Diana Evans is of Nigerian-British descent; born in London, she spent some of her childhood in Lagos. She started out as a dancer in a Brighton dance troupe before embarking on a writing career. She has since written for publications like Marie Claire, The Independent, and the Guardian. Her debut novel, 26a, received a Betty Trask award, her second book, The Wonder, was published in 2009. Both of her novels derive quite a bit from her own background. She tells us here about wrestling the wild beast of plot, reincarnating Amy Winehouse and the moment that keeps recurring in her writing.
Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?
Georgia Hunter from 26a. We understand each other.
What is the first thing you remember writing?
A story about a man being pulled into the world beneath the Thames carrying a suitcase. There was a picture to match.
Where, when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?
In a bookshop in Manhattan.
What one book by another author do you wish you’d written?
Books can only be written by the authors that wrote them, otherwise they just wouldn’t exist. There are many books I love, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – I could go on.
Shakespeare or Dickens?
Dickens mainly but King Lear has a special place in my heart.
Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?
A life coach I recently stumbled across at a party told me I should aim for a Nobel Prize, but there’s something unhealthy and misdirected about wishing for awards. They’re incidental to the work. So I guess a million.
The latter. I want to be writing books, decent ones .
Best perk of being a writer?
You live freely and creatively. You get to exercise an enormous godly power while sitting at a desk.
Worst thing about being a writer?
You are your own worst enemy, and it is isolating.
Remember your best and worst reviews? Let’s hear them.
I remember the bad ones even more vaguely than the good.
One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?
Just because you’ve written a book it doesn’t mean you know how to write a book.
Besides good writing what other skill do you think is essential to a successful career in writing?
Absolute dogged determination and the ability to focus through anything.
Rate yourself on a scale of one to five for spelling and punctuation.
What do you think your writing owes your readers?
Readers complete the writing by reading it. The imaginative world you have offered they colour with their own subjective and beautiful palettes.
What word or phrase, if any, do you overuse in your writing?
What would your 20 year old self say if he were to meet the writer you’ve become?
Don’t forget what you’re about.
What one person was most supportive of your writing ambition?
My partner, and still is.
What’s the most memorable casual reader feedback you’ve received on your writing?
A woman at a reading began to cry when we spoke afterwards because 26a had reminded her so much of her sister who suffered from depression.
What is your guilty reading?
Sometimes I read about celebrities on Yahoo! That’s about it.
What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?
Pulling everything together into a coherent structure and plot. That is the hardest thing. It feels like wrestling with a wild beast.
And the most pleasurable?
Playing with language. Finding new, unusual, shiny ways of saying things.
What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?
Overwriting. I used to do it a lot but less now. When you’re starting out you think it’s not ok to be plain and simple but it is.
How do you motivate yourself after a manuscript rejection?
This has not yet happened. I imagine I would listen to lots of music and do lots of yoga and swimming and running and go back to my desk.
Tell us your literary process – from conception to first draft.
It’s slightly chaotic. I do character work, writing out the character’s life-changing moments, having them talk to me, interviewing them. I map out the main events in the story horizontally across a page and write them as scenes as best I can. At some point, hopefully, there is a kind of BANG, when I can finally see the whole thing. I revise and rewrite in accordance with the bang. Then I leave it for a while.
Literary talent: how much of it is talent and how much is painstaking determination?
I would say forty percent of it is talent and the rest is effort. Talent without a good work ethic is useless.
Do you think Africa is being unfairly depicted by contemporary African writers? And is this portrayal something that should preoccupy writers?
It is too much of a burden on a writer to say that they should represent a continent in any which way. Writers should write what they observe and experience, what they feel, regardless.
What one book would you advise everyone to read before they die?
If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?
Amy Winehouse making a third album but in good health.
A new novel, then another, and then I think a hiatus.