Vicky Nyanga is a poet, author and community facilitator. She published her first book of poetry ‘The Prism of Her Thoughts’ in November 2020, and her second book, ‘The Diaspora Experience’ has been released on 5 June 2021.
Katie from the Link Up team sat down with Vicky in May 2021 to talk about her experiences as a writer, and what readers can expect from her books of poetry.
Can you tell me how long you’ve been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, initially as a hobby – I would have all these notebooks and lovely paper and just write all the time. My first published work was a memoir, released in 2010. I took it off the shelf, just because life evolves, you grow up, and your story keeps changing. Since then I’ve written many different things, with the poetry being my most recent work.
You wrote your book ‘The Prism of Her Thoughts’ in lockdown last year. What can you tell me about it, and what can your readers expect?
I ended up writing the poems after meeting with a group of women twice a month over Zoom during lockdown.These were women from different parts of the world. We would talk about the migrant experience, bringing up your kids in another part of the world, and of course we would also discuss Covid. A lot of these women were on waiting lists to see therapists and counsellors, and at that point it hit me – “why don’t we write down how we feel?” Quite a number of these women came up with poetry themselves and reported back that they felt better for it. So this experience inspired me to publish The Prism of Her Thoughts. Some of the women from the group allowed me to use their words and experiences, but the majority of the book is my work, exploring themes such as mental health and single parenthood, within the Black Experience in the UK.
What was the experience of writing in lockdown like for you?
There is an unusual story behind my lockdown writing experience, and it actually involves North Edinburgh Arts. When the first wave of Covid happened and lockdown was announced, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future; and I’m sure that was the case for a lot of people. That morning, my husband and I had been watching the news and we were reflecting on how COVID was going to impact us; then the phone rang and it was Fiona from North Edinburgh Arts. She was calling to find out if we needed anything; and I remember breaking down at the very moment she asked the question. I suppose that was the moment I was releasing what we had just heard on the news – that we could no longer visit or hug people, that we had to deliberately physically alienate people we know and love.When she asked me ‘what do you need’, I knew that she meant food, but all I wanted was to be able to hug people and be free to be with my family who live in different parts of the country. My mother lives in Manchester and I felt very afraid and worried! The prospect of going through life without having normal contact with people was so strange and I got really upset. Fiona asked how she could help, and I asked for some paper and pencils, as I just wanted to write. And that’s how it all started – she was at my door the next day with lovely pens and a beautiful orangish/ pinkish notebook, which is so special that I’ve not written a word in it. I began to write and in the end I wrote so much that I had enough poetry to fill three volumes of work. The Prism of Her Thoughts alone has around 70 poems in it if I am not mistaken.
Can you tell us more about your forthcoming book, ‘The Diaspora Experience’?
My second book talks about migrant issues, people that are refugees or seeking asylum, people that have moved to make a life away from home, and their experiences. I am aiming for this to be released in time for Refugee Week (14 – 20 June). I wanted to acknowledge the hardships that people go through – my own grandparents were migrants within Africa and worked from childhood – in fact my grandfather worked from the age of 7. There were no child labour laws to protect children like him, so he was exploited. There are some themes of people being exploited in this poetry book. Migration has been a part of my family history and also of who I am. I have travelled around a lot. I love to learn about different cultures and when I can, I take myself off to visit different parts of the world, and just look, and learn. I particularly love travelling around Europe.
I relate to the UK migrant experience through my own experiences of trying to find a path for myself having arrived here many years ago. I can relate to how people come here and experience how difficult it can be to access, education, employment, housing or even access to some health services. I understand the challenges and that’s why I am so focused on highlighting the inequalities – and this poetry book is mostly about that.
Writing both of these books was about having power over my own mental health at a time where not much could be accessed because everywhere was shut, and I’d like to encourage anyone who would like to write to just go for it because it is therapeutic.
Is there anything in particular that you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
Yes – I need time away from noise! It can be very difficult to write with three children as it’s hard to find a moment of quiet in my house. I do have tricks and ways – though it was hard during Covid as we were all at home all the time. I either had to wake up at 5am while they were asleep to get my writing done before they woke up – or I would start writing after they have gone to bed in the evening.
What’s next for you in terms of your writing – are you working on anything at the moment?
I have been working on another book for more than three years that talks in more depth about the migrant experience. In some of the chapters I talk about specific cases, real instances and the non-impact of the Equalities Act – this is an ongoing writing project and I’m not sure when it will be completely finished.
Are there any other writers or books that you can recommend or have inspired you?
I read a lot. I like Black literature – the Maya Angelous, the Toni Morrisons, the Oprah Winfreys. I like work that focuses on Black liberation and emancipation. I also like different genres – the Pennywell Pantry has a bookshelf now and I’m always looking for a new book to read, from history books to romance sagas. I don’t have a specific genre that I prefer – I just read as much and as widely as I can. This is me – books books books.
And last question – how do you celebrate when you finish a book?
Samba (the husband) has been waiting for lockdown to be lifted! I haven’t actually celebrated yet – we will go out for dinner when we can, as he is keen to celebrate my wins. But I did get flowers in the meantime!
You can read more about Vicky’s work, and buy her books of poetry via her website: www.vickynyanga.com