined a writing development programme. I just kept writing, till it grew into this animal that felt urgent, pressing and necessary.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
It's funny; initially it feels like quite a selfish endeavour. It still does! It requires a huge amount of focus and concentration. Writing my novel almost made me anti-social, I just didn't have as much time for friends as I would have liked. Sometimes it felt like coming out from an underground space only within yourself. Irenosen meet sunlight! And try not to reveal these odd tics you've suddenly inherited. I enjoy holding an imperfect lens up to the world and re-interpreting what I see.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
Here's the thing, I never dislike any of my characters even the ones that do terrible things. I find characters I know other people will dislike more interesting to write because you have to find the humanness in them and there's so much complexity there to explore. A good example of this is from one of my favourite actresses Samantha Morton in the film Morvern Callar. The book is written by Alan Warner. Here's a woman whose boyfriend commits suicide. Instead of grieving in a way most people would expect, she chops up his body, gets rid of it, invents stories to explain his disappearance and pretends to have written the novel he wrote. It's just an astonishing performance, there's such flatness to it you can almost project a series of motives onto the character but they all sit uncomfortably and you're never quite sure and I love that ambiguity.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing?
Ooh, some time in Machu Picchu and Zanzibar.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
Oh God, I really can't just say one, impossible! A few are Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achibe, Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed, Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Patel.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Write loads, read voraciously, go out and live. Things will emerge in the spaces in between and you might be surprised by what does.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
My debut novel Butterfly Fish has just come out! I have a collection of weird, dark, surprising short stories out next year that'll hopefully take you to Irenosen's planet so look out for that.

Butterfly Fish (2015) is published by Jacaranda Books.
You can follow Irenosen on Twitter: @IrenosenOkojie