MGC 1982 Leaver

Malvern Alumnae 100 Aminatta Forna

To be a writer you must want it more than you want anything else, which I think is true of every art. Some people write well, but would not wish to be writers, they find they are happier in a job where their skills can be used, working as a journalist or academic, say. I know this because I have been a reporter and I have held academic posts and I have met those people.

To wish to be a novelist is to want to spend the best years of your life alone in a room with people who don’t exist, but who nevertheless follow you everywhere you go for months like unruly children. Those days when I wake up in the morning and I have nothing else to do but write, even when I can’t seem to figure out where exactly my story is going, or my characters remain a mystery even to their creator, or the memory of a critical review or a bad word presses upon my mood, like a stranger’s thumb to my temple, those days are still my happiest.

Some people think writers are good role models, especially if those writers are women, and we can be if you don’t care for job security, healthcare or a pension. I became a writer because I paid no heed to the many people who warned me against it, even told me I would surely fail. I felt I had no other choice, you see. Writers are wont to say such things, alas it is true. I left a well-paid job and I took a great risk. Writing is no occupation for the risk averse. You must risk everything and even after you have done so you may find that you are never more than mediocre as a writer and yet sell in the millions, or you may be brilliant and go unnoticed. If all goes moderately well there will be book launches and interviews and there will be speeches and there may even be prizes. But the best thing of all is that you will wake up in the morning knowing there is nothing else you would rather do than write. And sometimes you have all the time in the world to do it.

What does success look like?

It is playing the long game. It is easier to be a one hit wonder than to stay on form and keep improving. Stay with the plan. That goes for life and love, too.

What is your best piece of advice?

My best piece of advice is the one I have pinned to a board in my office. ‘Nobody ever won a prize for paperwork.’ Admin is death to creativity. Keep on top of it, but don’t let it take over. Hire someone else to do it as soon as you possibly can.