While I’m writing fiction, I try to read only nonfiction. I need real life, real feelings, real people to give me texture, as a backdrop to sitting at my laptop constructing characters and scenarios. Two books have given me this recently. On Connection by Kae Tempest, a selection of essays on how we forge alliances with the world around us, and Endless Fortune by Ify Adenuga, the mother of UK grime and rap powerhouses JME, Skepta and Julie Adenuga. Above all, Endless Fortune is a memoir of a Nigerian woman – “a fighter, a thinker, a feminist and a parent” – born in Lagos, one of 11 Igbo children whose lives were fractured by the Biafran war. She left Lagos for London in 1980, landing in a place that was unexpectedly unaccepting and cold. But Ify, being powerfully driven and determined, built a life for herself, the Yoruba husband that she met while they were working in a bingo hall, and their four children.
Of course, nonfiction writing is just as rich, illuminating and explorative as fiction. How could it not be? It’s real. When I’m reading anything, my main concern is that I’m learning something, be that about an unknown place, the human psyche, or a world unfamiliar to me. In Endless Fortune, what I’m hit with is just the kind of intergenerational learning and inspiration from a culture very different to mine that I’ve been yearning for.