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South African Book Fair

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Interview with Yewande Omotoso

A thing had begun to grow like a tree in Leke Denton’s throat. It was the same thing that grew when he was picked for the school play and it was there when he was later cut from the cast. It was there when girls glanced away as he walked down the corridors. An invisible rash.

Leke is a troubled young man living in the suburbs of Cape Town. He develops strange habits of stalking people, stealing small objects and going from doctor to doctor in search of companionship rather than cure. Through a series of letters written to him by his Nigerian father whom he has never met, Leke learns about a family curse; a curse which his father had unsuccessfully tried to remove.

Yewande Omotoso’s debut novel Bom Boy (Modjaji Books 2011) is one of the shortlisted novels for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize. She believes becoming a writer was inevitable.

What drew you to become a writer?
It doesn’t feel like there was a defining moment. It grew up around a lot of books and around a lot of writers. As I got older I realised that is what I wanted to do with my life.

Your debut novel was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Award. Did you expect it to do so well? How has your life changed since it was published?
No, it would be crazy to expect anything! Expecting is just a dangerous past-time. I wanted to write a good book and begin a process of writing many books and getting better and better as I went along. Being shortlisted surprised me and is of course welcome encouragement. I was grateful and humbled. Certain aspects of my life have not really changed, I’m still me attempting to master the craft. The stuff that has changed is the normal stuff that changes as we find the courage to go for what we want in life. Certainly being published has exposed me and made a lot available to me that wasn’t previously – I am thankful for this.

What have been some of the reactions of the readers you’ve met?
Am I writing a sequel? The end was too abrupt. I’m not done with Leke! They tell me that they like how I created the internal world of the main characters.

Many writers describe themselves as “character” or “plot” writers. Which are you? What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
Not sure. I hope there’s room to be both! The hardest part of my writing is not knowing what you’re really doing but knowing you need to keep doing it to find out. It’s also the best part.

What was the book that most influenced your life — and why?
No one book belongs in this answer. But if I were forced to I would cite the books from my early childhood. T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and stories of Ijapa, the cunning tortoise in Yoruba folklore. Why? Can’t explain except to say after all these years I remember them intimately.

What is the best writing advice anyone has ever given you?

What inspires you?
Instances/occasions where a certain humanity is evident. Small ordinary triumphs. I’m inspired by people.

Buy a copy of Bom Boy here.

Yewande will be in conversation with Tracy Farren at the Cape Town Book Fair on 16 June 2012.
• Time: 10:00 AM
• Venue: Poetry Cafe, Cape Town Book Fair


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