Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Yewande Omotoso talks about The Woman Next Door, cranky old ladies, the "beautiful beast" of writing, and so much more
I was so thrilled to meet Yewande Omotosoas in person at a Book Fest, and I chose this photo because I fell in love with her earrings as soon as I saw them! Funny, smart and warm, she was born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria, moving to South Africa with her family in 1992. She is the author of Bom Boy, published in South Africa in 2011. In 2012 she was on the South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author and was shortlisted for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize. In 2013 she was a finalist in the the inaugural, pan-African Etisalat Fiction Prize along with NoViolet Bulawayo and Karen Jennings. She lives in Johannesburg.
Thank you so much for being here, Yewande!
I always think authors are haunted by something before they start writing a book. What was haunting you with the Woman Next Door?
Many things! I was around my grandmother just after my grandfather died and it got me thinking about what it is to be of that age, late 70s, 80s, to have so much of your life behind you. And then I began to dwell on that more. I wondered in particular what it might be like to be in the last years of a life that has largely been unfulfilling. The sense that the quality of the life you have lived will have some bearing on your experience of these final years. I wondered how late is too late - for friendship, for redemption.
I loved these two cranky old ladies feuding and then finding just enough of a chip of light to find something in common. Was there ever a moment in the book when you didn't think this would happen for them?
I didn't take it for granted that it would but I understood that part of the project of writing the book was to sit with this question on every page, to wonder it as I wrote their stories. I had to really balance this. I couldn't lie about what is possible for two such women but I also felt nervous about the likelihood of discovering - as the writer - that nothing is possible. I wasn't sure what would happen. And, in a strange way, I'm still not certain.
What kind of writer are you? Do you wait for that pesky muse or do you map things out? What surprises you each and every time you sit down to write?
I'm someone who finds life, as it is, immensely inspiring as it is devastating, and so there is never a sense of waiting for a muse. I don't map things out so much as follow scent, like being a tracker and the story is a kind of beautiful beast. Along the way you lose it find it, find it's droppings. Ultimately I think it's right that the beast stays wild (perhaps in the forests of our imaginations) so the novel then is as close an approximation (a rendering) as possible. The story surprises me - this is very important. If, at the beginning of my creative process, I map the whole thing out and understand what happens from start to end I stop writing.
What's obsessing you now and why?
The body. And representation of the body especially in visual art. Death is also obsessing me. And seeing the family unit as a project, what sustains it, what scuppers it. I think the things that we obsess over are embedded into our psyches and produce from there, entwined in the material of our experiences, our longing - who knows?
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
These are great questions - the question monster is for now satiated. Thanks so much.