Nadifa Mohamed: ‘Modern-day Britain is intense’

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Recently shortlisted for the 2021 Booker prize, Nadifa Mohamed’s 3rd novel, The Fortune Men, is a fictionalised retelling of the communicative of Somali seaman Mahmood Mattan, who was wrongfully convicted of execution successful Cardiff successful 1952. Born successful Hargeisa successful 1981, Mohamed is the archetypal British-Somali writer to diagnostic successful the Booker shortlist. Her 2 erstwhile novels, Black Mamba Boy (2010) and The Orchard of Lost Souls (2013), won the Betty Trask and Somerset Maugham awards.

What were you doing erstwhile you recovered retired you had been shortlisted for the Booker prize?
I was astatine my mum’s – I’m 1 of her carers. I received a telephone from my exertion and she was like, large news! We did a speedy creation and past it was backmost to Mum’s needs.

The Fortune Men was your archetypal caller to beryllium acceptable successful Britain, wherever you’ve lived astir of your life. Was that a antithetic process from the enactment of recreating 1930s Yemen oregon Somalia connected the brink of the civilian war?
Sure. Setting a caller successful this state made everything consciousness much intimate. I deliberation Somali radical are precise secretive astir their backstage lives, truthful arsenic a writer it makes you consciousness somewhat awkward delving deeply. Here, I felt an quality to grapple with my characters successful a much assertive mode than I’d allowed myself successful the past.

There is simply a joyousness astir your depiction of Mahmood’s interior satellite that, for me, was not an evident path, given that the communicative is a tragedy.
Did I spell retired to bash that? Not consciously. But, due to the fact that of his similarity to my father, Mahmood is truthful acquainted to me. They were calved successful the aforesaid city. They arrived successful this state astatine the aforesaid age, arsenic merchant sailors. When I went to probe the caller and went backmost to these communities of aged sailors successful London and Cardiff, it was similar being backmost successful lukewarm water. They’re each benignant of bundled up present successful anoraks, with walking sticks, but the aforesaid souls, the aforesaid spirits are there. You tin spot those young men who were thrown into postwar Britain and recovered humour here, recovered emotion here, recovered panic here. They were a peculiar benignant of people. They were rebels. Otherwise they would person stayed astatine home, they would person stayed with their livestock oregon with their families successful shops similar Mahmood’s household had successful Hargeisa. But they were risk-takers and my begetter was 1 of them. And they’re casual to love. It’s astir that wanderlust. It’s astir that curiosity. It’s astir feeling that you privation to marque a beingness connected your ain terms. That to maine is besides my ain interior life. I’m trying to constitute my ain story.

Tell maine much astir your story.
I was calved successful Hargeisa and past moved to London erstwhile I was 4 due to the fact that my begetter could spot that Somalia was sinking deeper. At the time, it was a dictatorship, but a mates of years aft we near the civilian warfare broke retired and our location municipality was flattened by South African mercenaries arsenic good arsenic section Somali troops. We near conscionable earlier the war, truthful you’re successful that mediate portion betwixt being an migrant and a exile and past wherever you lived, wherever you had been, wherever each your memories were, disappeared from view. It ceased to exist. For a agelong time, arsenic a child, you marque it beryllium successful your mind. You unit it to exist. I ever had a feeling that we would return. But past Somalia appeared successful the newspapers and successful TV sum due to the fact that of the panic and the famine and past you realise, wow, you can’t spell back. I conjecture your imaginativeness ever dwells there. The Fortune Men is the archetypal clip I’ve near Somalia imaginatively.

Who person been your cardinal literate influences?
Toni Morrison is the evident one. I deliberation Arundhati Roy and the mode she writes astir powerfulness and powerlessness and the mode she lives her beingness is simply a beardown influence. I emotion Pushkin. I emotion metaphysical poesy – John Donne, Sam Selvon. A monolithic power connected maine is Claude McKay, who wrote successful the 1920s and 30s and who was a communist and a bohemian radical. His archetypal novel, Home to Harlem [1928], was written aft Trotsky encouraged him to constitute astir the sociopolitical conditions of African Americans, but alternatively of this adust telephone to arms helium wrote this fantastic, bawdy, comic modernist publication that captured a portion of Harlem beingness I deliberation different radical were frightened to enactment connected paper.

What are you penning now?
I’m stuck connected Britain. It’s thing contemporary, thing precise antithetic from The Fortune Men – about women, young women and Somali families who fled the warfare but haven’t fled it internally. Modern-day Britain is intense. Something unusual is happening [and] immoderate postcolonial psychosis it is is truthful huffy and truthful extreme.Being black, being Muslim, being idiosyncratic who up until rather precocious thought that they understood this country, I’m hopeless to recognize what’s going on. When you person a kid of immigrants specified arsenic our location caput eagerly calling for migrants to beryllium pushed backmost into the Channel, that indispensable marque you halt and think. There’s an extremity to the speech and to people’s request for unit that is truly troubling and I deliberation that successful the aforesaid mode my begetter could spot wherever Somalia was going, I’m rather acrophobic [about] wherever Britain is going. And possibly it’s to bash with the information that I came from a state that fell apart.

Does the caller publication person a title?
No.

Not yet?
Actually, it does.

Go on. We’ll interruption the news…
It’s called Broken Hearts Syndrome.

Tell maine astir breached hearts syndrome.
I deliberation we each acquisition it, we each endure it, particularly immigrants, particularly refugees; it’s a carnal and aesculapian condition. It’s erstwhile a daze happens and causes immense accent connected the bosom that tin lucifer a bosom attack. The protagonist of the caller is simply a paediatrician, but she and her mother, they are suffering assorted types of breached hearts syndrome and I deliberation we each bash and possibly that’s what I’m besides feeling astir Britain, that consciousness of a breached bosom astir wherever it’s going…

What are you speechmaking astatine the moment?
Breakfast astatine Bronzefield by Sophie Campbell (but that’s a pseudonym). It’s astir Bronzefield women’s prison, wherever determination was precocious this case of a young pistillate giving commencement unsupervised and her kid dying.

What’s the champion debut you’ve work successful caller months?
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo. It’s acceptable successful Trinidad, but a fictional mentation of Trinidad and it’s the penning that I love, not truly what it’s about. It how’s it written. With a benignant of magic.