1. Despite the fact that the twins shared the same upbringing, Georgia became depressed and not Bessi. Why do you think that this is? Do you consider the attack on Georgia in Sekon to be a catalyst for her condition?
Georgia and Bessi are not the same people. They are twins, and they share an upbringing, but we all experience the world in ways particular to our individualities. From the start Georgia is the more withdrawn of the twins, she has a certain sadness that she carries with her, and she is not quite sure she was meant to be here. The attack in Sekon has an ultimately devastating effect on her because it is almost a confirmation of the things she feared in the world, of danger and how vulnerable we are to it. The attack intensified a feeling that was already there, until it became a monster with the might to overpower her.
2. 26a is based on your own experience. Did you find writing a book about your life at all cathartic?
It was not cathartic and it was not written for this reason, although I do think it is a book I needed to write. There were parts of it that were excruciating to write, not least because it meant keeping myself shackled to a particular episode which I may have preferred not to think about anymore. But there is also a lot of invention and comic elaboration in this book that made the darker shades of it easier to render.
3. Your descriptions of the family’s time in Sekon is particularly vivid – did you live there yourself or undertake a research trip there?
I lived temporarily in Nigeria with my family when I was a child. At the time of writing 26a I had not been back there for over ten years, and preferred to keep it that way, allowing me to draw from the memories and impressions that had been there for years, marinating inside my head.
4. Which authors or books influenced you while you were working on 26a?
Mark Doty’s breathtaking Heaven’s Coast, Arundhati’s Roy’s The God of Small Things and the novels of Jean Rhys all impacted on me in significant ways during the writing of this book. Doty for the beauty and generosity with which he wrote about losing a lover to AIDS, Roy for her lushness of language and quirky evocation of the childhood world, and Rhys for the sparse and piercing way in which she portrays depression.
5. Do you like flapjacks? What is your favourite type?
I used to adore flapjacks, but I’ve eaten far too many of them in my lifetime and am now only an occasional consumer. I think my favourites were chocolate and bakewell.
6. You worked as a journalist before graduating from UEA’s Creative Writing MA and publishing 26a. When did you decide that you wanted to write fiction?
I had an inkling as a teenager but this was very subconscious. I just always enjoyed writing and felt that it was something I was good it. I wrote a lot of poetry and thought I would be a poet, until I began to find the form limiting. The same feeling occurred with journalism. So when I arrived at fiction it felt like it fitted me well, although it was not necessarily something I had intended to do.
7. How did you feel when you won the Decibel writer of the year award at the recent British Book Awards?
I was utterly shocked because I had completely assumed I wouldn’t win it. I hadn’t prepared a speech so my main concern on my way up to the stage was ‘what the hell am I going to say’! I was, obviously, delighted.
8. Can you tell us anything about what you are working on at the moment?
Another novel, set in London and another part of the world – that’s about all I can reveal.
9. Who are your favourite authors?
I don’t have favourites, there are just too many. I read everything Ali Smith writes, I like Nabokov, Rhys, Raymond Carver, I adore Joan Didion and Jeffrey Eugenidies’ Middlesex.
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Julian Barnes, Rose Tremain, Sebastian Faulks, Karin Slaughter and many more share their personal writing experience with you in our Q&As. Take a look!