Aminatta Forna was 10 years old in 1974 when her father was taken from their family home in Freetown, Sierra Leone, by members of the state secret police. A year later he was hanged for treason for setting up an opposition party to Siaka Stevens’ government. Forna’s first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water (2003), is “a daughter’s memoir” about her search for her father’s killers. It was shortlisted for the 2003 Samuel Johnson Prize. Both Ancestor Stones (2006) and her latest novel, The Memory of Love, are set in Sierra Leone. Born in Scotland in 1964, Forna was raised in west Africa but attended boarding school in Britain. She is married and lives in London.
Who is your perfect reader?
Somebody who is prepared to go on a journey with me, which might not be easy but ultimately will be fruitful.
What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?
Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
What book changed your life?
Wild Swans. Jung Chang was the first person to tell a grand historical, political story through a personal narrative. I knew I’d found a way of looking at the wars in Sierra Leone.
What is your writing routine?
I’m at my desk for about 9.30am and I stay there all day. Then there’s a lot of checking Facebook and eBay and that sort of thing.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
I temporarily became a surgeon for Memory of Love. I spent two weeks in an operating theatre, watching amputations, and I loved it.
Which literary character most resembles you?
Pi in Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I was once a little boy before I had to become a grown-up woman.
Who are your literary influences?
Michael Ondaatje, for the scale of his stories and his extraordinary structures.
When do you feel most free?
When I don’t have my clothes on.
What does it mean to be a writer?
It means total freedom. But with that comes responsibility to bear witness and also to tell stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
The Atlantic ocean, beneath the waves.
Aminatta Forna’s latest novel is ‘The Memory of Love’ (Bloomsbury)