By Tymon Smith for the Sunday Times:
Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria with her Nigerian father (novelist Kole Omotoso), her West Indian mother and two older brothers. She and her family moved to South Africa in 1992 and have lived here ever since. She is an architect and lives in Cape Town where she works as a designer, freelance writer and novelist. Bom Boy is her first novel and tells the story of Leke, a troubled young man living in the suburbs of Cape Town and his search for the story of his Nigerian family.
This is your first novel. What was the inspiration and how long did it take you to write?
I was inspired to write about a lonely young man, cut off from society and with an awkwardness and strangeness bordering on sociopathy. I dig into his past to uncover how he got there and ultimately humanise him. It took countless hours of thinking and about two years of writing.
One of the things that strikes the reader is your ear for the language of your protagonist – is this an invented language or a representation of a dialect that you were familiar with?
I don’t really have an answer. All language is invention, I think, including yours and mine. When Leke speaks, he uses his invented language. When I write Leke speaking, I attempt to use the language that a person like him would invent.
What did choosing a protagonist who starts off a child and never really grows up allow you the freedom to do?
It allows me to play on his intense sense of vulnerability. Despite Leke being cold/cut-off, readers might find some compassion for him because they’ve moved through life with him and understand where he got stuck.
Are there any particular novelists who influenced your approach?
Novelists and their novels are very influential on me as a writer. Arundathi Roy, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Mariam Aba, Diane Evans … the list is almost endless. In terms of my specific approach to Bom Boy though, no, there was no main influence, just a sea of writers I enjoy and respect.
What do you think it is about Cape Town that has made it such a fertile place for exploration in local fiction?
Any city that contradicts itself, with hidden histories and so many untold corners will be a compelling place to set a fictional tale.
How have you found the response to the book?
I am pleased with the various responses; critique and praise. I always feel humbled that people read the book and enjoy it. I have been afforded several opportunities since the publication, one of the highlights being participating in the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban. Being shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize is something I am surprised and very grateful for.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a novelist?
Spending a lifetime crafting your ability to share what’s in your mind and then being told, by a stranger, that they not only understood it but were moved by it.
What are you working on next?
Another story, some time into the future, set on a fictitious university campus in Cape Town.
- Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso
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