Continuing my 20 Questions… series, this time with poet, playwright and debut novelist Gabriel Gbadamosi. Gabriel and I first met in Belfast many years ago, and walked the city at night, endlessly talking. Since then. we have collaborated with Jonathan Meth, Peter Arnott, and Sarah Dickenson with writernet and The Fence, an international network of playwrights and dramaturgs we co-founded. Gabriel’s first novel, Vauxhall, has recently been published and is proving to be one of the must-reads of 2013.
Gabriel Gbadamosi is a poet, playwright and essayist. His London novel, Vauxhall, won the 2011 Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize. He was AHRC Creative and Performing Arts Fellow in European and African performance at the Pinter Centre, Goldsmiths, and a Judith E. Wilson Fellow for creative writing at Cambridge University. Book collaborations with visual artists include Coffee Incognito with Rod Hill, Sun-Shine, Moonshine with Conroy/Sanderson, and The Second Life of Shells with Mandy Bonnell. Plays include Shango (DNA, Amsterdam), Hotel Orpheu (Schaubühne, Berlin) and for radio The Long, Hot Summer of ’76 (BBC Radio 3) which won the first Richard Imison Award. A sample essay on African art, An Informal History of the Male Nude, can be found online at BBC Radio 3.
What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?
I became a writer in primary school. My ‘daily diary’ became a way to speak out to my parents and be heard among my brothers and sisters. They often spoke of it. But I became a poet as a teenager. And a playwright in my twenties. An essayist in my thirties. And yes, a novelist in my forties. Now I’m in my fifties, I no longer keep a diary.
What was your big breakthrough?
That hasn’t happened. But I once wrote a poem at the speed in which I could speak it. That felt like a breakthrough.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
Loneliness. Self-censorship. Loss of confidence. The un-hinging of my social self.
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
No. Love has changed me; death on the road (it took me 10 years to recover from that). But Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra changed the way I feel, and King Lear the way I think.
What’s more important: form or content?
I was always told they were the same thing.
How do you know when a project is finished?
When it won’t let you back in.
Do you read your reviews?
I had a friend who started with writing a review, and then wrote the play, and then directed it, and then published the review (under another pseudonym). How good is that?
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
Do something else. And if you can’t, do your best.
What work of art would you most like to own?
Apart from one I could sell for a lot of money, something from my son or daughter.
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
That only talented or specialized or professional people can do it.
What are you working on now?
An online walking tour of Vauxhall, where I grew up, where my novel is set, where the pleasure gardens were from the 17th to the 19th century and the security state is now (MI6, etc).
What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?
Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
That life is short and love is mortal.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To write a great poem.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
I don’t so much tackle these things as sustain myself despite them.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
And the best thing?
Carry on writing, but you’ll never write anything which could be better than this.
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
Banging a nail in the tooth of death.
What is your philosophy or life motto?
I don’t have one.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
You can hand it on.
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?
Mine’s a pint of cider.
Only a poet could have written Vauxhall … clean, swift yet with flashes of lightning – Bonnie Greer
Gabriel Gbadamosi reads an extract from, and talks about his novel Vauxhall
Further information on Gabriel and his novel can be found at:
Reviews for the book: