Interview with Mona Williams

Name: Mona Williams

Place of birth: Mackenzie (now called Linden), on the Demerara River, Guyana, South America.

Now living in: Wellington

What is your favourite food?

West Indian pepperpot - made with "easreep" (a South American Indian preservative) - and rice.

Do you have a nickname and if so what is it?

"Bones" my brother calls me. "Boyee" my mother calls me.

How do you relax?

a. Put on "Songs of the Auvergne" by Kiri Te Kanawa, climb into bed with a hot water bottle, pull the duvet over my head, and drift off to sleep.

b. Go for a holiday to Paris, for a month, every three years.

Who inspired you when you were little?

Leontyne Price - an African American opera singer who overcame prejudice to sing in all of the great opera houses. And Adrianna James, my great-grandmother.

What were you like at school?

At primary school, for the most part, I was high-spirited. In high school (I was a black pupil in a white colonial high school) I was confused, angry, a misfit, often on detention and under threat of expulsion. I was also suicidal. Things changed for the better when I learned ballet, from 13 years onward.

What was your favourite/most hated subject at school?

My favourite subject was History - because I liked the teacher and she liked me. I did not hate any subject, but because I did not like the maths teacher, I found I could not learn maths. I dropped it in the fourth form.

What was the book you most loved as a child?

My childhood did not have books. It had the Bible only, and my great-grandmother told me the stories again and again. I discovered books in high school and loved a collection of poems by Stephen Spender.

Which person from the past would you most like to meet?

a. Vaslav Nijinski - the Russian ballet dancer.

b. Coffey - who led a slave rebellion in British Guyana

c. King David - of Israel.

Who is your favourite author/children’s author?

Adult authors: Chaim Potok and Amy Tan.

Children’s author: Ursula Le Guin.

Why did you want to be a writer?

I did not have a conscious wish to write. I wrote because I had to - I was broke and needed money. Then I was in pain, emotionally, and had to write, to make sure that I became able to understand my life. Then I found I could not stop writing.

Do you have a special place where you write your books?

I need "head-space." I need time to talk through the chapters of my book first, because I can’t write until I've talked the ideas through (this can take years). Then I shut myself in a room with curtains over the window, and write longhand.

What’s the best thing and worst thing about being a writer?

I come alive when I write. I see colours, I become silent and hear exactly how people speak; I become aware of the connections between things. I love life. But I withdraw into myself, I don’t see friends for months and I keep losing my house/car keys. I become completely absent-minded.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?

An opera singer or a ballet dancer.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read, Read, Read.

Think about the ways the writer constructs his/her story. Look carefully at the words she uses.

Write a little every single day.

(I "talk through" a little bit every day.)

This interview is from 2002.

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