books: an interview with writer yrsa daley-ward

On 29th October 2013, the talented Yrsa Daley-Ward releases her brand new collection of short stories titled ‘On Snakes and Other Stories’. Hailing from a dual heritage background of Nigerian and Jamaican decent -and raised by her Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in the North of England- her intriguing experiences are fused together to create a world of intrigue, intimacy and poignancy. Now, in her first book of short stories, we’re introduced to an array of fascinating characters as they make their way through various adventures. We caught up with the actor/writer/poet, to find out a bit more.

Image provided courtesy of Brick London PR

Image provided courtesy of Brick London PR

When did you first realise you wanted to write?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Making things up, making things better, or just talking about the things that aren’t brilliant. Imagination got me through a lot, particularly in the earlier years.

Where did you draw inspiration from when creating this book?

It’s strange. I forced myself to sit down and write and didn’t really look outside of myself for this collection. It’s strange what materialises when you aren’t really looking. You can scare yourself.

What is the inspiration behind the title of the book, ‘On Snakes and Other Stories’?

The title of the first story in the collection is ‘On Snakes’ and it is about an encounter with a lover’s long lost sister, which has disastrous consequences.

How have your travels influenced your book – how important is it for you to give others of different nationalities a voice?

Extremely. I was born in England and am of mixed West Indian and West African heritage. Jamaican/Nigerian. I wrote the collection in Cape Town, where I disappeared off to for two years, when I wasn’t sure what else to do. All of which have influenced my writing. The stories are based in London, Manchester, Cape Town…and I set one in Jamaica.

Are your stories based on real life or fantasy?

Both. Lots and lots of both. Nightmares too.

Are any of the characters based on real life people you know or have met?


Is it important for you to create stories which the reader can relate to or to write stories which provide a means of escape?

I think both are important for different reasons, but it’s extremely important for my writing to be somewhat relatable. All in all I think we should talk more about what is affecting us, what makes us sad, or desperate or afraid. The irrationality of our emotions too, because feelings are never easy, or logical, or clean.

Is there a running theme throughout the collection of stories, if so what is it?

Emotional unpredictability, compulsive behaviour, sexuality and mental health are all key themes. All of which I have experienced first-hand and observed in those around me.

Image provided courtesy of Brick London PR

Image provided courtesy of Brick London PR

What do you hope people will take away from your stories?

Falling apart can be necessary.

Is there a particular audience that you had in mind whilst writing your stories?

I wrote these stories for anyone who wants to read them.

Do you have a favourite story in this book, if so why?

It changes. There’s an up and down relationship with most of them. ‘It is what it is’ is the closest to my life.

Did you have a specific routine when writing this book – when are you most inspired/ creative?

First thing in the morning, fresh out of dreaming is when I am softest and when I have the best language. I have no routine, though. It’s one of the best and most worrying things about my life.

How long did it take you to write this book and how did you know when it was complete and that the stories were in the correct order?

Something tells you how to order your book, I think. I write in the first, second and third person in the collection so it seemed important to distribute them fairly evenly throughout. It took me a few months to write the book. I write very quickly and straight onto the page, without a plan or an idea. It keeps things interesting for me.

As an actor were you thinking about how the story would be read/ performed when writing your stories?

No, actually I never think about that when I’m writing fiction. Poetry, maybe.

How do you feel about the decline in printed books, do you think there is still a place for literature in modern society?

Almost everyone I speak to still prefers reading printed novels to reading on a device. Of course there’s a place for literature, always. Literature enhances life. Children need literature. Adults need literature and we are all affected by it, profoundly or accidentally.

What would you like to achieve in the future with your writing, do you have any plans to write any more books?

I’d love to write more books. I travel a lot performing poetry. It’s great to do both. Going from one to the other, then back again…makes me happy.

Image provided courtesy of Brick London PR

Image provided courtesy of Brick London PR

‘On Snakes & Other Stories’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward is out September 29th on 3:AM Press in paperback edition. It is also available for pre-order exclusively through the Galley Beggars Shop here


Interview / Katie Shuff

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