Tell us about yourself in two sentences.
I have reclusive tendencies but love showing my feisty out-there side through my writing. I sing and dance every day, I’m a frustrated entertainer who has resorted to writing because I can’t sing.
Can you share a little about your writing process to us?
I write very early in the morning for a few hours. I play music and dance as part of the process of freeing myself to write whatever I want to write and to turn off the inner critic. I work on my craft and go to writing workshops every 2-3 months. It’s a great way to meet and collaborate with other writers, it’s important to be part of a small writing community.
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, can you tell us what it means to you to be shortlisted for such a prestigious and much loved prize?
It’s a privilege to be on a platform with award-winning writers. I never expected that a novel written in Jamaican patois would be acknowledged in this way. It makes me hopeful that diverse voices are being recognised and in particular the artistry of the Caribbean community which has been undervalued is now visible.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for Fire Rush?
The dub-reggae world of 1970s and 80s England took place out of sight in underground venues late at night. Mainstream society didn’t know it existed. I lived in that world and looking back I could see how culturally rich it was and how pioneering the music was. I wanted to write about my experiences in that world and in some way resurrect that lost world and the people I once knew. I wanted to go back to difficult experiences and transmogrify them through writing.
Fire Rush is a fictionalised account of your life, how did you find towing the line between fiction and reality with a story so personal?
I drew heavily on facts in the first couple of drafts but I wanted the story to be representative of the people in the community and not just be about me. So I carried out lots of research and brought in a historical narrative as a way of building in fiction and also expanding the story into create cross-currents of time.
For the written medium, Fire Rush manages to bring sound to life for the reader, how did you manage to bring such rich sounds to the page?
I experimented a lot with language to try and bring sound onto the page. That was the challenge I set myself at the start. I had a vision for the language I wanted and I worked on it for sixteen years, experimenting with language in short stories until I was satisfied. I played a lot of music, read a lot of music journals and read a lot of books on dub reggae. I enjoyed that process, I loved the journey of trying something new. I don’t think I am someone who is going to write much in standard English, it just doesn’t excite me. I always want to reach for an original language that has powered by rhythm.
Describe your writing spot for us.
A small desk facing a blank wall. I don’t like writing with a beautiful view, it would be distracting. I have stories running through my mind like a film reel so I want to stay focused on that. Plants, books, yoga mat.
What books have you recently read and loved?
Radical: A Life of My Own by Xiaolu Guo. It’s fresh, experimental, broad-ranging, intellectual. I love it.
What book do you always recommend to others?
Anything by Borges. I love the exploration of irreality in his works.
Tell us what reading means to you…
It’s my safe space.
What is the one tidbit of advice that has stuck with you throughout your career?
One of my writing tutors at Goldsmiths University highlighted a scene in my manuscript and said it was like someone standing there blowing a trumpet announcing everything to the reader. If I think I’m over-writing or spelling things out I do the trumpet test and tone it down.