A photo of Natasha Brown, author of Assembly, side-by-side with the interview title, 21 Questions, on a burgundy and grayscale background.

‘I still have a soft spot for Mary Bennet’: 21 Questions with Natasha Brown

The author of the Bernardine Evaristo-approved debut novel Assembly on Pride and Prejudice, the genius of Toni Morrison, and her love of filtered coffee.

Chances are you’ve already heard Natasha Brown’s name, or possibly the name of her new novel, Assembly – such is the fervour with which the author’s debut novel, which has already been referred to as “Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway meets Citizen by Claudia Rankine”, has been anticipated.

The book was the product of a life spent reading, combined with a natural aptitude and good fortune at the 2019 London Writers Awards; Natasha, who studied maths at Cambridge, developed the novel after applying – and, of course, winning – the coveted award. Brown's debut novel, about the day-to-day of a young Black woman as she navigates and copes with the brutal banality of casual racism, sexism and neo-liberal capitalism, has attracted much-deserved attention from the likes of Bernardine Evaristo, Diana Evans, and Olivia Sudjic, who aptly made the Woolf and Rankine comparison.

We got in touch with Natasha to ask her about the inspiration behind the book, the Black Mirror-esque nature of virtual spin classes, and how Rankine’s work changed her life.

Which writer do you most admire and why?

Toni MorrisonPlaying in the Dark is an invaluable gift.

What was the first book you remember loving as a child?

Pride and Prejudice – it was a birthday present from my mum. I still have a soft spot for Mary.

What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?

‘Spinning sometimes has a dystopian, Black Mirror feel, but maybe that’s why I like it’

Probably What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. The emotional ambiguity of the stories made them so re-readable, especially when I felt I hadn’t understood everything.

Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path

To pick one, I’d probably say Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. It changed my understanding of what a book could do.

What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?

None of my jobs have been all that strange.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Write every day. I don’t always manage it, but I do find it helps me to have a consistent writing routine.

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)

'Pride and Prejudice was a birthday present from my mum; I still have a soft spot for Mary'

Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy. The narrator, Jay, is so compelling. I’m pulled back into his world every time, despite disliking his choices.

What’s the one book you feel guiltiest for not reading?

I try not to let guilt come into reading… it should be a treat!

If I didn’t become an author, I would be ______

A keen reader (still).

What makes you happiest?

Good conversation with interesting people.

What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?

I enjoy spin classes, even the ‘virtual’ lockdown ones. True, spinning sometimes has a dystopian, Black Mirror feel. But maybe that’s why I like it.

What is your ideal writing scenario?

Coffee, quiet, and an uninterrupted stretch of morning.

What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?

'Reading in the bath? Preferably not!'

I haven’t had many encounters with authors, but I was very surprised to learn that Joyce Carol Oates has a Twitter account.

If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?

Isabel Wilkerson. I’d probably try to make a halloumi salad. I’m not great at cooking.

What’s your biggest fear?

I tend towards general anxiety over specific fears.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Fast-forwarding time (and let’s say rewinding, too).

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?

Reading in the bath: yes or no?

Preferably not!

Which do you prefer: coffee or tea?

Coffee, especially filter coffee.

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

An unanswerable question! I think there are ‘best’ books for different moods, occasions, even phases of life. I couldn’t limit myself to one.

What inspired you to write your book?

I was interested in how language manages to appear neutral, even when it’s not. 


Assembly by Natasha Brown is out now.

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