Chika Unigwe is the author of On Black Sisters’ Street, which has enjoyed wide acclaim since its release in 2009. She won the 2003 BBC Short Story Competition for her short story “Borrowed Smile”, and a Commonwealth Short Story Award for “Weathered Smiles”. Chika lives with her husband and four children in Belgium. She talks about nostalgia for youth, her chocolate-bar dilemma and Alastair Campbell’s endorsement.
Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?
Probably Ama from On Black Sisters’ Street. She seems like the most resourceful, the most fun but I’d probably have to watch out for her acerbic tongue.
What is the first thing you remember writing?
A poem about children playing.
Where/when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?
I’ve had a few fortunate run-ins with people whose works I really admire telling me they enjoyed my work. When Alastair Campbell tweeted that my novel was his best book of the summer, I was well chuffed.
What one book by another author do you wish you’d written?
Lots. I go through book-envy a lot.
Name one author that you consider overrated.
Hmmmm…can’t think of one at the moment. There probably are a few of those.
Achebe or Soyinka?
They fulfill different reading needs in me. It’s like asking me “Mars bar or Bounty?” I couldn’t choose.
Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?
Easy! Win the Nobel. That’d be getting both prestige and wealth.
Write one classic or have a sustained career of good books?
Can’t I have both?? Maybe sustained career of good books. I could not imagine doing anything else but write so if I were to write the one book and retire I’d die of boredom.
Best perk of being a writer?
Having a legitimate reason for getting out of doing the ironing.
Worst thing about being a writer?
I have been very lucky with On Black Sisters’ Street. Got loads of good high profile reviews. Worst? a four liner in the Wall Street Journal, but I was in good company.
One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?
Nothing. I’m enjoying all the discoveries I am making.
How much would you say the characters in your books are based on real people?
I am sure there are people like the ones I write about, but I do not base them on any one person I know.
What book are you ashamed to admit that you haven’t read?
None. I never apologize for two things: my taste in books and my taste in films.
What is your guilty reading?
Women’s magazines with lots of gossip, outlandish stories and crosswords that make me feel intelligent.
What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?
Writing that first sentence.
And the most pleasurable?
Writing that last sentence.
What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?
If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?
My youth (but only on some days).
I have a novel out in June 2012 – Nightdancer, and I am just finishing another one.