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We interview Ayanna Lloyd Banwo on her debut novel, When We Were Birds.

Ayanna Lloyd Banwo holding up her debut novel When We Were Birds
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UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed.
WHEN WE WERE BIRDS is the exciting debut novel from Ayanna Lloyd Banwo. Originating from Trinidad and Tobago, she is a graduate
of the University of the West Indies and holds an MA in Creative Writing from
the University of East Anglia, where she is now a Creative and Critical Writing
PhD student. We talk to her about her journey towards becoming a writer and some of the rituals that keep her creativity flowing. If you'd like to win a copy of this incredible debut, we have three copies that we're giving away over on our instagram, so head over there once you've read the interview.
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Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago how would you say your childhood
inspired your desire to be a writer?
I grew up surrounded by stories. My grandmother was a born storyteller –
she could weave a tale out of nothing. My mother was too. My aunt (my
mother’s sister) is a music teacher and singer, so she raised us on
everything from Caribbean folksongs to old Trinidad calypsos, to soul music.
Music is, of course, a story too. All my cousins were readers and our
grandfather bought us books every Christmas. My father was a reader too,
although I more remember him reading non-fiction. So basically, everywhere
was story. I liked listening to stories, and eventually writing them before I
had any concept that I could be a ‘writer’. I was just always listening.
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Your debut novel is described as a moment to honour ancestral roots. How
would you say that it does this?
In the novel the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is very
thin. Actually, X that: There is no veil. The novel accepts that notion as fact
and keeps it moving. Whether it is the gravediggers who bury Port Angeles’
dead or the matriarchy in Morne Marie that protects their afterlives, no one
moves through this novel without being aware of people who are not here
anymore. Many of the stories my grandmother told were about my ancestors
-her parents, her grandmother, aunts and uncles, and neighbours in the rich
community of Belmont, Port of Spain where she grew up, so I grew up with
the names of the dead on my tongue as much as the living. Saying their
names was honouring them and keeping them alive. A lot of that sensibility
has gone into this book.
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What’s the one feeling you want readers of When We Were Birds to come
away with?
I hope it makes them feel full and tender. Like they should call someone they
love or light a candle for someone they can’t.
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During the process of writing how do you personally overcome moments of
uncertainty and writer’s block?
Bare panic at an approaching deadline helps! Lol I think just showing up and
saying to the page or the screen, ‘hey I’m here’ even when the vibe doesn’t
want to answer. I keep doing that, so it knows I am serious, and eventually
we come to terms. Or sometimes I just prowl the bookshelf and read a bit.
Someone else’s writing can unlock the problem. Or do something else. Take
a walk, dance, listen to music. I am not a words machine.
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What does a fulfilling day look like to you?
In my writing life, I used to think that a fulfilling day was only one where I
worked hard and ran myself ragged and kept at it as long as it took to get
that chapter, section or scene done. That might be a productive day and it
can feel fulfilling too but we’ve been in a pandemic for 2 years; life is
precious, and rest is revolutionary. So, I love a good full sleep, a leisurely
rising, good food, a walk. And coming to page. Even if I don't meet my word
count. Just coming to the page.
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What tools do you personally use to help you feel centered and grounded in
your day-to-day life?
I don't feel centered and grounded all the time. I don't think any of us do.
There are many days, weeks that just fly past in a flurry of meetings and
emails and deadlines. But there are little things. For instance, I eat breakfast
no matter what time I wake up. Even if I stayed up writing and wake up in
the afternoon, I still want to have breakfast food – eggs, oats, toast, fruit,
coffee, tea whatever. I lie breakfast and it is my way of bending time to my
will. I decide when my day starts regardless of what the clock says.
Another is taking the time to do my skin care routine (it is not a fancy one)
and moisturizing my hair. Black women’s hair has been subjected historically
to such abuse and scrutiny, and as a woman who has always had natural hair
– twists, plaits locs, afros, short cuts and now locks again- giving my hair
attention just feels good.
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AYANNA LLOYD BANWO is a writer from Trinidad & Tobago. She is a graduate
of the University of the West Indies and holds an MA in Creative Writing from
the University of East Anglia, where she is now a Creative and Critical Writing
PhD student. Her work has been published in Moko Magazine, Small Axe,
PREE, Callaloo and Anomaly among others, and shortlisted for Small Axe
Literary Competition and the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Ayanna lives with
her husband in London.
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