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#TheFlap: Ten questions with author Chibundu Onuzo

Composite: The Reading List

Nigerian author Chibundu Onuzo’s third novel, Sankofa, is the funny, gripping and surprising story of a mixed-race British woman who goes in search of the West African father she never knew. (It also has a single, ‘Good Soil’.) The Reading List spent a few minutes chatting with Chibundu about her writing life.

The Reading List: Hello Chibundu, and thank you for your time. 

We call this interview #TheFlap, but it is based on the Proust Questionnaire, a parlour game made famous by the French writer Marcel Proust, who believed that the answers would reveal a person’s true nature… 

So here goes! 

What’s the first book you can remember having read to you? 

Chibundu Onuzo: A series about a character called Poldy. He was a stick man I think and sometimes he could fly. I might be making up some of the details but his name was definitely Poldy.  

TRL: Do you have an ideal reader in mind while you are writing? 

Chibundu Onuzo: Not really. I’m my first and most important reader although sometimes there are some trusted secondary readers that I share things with. I also read my work aloud to check its rhythm and I skim read as well, to make sure nothing is sticking out. 

TRL: What were some of the unexpected challenges that came up while you were writing? What was unexpectedly easy? 

Chibundu Onuzo: I was surprised by how easy it was to write the London passages of the book. I’ve lived in London for about a decade now and all my observations about the city just flowed into the novel. But once I moved Anna to West Africa, it was very difficult to conjure up the fictional country of Bamana. I think because when I do write things set in West Africa, my default setting is Nigeria and in particular Lagos. 

TRL: What are some of the key ideas that inform what you’ve written? 

Chibundu Onuzo: I don’t know. I don’t really think about ideas when I start off on a project. I’m thinking more about the characters. But readers always tell me there’s a lot of politics in my books. I am interested in African politics. 

TRL: What was the most difficult scene or chapter to write? 

Chibundu Onuzo: The end. I’m not good with endings. 

TRL: What question do you think readers are going to ask you the most? 

Chibundu Onuzo: What happens to Anna after the ending. I ended the book on a question mark on purpose. I don’t know the answer myself. 

TRL: If you could co-author a book with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose and what would it be about? 

Chibundu Onuzo: I don’t like co-authoring. 

TRL: After readers have read your book, what should they read next? 

Chibundu Onuzo: Segu by Maryse Condé and Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta.

TRL: What habit distracts you most from writing? 

Chibundu Onuzo: Reading. 

TRL: What’s the best music to write to? 

Chibundu Onuzo: I don’t write to music. I always find it distracting. DM/ ML

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo is published by Virago (R335). Visit The Reading List for South African book news – including interviews! – daily.

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