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Helen Oyeyemi on mischievous stories and writing reluctantly

By Kobo • May 20, 2021Kobo in Conversation Podcast

"Once the story knows it's made up it can sort of do whatever it wants... And have a mischievous wiggle to it"

Helen Oyeyemi is the critically-acclaimed author of eight novels, including the new book Peaces. She spoke with us about the importance to her writing process of taking long book-free breaks, and how serving on juries for literary prizes has made her certain that she'll never win a major award.

We found out about the books that Helen Oyeyemi, self-described "reluctant writer," learned her craft from -- in some surprising ways...

  • When she got to the end of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, she says the ending "outraged me enough to want to jump in and try and change the story," and she did -- to the horror of her school librarian.
  • She started writing outside of books by crafting fan fiction based on "all sorts of stories that involved resourceful young girls making their way in the world," including Anastasia Krupnik, Harriet the Spy, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
  • Further on the topic of fan fiction, "I love thinking about the line between Emily Brontë['s Wuthering Heights] and 50 Shades of Grey."
  • On her admiration for Can Xue's Love in the New Millennium and The Last Lover: "There's something about relationships in her books... the way she describes relationships, not even romantic relationships, as a process that begins and doesn't end when the people involved decide it's ended -- it's like the relationship takes on a life of its own with these tentacles..."
  • Olga Tokarczuk Flights: "She writes so beautifully about moving between boundaries."
  • "I have so much envy when I read someone like Raymond Chandler or someone who just strips the sentence right down. I would love to be able to write like that. [...] Actually, that might be a new task to set myself."

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi

When Otto and Xavier Shin declare their love, an aunt gifts them a trip on a sleeper train to mark their new commitment--and to get them out of her house. Setting off with their pet mongoose, Otto and Xavier arrive at their sleepy local train station, but quickly deduce that The Lucky Day is no ordinary locomotive. Their trip on this former tea-smuggling train has been curated beyond their wildest imaginations, complete with mysterious and welcoming touches, like ingredients for their favourite breakfast. They seem to be the only people onboard, until Otto discovers a secretive woman who issues a surprising message. As further clues and questions pile up, and the trip upends everything they thought they knew, Otto and Xavier begin to see connections to their own pasts, connections that now bind them together.

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