Interview With Nadifa Mohammed

I am extremely grateful to Nadifa for taking the time to answer these questions for me.

Nadifa Mohamed was born in 1981 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. At the age of four she moved with her family to London. She is the author of Black Mamba Boy, The Orchard of Lost Souls and, most recently, The Fortune Men, which is currently shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. She has received both The Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award, as well as numerous other prize nominations, for her fiction. She was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. She contributes regularly to the Guardian and the BBC.

Geoff: Your first novel, Black Mamba Boy recounts the astonishing story of your father’s childhood trek through parts of colonial Africa in the ’30s and ’40s. How close to reality are the events you relate in the book?

Nadifa: They are pretty close, it started as a biography and then wandered into fiction but at heart I wanted to stick close to my father’s real experiences. 

G: The Orchard of Lost Souls follows three female characters caught up in the events leading up to the Somali civil war. How did you research this?

N: This novel was less research heavy, I did some interviews with women in my family and other people who had lived through the civil war but, again, I drifted away from the real stories to go deeper into the minds of the three main characters.

G: Both of these novels depict some fairly harrowing scenes. How difficult was it to write these?

N: It’s always difficult, it should be, and it should be difficult to read too. I am wary of the idea that brutality should not be represented in art. There are parameters but it’s important to not look away from the things that happen, however hard that is. 

G: Do you think that literature plays an important part in conveying messages to wider society?

N: Probably? I’m not sure, though. I think that I have probably learnt some of my ethics from novels I’ve read and learnt more about power and powerlessness.

G: How much has the publishing world changed since the publication of your first novel?

N: I’m not sure, it seems to have changed but then I knew very little about it when I started. It’s busier now, it seems, and more fractious. 

G: How were your experiences of visiting The Highlands and the Moniack Mhor writing centre?

N: They were great! I had never been so north in Britain and it felt genuinely different to anywhere else I had seen. The skies, the four seasons in one day, the beautiful Highland cattle, the silence, the memorable last night with bagpipes and veggie haggis. It’s a wonderful place.

G: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?

N: I’m constantly listening to music, at the moment Max Richter, Meryam Hassan, and Marisa Monte are on repeat. I travel the world throughout the day.

Thanks again to Nadifa Mohammed.


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