Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Interview*

You are here at the festival as an author?
Yes, I have written two books the first was “Purple Hibiscus” and the second is “Half of a yellow sun”.

So, you are promoting your second novel?
Yes, it’s in fact the first time I actually seeing the book it has just come out literally and it’s very exciting. I was really moved when I saw it because it’s been 4 years of research and writing. To finally see the book, [that] it’s a real book; it was very moving for me.

Could you tell me a little bit about the book?
Its set in 1960’s in Nigeria about a number of characters who are changed by the Nigerian Biafra war. The primary characters are a houseboy, an English man and a Nigerian woman who is a university lecturer. We follow them from before the war when everybody is sort of hope filled. Through the war when things start to change until after the war when they are dealing with just so much when their lives have changed.

Could you give our listeners a brief synopsis of what the Biafra war was about?
In the simplest of terms Biafra was about a region of Nigeria that had seceded for a number of reasons and the rest of Nigeria being willing to let that region secede. Really for the reason that it didn’t make economic sense oil is in South Eastern Nigeria if the south-eastern region had secede Nigeria would have lost its major source of revenue and so the war Happened. But before that a lot of things had happened, Nigeria had become independent in 1960 and just really right from the beginning things didn’t go very well and I think the root of this is colonialism. Nigeria was set up to fail and so it failed the war happened and people died.

Going back to you first novel “Purple hibiscus” could you me a little bit about the book?
It’s about a family in Nigeria, told from the point of view of a 15-year-old girl. It’s my way of exploring heavy issues like politics, domestic violence, and religion but I wanted to do it with a light touch and in some ways I wanted to also celebrate the town where I grew up.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I have been writing since I could spell and I never thought about it because I just write because I have to write.

Is this your first time in Edinburgh?
Yes and I want to visit the castle.

Tell me about your hometown?
I am from south-eastern Nigeria I grew up in a University town called Nsukka, which is sort of sleepy and dusty and lovely and safe. My parents worked at the university and everybody knew everybody else. I went to secondary and primary schools there and then on to the US for University and I’ve been in both places since and so really for me home is both Nsukka and Abba, which is my ancestral hometown, where my family goes back generations. I happen to be fortunate enough to have a wonderful family that is close-knit and supportive and sort of wonderfully crazy when they need to be and that’s useful, I really feel very grateful for the childhood I had. I think I was very fortunate I am not one of those writers who had a messed up childhood and so because of that I have an affection for my hometown and I feel very nostalgic now because things have changed horribly and the university for example is falling apart and that sort of thing and I like to write about places I love.

Your success is that changing your view of the world and home? Has it influenced your writing?
I don’t think so I have been to a few places, I guess because of my writing but it hasn’t changed anything about my sense of home or my sense of what matters. Besides I think success is relative, I am still hoping to be successful.

Related links/more information:
http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/

*Interview conducted  at the 2006 Edinburgh International Book Festival, (5/5).

Yasmin Crowther Interview *

Hello, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
This is my first time I’ve been to Edinburgh Book festival and it’s wonderful! This evening I’ve had the chance to talk with Kader Abdolah who has published 10 novels and I have just published my first novel called “The Saffron Kitchen” and its part based in London and part based in Iran. It follows the life of a woman Maryam Mazar, who grows up in Iran and gets forced away from her home by her father and then has a life in London, England. Later on something happens in her life which propels her back to Iran and back to her past. It’s very much a story about identity and about exile and how your try and reconcile different places, past and present.

When did you start writing?
I’ve always wanted to write from about the age of seven I’ve been sort of sitting at the kitchen table trying to scribble down stories and it just took me from that will to want to write and a few years to get round to it. About three years ago I got onto a job where I had more time for writing and I also did a short course with Hanif Kureshi over about 6 weeks which was really wonderful. The story I wanted to tell surfaced during that time. I had a writing partner who I wrote with for 2 years and this was whilst I had more or less a full-time job. So that was the process of writing, I suppose it is a story that I’ve always wanted to tell. I’ve grown up with these two cultures being my one culture and that’s very much the story in the book how these 2 worlds co-exist and how they also fragment and where the conflicts are.

What’s your background?
I grew up outside London in a very conventional suburban home with an Iranian mum and English dad. As I was growing up before the revolution in Iran we used to go there more or less every summer. For a month or so, so I have very vivid memories, childhood memories of Iran and waking up in Mashad and just everyday life so before the revolution we had many visitors from Iran. So it was a very live connection then after the revolution that sort of stymied a little. I suppose and then in the last 10 years or so I’ve been back several times both to Mashad, Isfahan and Tehran and to the villages in the North East of the country and the novel was mainly based in Mashad and the village which is very much a farming community. So that the Iranian bit of my background and other bits are quite conventionally English. I went to university in the UK I’ve always been interested in international relations and different cultures and how they collide and how they can reconcile and those cultures might be different countries or different types of organisations that don’t understand each other so business and civil society. I’ve worked for a variety of businesses and consultancies very much looking at these issues where business and the rest of the world comes into conflict. Why does that happen? How can that change?. Which I suppose is similar to the themes in the book.

In the event you both talked about being Interpreters, which I found interesting?
I suppose an interpreter is a bridge and my book starts with a terrible accident on a bridge. I realised as times gone by, in the book bridges play a very important metaphor. Having a mother whose first tongue isn’t English and whose primary cultural experience is other; as a child growing up you are mediating in many ways. I think I spent a lot of my life finishing my mothers’ sentences for her; which means that you’re are forever anticipating and understanding somebody, who is struggling to express themselves in English. So I suppose to that extent were I help to mediate for her. In the book it is very much about how you do bridge those two places.

You also talked during the event about loss and exile, but not necessarily about moving countries.
I think that we talk about exile a lot and quite rightly and about the struggle for people to integrate into new cultures and yet to maintain their strong sense of identify regarding the culture they come from and that’s an immense challenge for any individual but also regardless of people that have change country. That we all our lives go through different countries and we are all probably in exile from some world. It may not be a world where we can get a passport for but that these feelings of longing for a place I don’t think are peculiar for people who live across countries and cultural divides.

Okay some easy questions; is it your first time in Edinburgh?
It’s my second time in Edinburgh very fond memories the last time I came to the Edinburgh festival was probably when I was a student about 15 years ago. I can’t believe it’s that long but tomorrow I am looking forward to visiting some of the places I visited then. I think it’s a wonderful city and I hope it won’t be as long till the next time.

When did your book get published?
It was published in May.

How have you felt seeing your book in print?
That’s difficult; obviously it’s wonderful it was something I always hoped to do. In some ways the only thing I hoped to do more than anything else it has been satisfying, intensely nerve racking and quite frightening but I wouldn’t change a thing but it has enabled me to take a year off from my job so I am trying to write another book at the moment which is good and yeah I feel lucky.

Related links/more information:
http://www.authortrek.com/yasmin_crowther_page.html

http://www.shinesustainability.com/team/yasmin-crowther

* Interview conducted during the 2006 Edinburgh International Book Festival, (4/5).

Francesca Beard interview *

Could you describe your work?
I work in live literature, spoken word so I perform poetry. A lot of people don’t like the distinction between poetry for the page and for performance. Its very much geared to a live audience so I try to make the work funny, dramatic, involving the audience in some way sometimes quite directly so I might ask the audience questions. A lot of the stuff I do is in blank verse so although it comes across like normal speak there are rhythms, a lot of internal rhymes. So hopefully there is an interesting pattern that the words form that hold an audience to attention.

How did you get into it?
I’ve always really enjoyed writing. I always used to write even as a child. I was in my mid 20’s kind of writing poetry for myself and not thinking I would ever show anyone and I got dumped really horribly the guy said to me oh you’ll never be anything your a coward and your just doing something you hate. That night I looked in Time out for listing Magazines for open mics, which are nights were you just put your name down and you sign up and read out whatever you’ve got and I just read out my poetry and it was so terrifying it was like a bunjee jump but for that moment it made me forget that terrible angst of being royally dumped and I got slightly addicted to it, it was like a pain killer.

What’s your background?
I am of mixed origin my mother is Chinese Malay, and I was born in Malaysia and my dad’s largely Celtic but UK passport. When I first started I thought I am just me I am not going to write as a women or as a women of mixed race but actually performance poetry is so much about voice and that means quite a lot about identity of course you can invent fictional characters but very soon I was connecting to an audience, if you show an audience who you are you they are much more likely to be open and in fact my solo show Chinese whispers is about identity. It’s not just mine but everyone’s

Where do you perform the majority of my work?
It really depends it varies that’s one of the great things about this job is that it really varies all the venues are completely different. Like a festival a book festival or it could be a pub, theatre space, in the middle of a field, I’ve performed on buses, supermarkets pretty much anywhere.

Related links/more information:
http://www.francescabeard.com/

*Interview conducted during the 2006 Edinburgh International Book Festival, (3/5).

Kader Abdolah Interview *

Good evening.
Good evening, I am Kader Abdolah my house my family, my mother, grave of my father is in Iran but I am living in the Netherlands.  I am a Dutch writer, I write in Dutch, hello.

Could you tell me about the book?
I have written 10 books but one of my books is translated in your language is “My father’s notebook”. In that book I try to tell the story of my father, my father was deaf and dumb he was not able to talk, to hear, to write or to read and he had a dream to have a boy, a boy with two strong ears, boy word maker and he got me.  I discovered that I am writing only and always his story.  “My father’s notebook” is the story of a nation of Iranian people and the story of Dutch people too.

I read your book a few months ago and really enjoyed it. It is a great story and I enjoyed learning more about the history of Iran at that time.
Thank you very much but it’s not only about the history but about the love, about women, about the sad about the old stories about the nature about the fruits about the women, the men everything.  It’s lovely and I am happy you can read it in English and I will write many books to make you happy with my stories.  In my book I am writing about a deaf and dumb father, my father was deaf and dumb I try to write about him but not only about him but about us but not only about us but about them.  I am trying to, struggling to understand who I am and who he was and who you are.  I don’t write about my father but I write about you I take my father as a sample to meet you, you know. Anyway this is a story about human beings about everybody. If you read it you think about your dad your father. If you read it you think about the home the house where you have lived where you were born. It’s your book; I am writing your story not my story.

Towards the end of story you go for a walk on the sand dunes, and you convey a strong sense of loss, it’s the start of something new but with a heavy heart.
Yes, this is the story about the lost, about the start, about the losing; this is the story about the finding, to find new things, struggling to make a new life.  I write in Dutch but it is only struggling, a big beautiful nice struggling to make a new word, new books to met other people to meet you. It’s beautiful to leave your home, house beautiful to escape your country I didn’t know it but I am happy that I escaped, escape my country, wonderful. (I am thinking of leaving this question out??)

 Dutch isn’t your first language, your first language is?

My first language is Persian, Dutch is my writing language.  Seventeen years ago I escaped my country and I reached a city, Amsterdam; I stayed there; I started to change my life.  I took the Dutch language and I am writing in Dutch, now I am a new Dutch writer I have written ten books in that beautiful language.  That vet, vindy language! But now I have more books 100’s of books but I hope that I get old to write all of those books down.

Do you consider Amsterdam home?
Not Amsterdam or the Netherlands the Dutch language is my house. I feel at home in the Dutch language, Dutch language is my house, I feel home.

Related links/more information:
http://www.degeus.nl/auteurs/auteur/kader-abdolah.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eYfCTDidqI – Literature as resistance: A lecture by the Dutch-Iranian Author ( UC BerkeleyEvents).

*Interview conducted during the 2006 Edinburgh International book festival, (2/5).

Segun Afolabi Interview*

Could you tell me about your book?
It’s called a “Life Elsewhere” and it’s a collection of stories about immigrants, people in different stages of their lives, old people, young people, children middle aged people in marriages going through crisis, people trying to discover their identity and their idea of home.

How long have you been writing?
Over 10 years which is a long time, I’ve never been a full-time writer. I’ve always worked full-time but have eked out hours in the morning before going to work. I’ve always treated writing as a hobby to be honest until fairly recently.

I was at the event earlier it seemed that winning the Caine Prize was a breakthrough for you as a writer?
It wasn’t a break through. I had already gone through the process of getting an agent and a publisher. Going through a process of rejections and then I got a two book deal with a novel coming out next year the Caine prize happened a year after that. People think I got a book deal because of the Caine prize but not the case at all. It was wonderful to win the prize getting the exposure, being able to associate more with African writers and African writing. Because I’d always considered myself to be a writer, I’d never really thought about it. I’d just based my stories and novels on my experiences not that I am writing about my life but I am writing about people who have been born in one place and live in another place. Or have moved around a lot and the different experiences they have been through the difficulties and joys of their lives.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background, have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger, then latter and architect I was terrible at maths and drawing so all the things I really wanted to do I didn’t have the skills for. So later on during my first year at university where I studied economics and management, I discovered the library and literature and the works of people like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck. That was the first time I had taken writing seriously beforehand it had been Steven king not light books because they were very well written. But books that just meant something about being black about living in the world and going through the difficulties that people of various nationalities go through, so yes that was the start for me.

So, these authors inspired you to write?
They inspired me to read properly because beforehand reading had been a past time reading for pleasure like reading comics in away. When I discovered people like, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and later on people like Caryl Phillips who through his writing would have to go through a process of discovery himself because at the time there were so few role models. Reading books like the European Tribe really brought home to me how difficult it must have been then to be black and want to be a writer but not have role models to base your writing on. His whole experience has been invaluable to me.

When you were younger did you read any books by black authors?
Yes, at school growing up in Lagos, we read books by Achebe and people like that but it was very international because I went to an international school. So we were reading not only African literature but literature from around the world, Charlotte Bronte and people like that, so it wasn’t African focused.

What I find interesting that when I was a teenager there didn’t seem to be that many black authors that were producing a range of stories that I could Identify/ empathise with as a British-Nigeria. It’s really nice now to see a lot more African writers emerging writing about a wide range of subjects including modern day Africa.
Yes, it’s so encouraging to see people like Diana Evans, David Okende, Chimamanda Adichie and Helon Habila, so many people are writing now especially Nigerians, which is fantastic.  Going to the Cape Town book festival this year it was very South Africa focused but at the same time there were writers who had moved from the rest of Africa to South Africa to emigrate and that was a whole new experience for me. They were treated as outsiders, they were writing about their experiences as outsiders in South Africa. That completely blew my head because I’d assumed, always read about Africans or people from countries in the West having these issues to deal with but it was very interesting to read about an African within Africa going through these problems instead. So many people telling their stories it’s wonderful.

Related links/more information:
http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/authors/segun-afolabi
*Interview conducted during the 2006 Edinburgh International Book Festival, (1/5).