Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
I think of art as a way for the artist to express something of themselves, the communities they identify with, or of their imagination. I see art as a dialogue across time, geography, identity and experience.
My primary creative outlet is as a writer – I write fiction, poetry, non-fiction. The content comes ahead of the form for me. I also love taking photographs, and in September will take my first ever *complete* beginners art course.
You’ve recently taken on the role of facilitating Identity. What have you enjoyed most about being part of Identity? How do you feel facilitating aids your personal development as a writer?
I feel privileged
to see the great writing that comes out of the group. I’m inspired by the risks
people take with their writing and with the painful content they sometimes
cover. I enjoy meeting the writers who come along and giving and facilitating
feedback that helps them develop their writing. We often bring snacks to the
group; I think we all enjoy those!
Facilitating the group helps me to focus on the craft elements of writing, it gives me (and hopefully writers) a strong sense of a writing community. I love facilitating Identity, but also worry that it takes me away from my own writing. I’m learning to manage the shift in my role (I used to be a member of Identity) and finding new ways back into my own writing.
You’re currently working on your first novel. What prompted you to start working on this piece? What has been your greatest obstacle thus far in the writing process and how have you overcome it?
My novel is
inspired by family history. My father told me a story about how as a young immigrant,
of the ‘Windrush generation’, he was racially harassed by a group of Teddy Boys
in 1950’s London. When he’d got away from them, one ran after him. Not to beat
him up – as he feared, but to offer to buy his stylish jacket from him (He’d
bought it by mail order from the US, while still living in Guyana).
I wrote it up as a short story which wouldn’t let go of me, and by the time I came to do my MFA in Creative Writing, it became my thesis and then the draft of my novel.
My greatest obstacle to writing is my constant battle to prioritise my writing over other aspects of my life. The support I get from people at Commonword and other friends and writing communities is invaluable to me in terms of my writing process. It’s like we’re all training for a marathon and encouraging each other to keep going.
Recently your short memoir, The New ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ was published in Who We Are Now, an anthology of women’s writing about Brexit. What inspired you to write about this particular aspect of your life? What advice would you give to writers interested in writing memoirs?
I was living in the USA when the Brexit vote happened and, shortly after returning, attended a writing workshop for creative writing responses to Brexit. I reflected on how discrimination against immigrants has had an impact on my own family in the past and linked this to events now – this became ‘The New ‘Us’ and Them’.
In terms of people writing memoir, I encourage them to read widely and find memoirs that they find fascinating, to pick and choose which parts of their lives to tell us about (hint: other people are less interested in your life than you are!). And lastly, just because something is true, doesn’t make it sound authentic on the page. You still have to work at it, and craft it as much as you would with other genres.
Back when you were living in the States, you were a contributor to Mixed Remixed Festival. What motivated you to get involved in the festival? How do you feel the festival contributes to a wider dialogue around representation in the creative industries?
It’s such a great festival! It highlights the mixed-race experience through literature and film.
I heard about Mixed Remixed through my writing community, VONA, and first went along in 2014. It was an amazing experience; everyone was so welcoming and warm and it’s a lovely to feel part of a community like that, even for a day or so.
I was motivated by a mixture of wanting to be around other mixed heritage people with the bonus that there was a writing focus, and, I was interested in visiting Los Angeles, where it was held.
The festival allows artists to showcase their work, to meet and inspire each other, buy books, have conversations. Approximately 700 people attend, and this is a good statistic to quote to publishers who are reported as saying that there’s no market for creative work by mixed race people (on the basis that the demographic for each different ‘mix’ is too low).
You’ve been a writer at Commonword for several years and appeared in our anthology, Suitcase Book of Love Poems. What is your best memory of your time with us and what have you learnt about yourself as a writer?
I have lots of best memories with Commonword: coming along to the writers’ groups, the process of having my poetry published in the anthology, and the Commonword Conference last year, to name but a few.
I’ve learned that although writing is a solitary endeavour, I can’t do it on my own.
The anthology taught me about the business side of things – writing a biography, signing a contract – it made it feel more professional, more serious and I think it helped me to take myself more seriously as a writer.
What’s next for you in your writing career?
I’ve put my novel aside for now. I’ve started writing about ‘coming out’ as a teenager and am feeling lots of energy with that piece so I’m going to keep working on that to see where it goes. I did a reading in August at Levenshulme Pride and really enjoyed that. I’d like to do more readings.
I’m planning to run a day-long writing workshop with Commonword in the Autumn and would love to run more writing workshops in the future.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Sum up your experience thus far in one word