To set the ball rolling for season 2, we feature Ghanaian-British novelist, Frances Mensah Williams!
Having being born in Ghana and moved between the USA, Austria and finally the UK, Frances had already spotted her passion for writing at the precocious age of nine.
Her debut, From Pasta To Pigfoot features Faye Bonsu, a pasta fanatic, and her attempts to find love and her cultural niche as she explores contemporary Ghana. The sequel – From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings – was published a year later, and it continues Faye’s adventures of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
It was eventually selected by WH Smith Travel as one of the top 25 of its 100 Summer reads.
Her latest book, Imperfect Arrangements tells the story of best friends Lyla, Theresa and Maku and their struggles with the less than perfect arrangements that define their relationships.
In the novel, I wanted to explore the complexities of relationships and take an honest look at how culture impacts marriage for both men and women. I also wanted to celebrate the awesome power of women supporting other women. Fundamentally, the novel is a celebration of love and sisterhood.”— Frances in an interview with Dorothy Koomson.
For week 1, Frances touches on her sequel, From Pasta To Pigfoot. She also leaves a bit of advice for aspiring writers.
What ignited the writing career? Any event? Person?
It wasn’t a particular event or person but simply the fact that I’ve loved reading ever since I was a child.
Our house was filled with books, and we were always encouraged to read, not that I needed any encouragement as I could always be found with my head in a book. In my teens, I was constantly in and out of our local library and I suppose when you read a lot of stories, it is natural to write your own. So, I would scribble short stories, the occasional poem and the starting chapters of books that I never got around to finishing – which is probably a good thing for the world!
How long have you been writing?
For as long as I can remember, but I never showed anyone what I wrote.
The first thing I ever had published was a book review in a national paper and I was so excited, I bought twenty copies of the newspaper! After publishing two non-fiction careers books and finally sharing my fiction, I was lucky enough to be offered a book deal in 2015 for my first novel, From Pasta to Pigfoot, set in London and Ghana, and the sequel, From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings.
I then started self-publishing and released a novel, Imperfect Arrangements, and two standalone novellas – Sweet Mercy and River Wild – all set in Ghana under the Marula Heights Romances series.
What are some of the challenges in producing a book?
Overcoming procrastination, juggling work and writing, social media distractions, saying ‘no’ when people ask for my time or help, and so on.
I would also add that writing a book is only the first part of producing one. Whether your books are published by a publisher, or you choose to self-publish, you must also undertake a lot of promotional work to connect with your readers and spread awareness of your book.
Which, amongst your published books, is your favourite?
Wow, that is like asking which of my children is my favourite! I enjoyed writing all my books and I must admit, I also enjoy reading and re-reading them.
From Pasta to Pigfoot holds a special place as it was my first published novel, but I am particularly proud of Imperfect Arrangements because it was a chance to explore the clash of love, friendship, and culture in Ghana, as well as try my hand at self-publishing. Although my next novel will be traditionally published, I enjoy the control involved with independently publishing my work.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?
Someone who is brilliant at book marketing! Having joined some writers’ groups and associations, I have found it incredibly helpful to talk to other novelists about how they approach their craft and marketing.
There are some authors I greatly admire both for their work and as people, and I often cite the bestselling novelist Dorothy Koomson who has always been kind and generous to me and hugely supportive of my work.
What is your favourite genre of novels?
It would be easy to say romantic fiction, but the truth is I enjoy all genres, which I think is a legacy from my childhood when I raided all the sections of the library to find new books.
I love reading mystery, police procedurals and courtroom dramas, historical fiction, and humorous books by classic writers like PG Wodehouse (thanks to my father). I also read non-fiction books and biographies, so I’m sorry but there’s no short answer to this question.
What time of the day do you usually write?
Because I juggle so many different work projects alongside writing, my diary looks different every week. I write whenever I can and the challenge is to create sufficient time each day, if possible, to work on whichever book I’m writing as well as doing some social media/book marketing.
Do you have a favourite writing snack?
Truthfully, I often forget to eat when I am deep into writing. However, if my concentration drops between meals, I usually make some tea and maybe sneak a chocolate biscuit or two if there are any left in the house.
Who is your favourite author?
Another tough question… Quite honestly, there isn’t any one author. I enjoy books by black female writers like Terry McMillan and Dorothy Koomson, and I recently read a fantastic novel called My Sister the Serial Killer. It is fair to say I read a lot of books by different authors and enjoy many of them.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
The most important advice for an aspiring writer is to write. Like any other craft, the more you do it, the better you become. It’s also a good idea to read the genre you want to write in, not to copy what’s out there but to get a sense of the conventions of that genre.
I would also encourage any aspiring writer to think like a reader as you tell your story. Are you describing your setting in a way that allows the reader to picture it? Have you explained the key elements in the story at the right time, so the story makes sense to the reader as they progress through the book? Have you researched the issues you raise in your book sufficiently to sound credible? Your imagination can take you a long way but at times you also need to really understand the issues you are weaving into your story.
Finally, being a writer is all about perseverance and handling rejection maturely. Writing is a lonely task which sometimes feels thankless, and so you need to develop a thick skin to withstand negative criticism as well as motivate yourself to keep going when that book deal feels out of reach. Which is why my second most important piece of advice is to never give up!