Frances Mensah Williams has bedazzled high street book retailers, with readers buzzing like bees to honey in light of the arrival of her début novel From Pasta to Pigfoot. Behind her quiet and receptive demeanour lies flourishing rivulets of creativity. As you know, wherever there’s a good story Afrikult. must follow the trail to its source. The Afrikult. team caught up with the author in 2015 to find out more about herself and her book- of course.
A. Tell us something interesting about yourself?
I am a literary whore
F.M.W I have forty books by my bedside at present, which I’m ravenously ploughing through. I read across genres; from the classics, crime novels, women fiction to detective stories. I have a very eclectic taste in terms of what I read. I read fiction or non-fiction as long as it’s engaging and interesting. I speak French, Spanish and two other Ghanaian dialects.
A. How would you categorise your novel?
Intelligent chick lit
F.M.W I wouldn’t actually categorise what I write. I think it’s the case of when the writing process is finish, then one tries to find where it fit in terms of genre. From Pasta to Pigfoot is an international women’s fiction which is also seen by some people as chick lit. I have been asked about that and I don’t have a problem with it. However, I would like to qualify that it is an intelligent chick lit, because it delves into and deals with issues that are quite profound, although it is extremely accessible and easily readable. The issues that it touches on are of universal concern, i.e. identity, belonging, acceptance and self-discovery.
A. Is your work autobiographical?
Its imaginative rather than personal
F.M.W People often ask me if the book is autobiographical, and I have only one answer to that, I am not Faye. For instance, is J.K Rowling Harry Porter? This is why we need more African writers writing beyond conventional narratives, because we won’t have to face the question, ‘is it your story?’ And thus people will assume that we have imagination and can actually write stories that are not personally related to us. We don’t seem to get recognition for being imaginative, for example, one of my British colleagues asked me, ‘what am I going to learn about you when I read your book?’ I simply responded- Nothing! Besides the fact that you might like it and like the way I write. Faye is not my personality, not my story and not my life! Her lack of knowledge of her culture is not me at all. She is an imaginative process of the life of a character estranged from her culture.
A. What’s your response to critics that claim that your depiction of Ghana is romanticised especially its history, culture and social life?
Portraying the other side of Africa is not romantic but part of the reality
F.M.W I dispute that the book romanticises Ghana but rather I am of the view that it depicts the other side of Ghana and arguably the Africa that is not typically portrayed in mainstream narratives. The fact that it is not often written about doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I focused on the Ghana that I love to share with people; the Africa that’s fun and not all is dark and ‘angstsy’. In fact, there are a lot of people actually enjoying themselves and let us not forget that side of it- because it is not usually written about.
A. Do you write with an audience in mind?
I don’t write with my audience in mind
F.M.W I was telling someone’s story and this person was on a voyage to discover herself and understand her culture. Also since is her first time in Ghana, she will be visiting some of the significant monuments and historic sites in the country. The narrative in this sense is very organic and largely shaped by the character’s experiences. Whoever wants to read it, is the audience.
A. Do you agree with those that find the representation of male characters in the book to be one dimensional?
They are a mirror to Faye
F.M.W No, I would most certainly disagree. I believe the male characters are presented in a way which allows the reader to understand their motivation and behaviour. Having said that, I would add that the men – and indeed, all the characters – each play a part in facilitating Faye’s self-discovery. As a result, the focus isn’t on giving an in-depth analysis of every man she comes across, but on exploring how Faye’s interaction with such different male personalities, for example, Michael and Rocky, impacts on her personal growth and development.
A. Do you like Pig foot?
I loathe it
F.M.W The whole premise of the story from Pasta to Pigfoot is from Europe to Africa. The metaphor employed is not just geographical, but emotional, personal and spiritual. The more you read the more you find. Faye is certainly crucial to the narrative, however her journey opens up several questions.
From Pasta to Pigfoot is a youthful exploration of the pangs of romance and cultural strains embroiled in the search for the self. It explores in ‘a light-hearted way the clash of cultures that has become characteristic of our increasingly multicultural society, and is familiar to those who have first-hand experience of straddling two worlds’.