Irenosen Okojie discusses her thoughts and tips on writing
Last year, Irenosen Okojie was a wonderful judge on our Short Story Competition panel. To help inspire this year's entrants, we've asked Irenosen to share her thoughts and tips on writing:
Where do you write?
Everywhere! I carry small notebooks around with me. I write a lot in my bedroom. If I'm feeling properly writerly, I'll go to a cafe or a space I find interesting. Somewhere I can people watch and listen in to conversations inconspicuously. Writing is the perfect outlet for my constant curiosity about people and how intriguing they are.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Anything by Dr Seuss, Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl.
....and your favourite book as an adult?
Too many! Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is right up there, anything by Toni Morrison, everything by James Baldwin, as is Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things.
What book are you reading right now?
Leone Ross's short story collection, Come Let Us Sing Anyway. She's a beautiful conjurer. I really like what she does as a writer.
Can you name one example of a perfect short story? Something you'd recommend our entrants read?
Black Vodka, from Deborah Levy's collection Black Vodka. It's illuminating, sad, funny, strange and well crafted. It's everything I love in a short story, perfectly contained but with the emotional weight and impact of a longer work. I'm a big Deborah Levy fan.
What has been your most memorable journey?
Going on a road trip with my dad to Benin when researching my novel, Butterfly Fish. It reminded me how charismatic, adventurous, hilarious and surprising he is. Benin itself was hugely evocative. Being in Nigeria again; the vibrancy, the food, the music, the heat, the languages, it was like an assault on the senses in the best way.
Where do you find inspiration for a story?
Everywhere. I try to keep my eyes and ears open because human beings are so gloriously odd. Even the ones that think they're not. I have a very skewed imagination. I think that really shows in my collection, Speak Gigantular. Obviously reading other writers is a good tip but read writers that are out of your comfort zone too. I really enjoy films and immersive theatre experiences so feeding myself from different mediums.
How do you celebrate finishing writing a story?
Very often with a treat! A nice meal out or a wander around a part of the city I'm not that familiar with. When I'm writing short stories, I try to treat myself to at least two experiences a week. It keeps me excited, curious about the world and that feeds into the writing.
What is your favourite cup of tea?
I love a good Peppermint tea! Peppermint tea and Viennese whirls, too good!
What are your writing rituals?
I always write early in the mornings, I never write for more than three hours at time. I usually buy bright, striking notebooks because psychologically it makes you want to fill the pages. I walk our dog in between writing stints, it's excellent thinking time or great for solving any issues, plot or otherwise because things just come to you.
What is your number-one writing tip?
Don't over analyse the process, just keep going. Find ways to reward yourself and keep things interesting. Remember that every writer you ever admired writes at least a few drafts of each book. Writing can be magical. Remember to enjoy it. Let it take as long as it needs to. Don't follow trends. Don't adhere to anybody's expectations or rules. Make up your own. Do what works for you.
Irenosen Okojie is a writer and Arts Project Manager. Her debut novel, Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask Award. Her short story collection, Speak Gigantular was shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize, is longlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Prize, shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards and nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award.
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