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Arts + Lifestyle

A Way With Words: Ingrid Persaud

As part of an ongoing series of interviews with contemporary female writers, CF speaks to writer Ingrid Persaud in A Way With Words.

You originally trained in law, and worked as a legal academic before moving into the arts. What inspired the change of career, and what drew you to writing in particular?

It’s not as strange as it may seem. I was on a panel with two other writers recently and we were all lapsed lawyers. The career change wasn’t planned. I stumbled into an Art foundation course at the Slade and was hooked. Writing slowly took over from Fine Art. My head and my heart understood writing better than any other creative practice. It’s where I feel complete.

Is it true that The Sweet Sop which won both the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and BBC National Short Story Award in 2018 was the first story you’d ever written?

It was and it wasn’t. Yes, it was my first proper short story but it wasn’t my first experience of writing. I’d been honing my craft indirectly through my academic work and my artwork made extensive use of text. For several years I also wrote a weekly essay about life in Barbados. So yes, The Sweet Sop was my first short story but it was years in the making.

Following the success of the story, how did you find the process of beginning and writing Love After Love?

I was already well into writing Love After Love when I won the BBC NSSA. Winning was the spur I needed to finish the draft.

How much do you plan what you’re going to write?

Too little. When I have a detailed plan it sucks the joy out of my writing. But if I planned more I would avoid so many plot errors. Trying to find a happy medium between planning and going where the characters take me.

In the book, Betty, Chetan and Solo all take turns at the narration. Did one voice come to you more easily than the others?

Betty and I are both middle-aged woman so her voice should come naturally. Not so. Solo and Mr. Chetan were easier. Women are always imagining ourselves into the places and roles denied us so it wasn’t difficult being in the head of a teenage boy or a gay man.

Were any authors or books particularly influential or helpful with the writing of the novel?

As a Caribbean writer, V.S. Naipaul is always on your shoulder. The courage and energy in Marlon James’s writing and the craft of Kei Miller’s poetry helped me out of the shadows.

After drafting and redrafting, how do you decide when a piece is finally finished?

A draft can always be improved. I only stop when I’m barred because the manuscript is with the printer.

Do you ever abandon a piece of writing?

All. The. Time. I have abandoned a complete draft novel. It was crap.

You split your time between London and Barbados. How do you think these different places and cultures influence your writing?

Barbados is a paradise offering peace and headspace to reflect. I write with intense energy when I am there. London is where I immerse myself in culture. I write but not as efficiently. I am constantly batting away the distractions of yet another play or meeting friends. I need both places.

What are you currently working on?

I’m knee deep in my next novel. It’s set in Trinidad of the 1940s and 1950s and tells the story of Boysie Singh, the Al Capone of the Caribbean, through the women in his life.

Quick-fire Questions

Where do you go in search of inspiration?

Conversations with my village of old friends.

A book everyone should read?

Ask the person running your local bookstore. Buy it from them.

Best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?

Show up at your desk every day. Yes, that includes Christmas, Easter, and your birthday.

The last book to make you smile?

Kevin Barry’s That Old Country Music.

 Your favourite place to read?

On my chaise with my dog, Bob Marley, on my feet.

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Any Questions or Tips to add?