Five Minutes with Diriye Osman....

Thursday, 20 June 2013
Dele Fatunla, RAS Website Editor

Why do you write?

I write because I love writing. It‘s such a reductive response but it’s true. Usually, when writers get asked this question the default mode is to coyly babble on about how cleansing the process is (a bit like colonic irrigation) but also how difficult and stressful it all is and how paradoxically unbearable life is without the process. I write because I love to write.

Do you have any pre-writing rituals?
Ginger tea and roll-ups are my best friends when I’m writing.

Where do you write and why there? [Please send us a nice picture of the space if you can]
I write in my kitchen (I wish I could send you a picture but I’m afraid I’ll betray my lifelong secret as a slovenly hoarder). I live in a small rooftop flat and the kitchen is where the tilted windows are. I write directly under one of these windows because I like natural light when I’m working. It’s a sweet, simple setup.

What advice do you have for other writers who are just starting out?
Read as widely as possible and write. There will be many disappointments but, like with everything else in life, you need to put in the work. Find a class or a writers’ group and get feedback on your work. In time, you will develop crocodile-thick skin as the rejections keep piling up. Pick yourself up and carry on. One day you will catch a break but remember: it all starts with picking up a book and reading.

Who are your favourite writers?
Nuruddin Farah, Buchi Emecheta, Lorrie Moore, David Sedaris, ZZ Packer, Alice Munro, Alison Bechdel, Janet Malcolm, Ama Ata Aidoo, Will Eisner, Vladimir Nabokov, Edwidge Danticat, Amy Hempel.

What’s on your secret reading list?
I’m currently enjoying an utterly kinky series of graphic novels by this brilliant, Canadian artist called Patrick Fillion. His work has to be kept in a secret stash as the content is quite pornographic. It’s multiple levels of awesome though.

What books have you left unfinished? [Reading or Writing]
Tonnes of books but I’m not going to name names as it seems a little rude (he said, coyly).

What’s the most confusing book you’ve ever read?
‘House Of Leaves’ by Mark Z. Danielewski. Baffling but brilliant.

 What’s your favourite opening line or quote in African Literature?
“Duniya had been awake for a while, conscious of the approaching dawn. She had dreamt of a restless butterfly; of a cat waiting attentively for the fretful insect’s shadow to stay still for an instant so as to pounce on it. Then the dark room lit up with the brightness of fireflies, agitated breaths of light, soft, quiet as foam.”  – Nuruddin Farah, ‘Gifts’

Have you ever lied?
Many times. And that’s the truth.

What personal trait do you most deplore in others?

 What’s your greatest fear? 
Failing to live up to my own standards.

What’s the most sublime experience you’ve ever had?
When I’m writing or painting and hitting the right notes. It’s like a hit of the finest Hydro – but better.

What’s your greatest regret?
I don’t have any regrets.

Which living person do you most despise?
I don’t despise anybody. When somebody ticks me off I let him or her know and carry on. I can never hold a grudge.

Which living person do you most admire?
My friend, publisher and champion, John R. Gordon. He’s a wonderful human being and a supremely gifted artist, writer and editor.

 What’s the best advice you’ve ever got?
I can’t remember. I have a terrible memory.

Where/When have you been happiest?
When I was last in love.

If you were president of the ‘United States of Africa’ for a day – what would you do?
I would make intolerance a thing of the past by providing the kind of education that honours intelligence and humanity as much as wisdom. I would create an archive of our collective history as a people and make it available for free on every technological device you can think of. Can you imagine? It would be a bigger network than Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter combined. And every day we would get a hearty digital serving of our history without any filters. I would find a way to exploit our wealth of natural resources so we would never have to depend on any foreign aid. The billions we would make from our own mines and soil would finance the kind of health system that would be the envy of the world. I would impose a lifetime ban on missionaries of any religious denomination being allowed to enter the ‘United States of Africa.’

Which (6) or more people would be on your fantasy dinner party list – [Dead or Alive]?
Cassandra Wilson (because she would be a real gas), David Sedaris (because he’s lovely), Sade (because she would be great to have a smoke with), Dave Chappelle (an all-round legend), Miriam Makeba (she would completely steal the show) and Ru Paul (so dragalicious it’s ridiculous).

Please make us a playlist of songs you like to write to – or that you think you should be listened to alongside your work.



Diriye Osman will launch his book 'Fairytales for Lost Children' at the RAS'  literature festival Africa Writes at  The British Library from 5th July - 7th July 2013.