Rosanna Amaka grew up in Brixton. Born to African and Caribbean parents, she had a deep awareness of her heritage and was keen to document it.
As a child, she loved writing short stories, and Amaka channelled that passion into her debut novel, The Book of Echoes, which she began twenty years ago. Following two young black lives from the roots of slavery in Africa to a more contemporary 1980s South London, Rosanna wanted to give voice to her Brixton-based community while also reflecting the changes she saw around her as a result of gentrification.
We spoke to Rosanna about paying homage to her community through her work, and how she wished she had the confidence to share her writing at a younger age.
Which writer do you most admire and why?
There are so many, but if I had to choose one then it would be J. California Cooper, because her stories are relatable, sometimes funny, and down to earth. She mixes the pain and the joy of life into her storytelling, so you feel like you are gaining greater insight into the human condition.
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?
I haven’t had a strange job as such, but I have been in what have felt like strange working situations. Years ago, when working as a sales assistant at a high-end shop, I was asked to glue broken chocolate crocodile heads back onto their bodies using melted chocolate, so they could be repackaged and sold again.
Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times.
I tend to re-read more short story collections than novels. There is one that immediately springs to mind, that is Aren’t You Happy For Me? And Other Stories by Richard Bausch. In Bausch’s lead short, I really admired how he brings the reader into the story and the way it unfolds as you listen in on a telephone conversation between a father and daughter, as she announces that she is getting married. You can’t help laughing as you learn more about her fiancé, but at the same time, you really feel for the poor dad.
What the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
I went to a talk given by Toni Morrison many years ago, and she said that she redrafted her work at least six times before it was ready. It gave me hope – so I wrote, wrote and re-wrote again.
What makes you most happy?
Spending time with the people I love.
What’s your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is not having the confidence to share my work with others at a younger age, in my teens and very early twenties.
What’s your ideal writing scenario?
Sitting at my kitchen table, with a blanket over my legs for warmth.
...and your ideal reading one?
Curled up on the settee.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year?
The Nickel Boys. It's based on a true story – the horror that the boys went through affected me deeply.
What inspired you to write your book?
I was inspired to write my book as a way to give voice to the Brixton community that I knew and grew up in. When I first started writing it, there weren’t many books that reflected us, however, over the years as I grew older and more of the next generation passed away, it also became important for me to record their presence in Brixton in some way. It is not an exact replica of that community, as my book is fiction and as a community there is more than one story and one perspective, but I hope people get a sense of the love and resilience that I was surrounded by.
The Book of Echoes by Rosanna Amaka is out now.