Listen to this article
Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa in 1981. Her family moved to London in 1986 for what was intended as a temporary stay but would later be made permanent by the onset of war in Somalia. She read history and politics at Oxford university. Black Mamba Boy (2010), her debut novel, won the 2010 Betty Trask Award. This year, Granta named Mohamed one of its Best of Young British Novelists.
What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?
It was a book by Noo Saro-Wiwa, called Looking for Transwonderland.
What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have one. I’ve tried to create ones but they never stick. My first book was written between 2am and 5am, when it was quiet.
Where do you write best?
In my bedroom, in bed.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I’m reading the travel edition of Granta and I’m reading this amazing book by Sven Lundqvist called Terra Nullius, about Australia.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
I once tried to climb a mountain in ridiculously impractical sparkly sandals and I got stuck at the top and had to be rescued. It was outside of Hargeisa in Somaliland.
How do you relax?
I’m learning how to play the oud, which makes me stop thinking about anything else.
What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
If they were old enough, I would get them to read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, because it’s fresh and it’s funny and the structure is interesting. I read it in a night, so I’d be interested to see if it had the same effect on them.
Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Toni Morrison. I could really harass her, I think. I’m a bit of fan so it would be good to trap her somewhere.
What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?
My Dad’s always saying, “Why not?”, and that has become my philosophy.
If you could own any painting, what would it be?
I was in Amsterdam in December and I saw a Chagall for the first time in my life and it made me gasp. I love the size, I love the madness of it. It would be something by Chagall.
Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?
Cate Blanchett. It’d be interesting to see how she did me.
What does it mean to be a writer?
I think it means to reflect on life, and to reflect on the world ... The writers that I love are the ones that are active ... It’s not enough to sit back and say this is the world, [these are] the inequalities, if you can’t also step in and do whatever you can about them.
Nadifa Mohamed’s latest novel is ‘The Orchard of Lost Souls’ (Simon & Schuster)