Wasafiri Wonders: Diana Evans
Photography by Charlie Hopkinson
‘Ordinary People is already a kind of music album in literary form and has its own playlist, downloadable from Spotify.’
Ever wondered what your favourite writer’s first drafts look like? Or which book they love that nobody’s heard of? Wasafiri Wonders is a series that asks these questions for you.
Diana Evans is the author of Ordinary People, The Wonder and 26a. She has received many awards and nominations for her novels, including for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and the Guardian and Commonwealth first book awards. A former dancer, she also publishes essays and criticism.
1. Describe your first drafts in one sentence.
They’re a very un-Virgo beast-like mess requiring almost complete overhaul and thus tiring; each time I must rise to the challenge.
2. Tell us about your writing rituals.
A large breakfast before writing and peppermint tea throughout. I like to write most of all at my desk in the corner at the top of the house, surrounded by particular objects of special meaning or memory. The computer I write on has no internet connection.
3. What themes do you gravitate towards and why?
Extreme mental states, grief and bereavement, family dynamics, complex fathers, women’s subjectivity and survival, sisterhood. These are the concerns I was led to think about during my childhood and early adult life and they continue to interest me. My instinct is my guide through my writing and I listen to it very closely.
4. Tell us about your newest work.
Ordinary People is my most recent novel, about two couples struggling with relationships, parenthood and the onset of middle-age during one year in London.
5. What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
‘Write a scene’. Bernardine Evaristo said this to me when I was struggling to write my first novel 26a, and it opened up the story for me, helped me see it as a dramatic entity rather than just an idea.
6. What is your favourite book or pamphlet published in the past year and why?
I love Ta-Nehisi Coates’s writing and have great hopes for his first novel The Water Dancer. Anna Burns’s Milkman is the best thing I’ve read in a while.
7. What is a classic you recently read for the first time?
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.
8. What is a book or pamphlet you love that no one else has heard of?
A little book of Jean Rhys’s stories called Let Them Call It Jazz I’m very fond of, but I doubt I’m the only one.
9. If your newest work were a music album, what would it be and how would it sound?
Ordinary People is already a kind of music album in literary form and has its own playlist, downloadable from Spotify. Eclectic R&B, soul, reggae, jazz and pop, a lot of John Legend.
10. Which books or authors are relevant reads in our political climate —or one you’d recommend to current world leaders?
The poetry of Mary Oliver.
Ordinary People is published by Chatto & Windus and the novel recently won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature. Diana Evans work will be published in our special 100th issue ‘An Island Full of Voices: Writing Britain Now’ to commemorate 35 years of Wasafiri.