You’ve just been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award. How does it feel? What does being shortlisted mean to you?
Feels so good. Getting published and winning awards can feel like a lottery, particularly when you are writing at the margins in some way. That the Young Writer of the Year Award judges are into this bilingual story about sexual violence, migration and IBS – and to be placed alongside writers like Raymond Antrobus (!) – is huge for me. And, just being real for a second, the sales boost and financial support offered will make it easier to write my second book.
When did you first start writing? What drew you into it?
I think, often, when a child moves between two very different environments, they begin a running commentary of the fictions that each of place tells itself. This can be true of social class, country, language.
I read a lot as a child. My mum read me Jane Austen and my Dad read me and my brother the Harry Potter and Narnia series. And I always watched loads of films and telenovelas and was always asking adults to tell me stories. I remember worrying as a child about how I could write bilingual dialogue – should I use different fonts or italics? Eventually I realised I could just write in both languages.
When I studied English at uni, I became interested in the question of how we can represent violence and trauma in a way that tells a long story, tracing the origins and after-effects of violence.
How did you come to write Stubborn Archivist?
I started with the fragments of memory and poem that you see that the start of the book and then I began writing around that. I didn’t know if I was writing a collection of short stories or a novella or what – I was influenced by Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street and This is how you lose her by Junot Diaz (who it turns out is an alleged creep). I didn’t know how long a novel was meant to be or whether the blank space in my book would change that. Then I got a really good agent (Imogen Pelham) and she helped me figure all that out.
Tell us a bit more about the writing process: How long did it take you, what did it involve?
I wrote the first draft in about 9 months. Then I started sending it to agents and quickly signed with Imogen. At that point the book was much much shorter. The publishers who took a look at that point asked me to make it 2-3 times as long. I managed to make it twice as long, which took about another 9 months; and I don’t regret this as it made Stubborn Archivist a better, heftier book.
But that whole process was arduous. I was working long hours at a communications agency, and I was scared to tell them about the book. I used all my holiday to write and didn’t get to socialise much. I used to go to the National Theatre or Waterstones TCR and write on Friday nights (which was actually quite nice) because they’re open late. I totally burned myself out. Shout out to my mum who spell checked the portuguese.
Which writers do you look up to? What do you like in them?
These are the writers I reread regularly (in paper and audio):
Zadie Smith – what can I say? She wrote a London I recognised! I’m so excited to be part of a wave of writers writing South London (Bernardine Evaristo, Michael Donkor, Candice Carty-Williams).
Sandra Cisneros – so unpretentious and joyful. Read The House on Mango Street now if you haven’t already.
Anne Carson – lusty, lingering, multilingual, genius.
Elza Soares – a Brazilian singer rather than ‘writer’ but her lyrics are so powerful – for example the chorus of one of her songs is the Brazilian domestic violence hotline.
Anna Burns – Milkman was the best book I’d read in years. Her politics, her generosity, the way she writes violence and its effects is masterful.
Jane Austen – Again, what can I say? There’s an appropriate Pride and Prejudice (or Peep Show) quote for every life situation.
Toni Morrison – She wrote history and trauma and form like nobody else. Her novels about the US South after slavery helped me understand Brazil. The best writer of the 20th Century.
Alice Walker – The Color Purple taught me how to write healing and joy. I’ll always be so grateful for this book.
What are you planning to do next?
Finish my second book (for which I’ve just been nominated for an award) and help get fascists out of power in the UK and Brazil.
Yara Rodrigues Fowler is a British Brazilian novelist from South London. Her first novel, Stubborn Archivist, was published in 2019 in the UK and USA. It was called ’stunning’ by Olivia Laing, ‘visceral and elegant’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and ‘breathtakingly written’ by Nikesh Shukla. Yara was named one of The Observer’s nine ‘hottest-tipped’ debut novelists of 2019 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Yara is also a trustee of Latin American Women’s Aid, an organisation that runs the only two refuges in Europe for and by Latin American women. She’s writing her second novel now, for which she received the John C Lawrence Award from the Society of Authors towards research in Brazil.