Michael Donkor is an author from London. He grew up in a Ghanaian household where talking lots and reading lots were vigorously encouraged, and went on to work in publishing and teaching before being selected by Writers’ Centre Norwich [now the National Centre for Writing] for the Inspires mentoring scheme. His first novel, Hold, was published by 4th Estate in July 2018.

‘A profound sense of hope resonates from within Donkor’s warm and accomplished novel.’ – Guardian

Tell us a bit about your debut novel.

Hold is a novel about endurance, about intimacy, about the extraordinary salvation that friendship can sometimes offer. At its heart, Hold is Belinda’s story. Belinda (17) is an obedient, dutiful housegirl in Ghana. Along with her effervescent fellow maid Mary (11), she cleans the sprawling estate belonging to a wealthy retired couple who she refers to as Aunty and Uncle. Aunty and Uncle’s friends from the UK, Doctor and Nana, come to visit for a fortnight. During their stay Nana is so impressed with Belinda’s stately poise and dignified conduct that Nana invites Belinda to come back to London with them, with the aim of transforming the behaviour of her daughter Amma (17). Previously, Amma had been a straight-A student, but in recent months she hasn’t quite ‘been herself’. The novel then focuses on the understanding and closeness that grows between Amma and Belinda, on Belinda’s attempts to maintain her bond with Mary, and on Belinda’s struggles to deal with the bewildering new world in which she finds herself; a world almost as bewildering as her past.

What was the most valuable thing about the mentoring support you undertook with Danny Hahn as part of our Inspires scheme?

Working with Danny was such a fantastic experience, both because Danny is a meticulous reader and because he is a lovely, endlessly interesting human being! It was incredible – and quite humbling – to have someone interrogate my writing with the intensity and commitment that he did. As the novel developed while I was mentored by him, it became increasingly apparent that the structuring of the narrative was a principal issue that required thinking through. The conversations that I had with Danny about which sections of the plot needed greater pace, or which chapters needed expanding, or which paragraphs needed rearranging in order to make the novel as powerful as possible were indispensable. And all of our discussions were very open and entirely without pressure; I never felt like I was being dictated to or that I had to follow a particular route. The whole thing was very collaborative and nurturing.

What else would you say has helped your development as a writer?

Reading critically! It’s what everyone says but it’s true! Spending time reflecting on other writers’ sentences and thinking about how others managed to create compelling and convincing characters shapes and influences my attitude to writing in ways I can only partially understand. The more I write fiction, the more I find reading poetry particularly helpful. My favourite contemporary poets – Andrew McMillan, Sharon Olds, Alice Oswald – all write very differently, but they share acute powers of observation, a startling honesty, a sharpness of voice and finely-judged phrasing. These qualities in their work really inspire me and encourage me to make my prose similarly alert.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Enter every competition going! Experiment with different forms! Share your work! Be prepared to struggle, struggle, struggle and to have your work ignored! Don’t stop writing! Revel in solitude! Read! Don’t stop writing!

Read more about Michael >>

Guardian, January 2018 – Meet the new faces of fiction for 2018

The Bookseller, April 2018 – Michael Donkor | ‘Ghanian’s have a really silly and quite often absurd sense of humour’

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