Derek Owusu discovered a love for literature while studying Exercise Science at university. It was 'St Mawr', a short story by D. H. Lawrence, that lured him in.
The 31-year-old found himself sneaking into English Literature lectures while reading voraciously in his spare moments, devouring the classics, catching up on what he'd missed. ‘What I love is how time falls away when you're invested in a story’, he told us.
Owusu has just published his first solo work, a novel in verse called That Reminds Me, on #Merky Books, the Stormzy-led imprint that has caused waves in the publishing industry. He's also the award-winning host of lit and pop-culture podcast Mostly Lit and contributed to Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space, an anthology MP Diane Abbott called ‘utterly unique’. Idris Elba's production company has already bought the rights to his yet-to-be-released second book.
Here he tells us the inspiration behind his work, his regrets and his favourite writing place in London.
Which writer do you most admire and why?
Jose Saramago. What he can do with language is stunning, each of his sentences take you on a journey; you feel like you’ve been blinded and lifted into the air, but remain confident you will land in a green full of Asters. There’s always something golden within his purple prose.
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?
I used to be a body for medical students. I would come in, strip and then lay down for about six hours while parts of my body were prodded and pressed. It was peaceful at times. Didn’t pay very well, but I was also working in Waterstones at the time.
Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times.
The Great Gatsby. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read it but I know the last time I tried, I became bored, which scared me, so I put it down to refuel my admiration for it.
What the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
‘For goodness sake, just write in your voice, Derek!’
What makes you most happy?
Reading and re-watching movies like Notting Hill, Coming to America, Closer and 500 Days of Summer.
What’s your biggest regret?
Not going to therapy sooner. Whether you think you have unresolved issues or not, therapy is great. I think everyone should try it.
What’s your ideal writing scenario?
Sitting in any area of the Southbank Centre, watching people and taking in the London that seems so distant.
...and your ideal reading one?
You know, I can actually read anywhere. But I tend to read the most on the underground. Soaking in the white noise.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year?
Normal People by Sally Rooney. Reading her made me remember why I fell in love with literature. The tone is perfect and it captures the unspoken awkwardness and overthinking of young lovers. Plus, if Mehrabian and Wiener are to be believed, then this book is spot on, which I think it is. ‘If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him.’
What inspired you to write your book?
A desire to understand myself better. I was in hospital when I came up with the character of K, and exploring his life helped me understand my own.
That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu is out now.