Selali Fiamanya was a student on our inaugural Breakthrough Novel-Writing Course for Black Writers at the start of the year. We were thrilled to hear that his debut novel Between the Train and The Platform will be published by Borough Press following his win of their open submission competition.
We caught up with Selali to find out more about the inspiration behind his debut novel and his time studying with us…
How does it feel to be the winner of The Borough Press open submission competition for under-represented writers with your debut novel, Between the Train and The Platform?
Amazing! I’m still early in my novel-writing journey, and having The Borough Press see something special in my work means the world to me. They’ve already been so welcoming, and I’m thrilled that such a brilliant team will be supporting me to develop my novel.
You were a student on our inaugural Breakthrough Novel-Writing Course for Black Writers earlier this year, what advice from the course has stuck with you?
So much to choose from. Some of the best bits of advice were about character and plot. With character, Jacob (Ross) drilled home the importance of understanding their ‘lack’ – the thing that they’re missing, that’s driving them forward. Every scene, every action should be written with that in mind. And the character development and tension then come from putting barriers in their way as they try to address that lack.
Your debut novel follows the Scottish-Ghanaian family of Kwame, who dies unexpectedly in his youth. Throughout the narrative you explore grief, sex, culture clashes, mental health, and queer culture. Can you tell us a bit more about the novel and the inspiration behind it?
The book began as a series of short stories whose characters and narratives started to take the form of a novel. It’s firmly fiction, but is inspired by my family and our story as part of the African diaspora in the UK, as well as books exploring queer, black Britishness like Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, and the deeply personal narratives from albums like Blonde by Frank Ocean.
Many of our students form writing support groups. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
All the time! We’re in touch almost daily via WhatsApp, with regular Zooms to share and critique work. Everyone is incredibly supportive, and wants everyone else to succeed. We’re always sharing opportunities on there and it’s a great place to get a boost if you’ve had a bad day (writing or otherwise), and celebrate successes too, of which there have been many since the course! One alumnus even runs a weekly ‘Motivation Monday’ Zoom to keep people inspired, and to hold each other accountable to writing targets (though as someone who is allergic to mornings I’m yet to make it). It’s all incredibly wholesome, and I’m so grateful to have such a trusted, non-competitive group of black writers to continue this journey with – I can’t wait to see how they progress.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I’ll tell you when I find out! I’m still settling into a sustainable routine that can fit around my day job and other commitments, but up until now it has largely involved writing in evenings and weekends. I respond well to deadlines, so often produced in response to a deadline set from a writing group or workshop I was in, or a competition I wanted to apply to.
What advice would you like to pass on to aspiring authors thinking of applying to opportunities like our Breakthrough Writers’ Programme and The Borough Press open submission competition?
Do it! If nothing else, the application can focus your mind and get you writing. Pick your opportunities though – I found the rejections from short story competitions quite demoralising, particularly after paying entry fees. However there are so many great writer development programmes, workshops, classes and groups that offer much bigger rewards than prize money: a proper chance to write, to learn, and to form community. Find one that would suit you, even if it’s not ‘prestigious’ and get stuck in.
Finally, what’s next for you – any ideas for your next writing project?
I’ll be moving back to Glasgow after the summer and finishing off my manuscript, ideally with regular trips to the Highlands. Beyond that I have a couple of ideas, but for now everything’s going into book number one!
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