Monday, 9 February 2009

Bernardine Evaristo - Author Interview



> Pitch your novel.

BLONDE ROOTS is a slavery story with a difference. In the world I've created Africans enslave Europeans. Why? You might ask. Well, I wanted to find a fresh way of approaching a very important period in world history - the 400 yrs of the transatlantic slave trade. I asked myself what would happen if the tables were turned and Africans are considered superior/civilised and Europeans inferior/savages. In playing with this idea I found that the novel became a real interrogation of not just the ridiculousness of racism, but also the atrociousness of the slave trade. That said, the novel uses satire to this effect - the comedy has bite - it stings.
My main character is a blonde woman called Doris who is taken as a slave from Europa and transported to the New World.The novel is about her need to escape - and attempt to do so.

> What are your favourite three books?

It changes. Right now I'm enthralled by THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. Another favourite is PERFUME by Patrick Suskund and MIDSUMMER by the St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott.

> In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why? OR What character is most like you?

The character most like me is based on me - Lara - in my semi-autobiographical verse novel called, wait for it, LARA (1997). It's being republished with a third new material this year by Bloodaxe Books, UK.
The character I like the most is Zuleika, the black slave girl who grows up in Roman London 1800 years ago in my verse novel THE EMPEROR'S BABE (2001). I admire her feistiness, her passion, her sarcasm.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Zuleika. Can you imagine being transported back to Roman London nearly 2000 years ago. It would be simply amaaazzing!

> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

No, very happy here, thanks!

> What was the first novel that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

LARA. It took five frickin years! 3 years of that it was a prose novel, then I spent two years turning it into verse. I was also learning the discipline of being a writer and learning how to believe in myself and be confident about my work.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

My parents wedding night sex scene. My mother said to me when she read it, 'What do YOU know!' I think she was a bit annoyed, but not overly so.

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

University of Texas at Austin. A packed room full of retired English professors. I read from THE EMPERORS BABE and they just cracked up. They were so responsive and I was so surprised. I even read some of the saucy stuff and they loved that too.

>If you still have one, what's your day job?

No day job. I write books, do book reviews, write literary criticism, get paid to tour as a writer (I've done a lot of international touring for the British Council and others) I'm offered other commissions, occasionally teach creative writing, have had several international writing residencies at universities in the USA, as well as in the UK, and elsewhere - it all adds up. I left the day job in 1999. My motto was 'Leap and Angels will Appear'. And they did. I had no safety net but I was determined to give my writing 100%. Within six months I had a two-book deal with my publisher Penguin. Prior to that I was an arts manager for many years, and before that, a very long time ago deep in the mist of time, an actress.

> What is your university degree in?

I spent three years at drama school training to be an actress.

> When and where do you write?

Morning, afternoon, evening, in my sleep.

> What's the best/worst thing about writing?

Not very sociable, is it. Thank God for Facebook!
The best thing is to have complete artistic freedom and expression. I get to play God. It's magic and I live to write.

> What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your fist book published?

Oh, heaps of stuff. Okay, just one - that if you're with a tiny (fiction) publisher in the UK the chances are that the major newspapers and press won't be interested in you and that distribution will probably be ineffective. When I was first published by Penguin in 2001 I couldn't believe the attention I received from the media. It made all the difference.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Learn about writing through reading, and if that's not enough attend workshops/courses. Be 100% committed to developing your craft. Don't be impatient, but be hard-working, resourceful, tenacious and get connected to other writers and people in the industry. It's hard to break through without any connections.

> Any tips against writers block?

I don't believe in it. It's a dirty word to me. Never have it. I have periods where 'ideas percolate'.

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