Five minutes with J.A. Mensah – author of Castles from Cobwebs

Posted on February 3, 2021

J.A. Mensah is a writer of prose and theatre and teaches at the University of York. Her plays have focused on human rights narratives and the testimonies of survivors. Her short stories appear in collections published by Comma Press (The Book of Newcastle) and the forthcoming Northern Anthology by Dead Ink (Test Signal), among others. Castles from Cobwebs, her first novel, won the inaugural NorthBound Book Award.

When did you start writing Castles from Cobwebs?

I think it was around 2010 or 2011. I’ve stopped and started many times over the years, and even had some years when I couldn’t write at all.

Where do you write? Do you have a routine? 

 I have a writing desk at home close to a window, which is my usual spot. In non-covid times, I practically lived in the Lit and Phil Library in Newcastle.

Who most influenced you as a writer? 

For this book, I think one of the big influences was Ghanaian oral storytelling. I was in Ghana in 2008 researching folklore and I noticed that whenever someone started to tell me a story, there was this rhythmic quality that was characteristic in all of the tellings. I remember feeling a sense of loss that I didn’t have that natural cadence when I tell stories verbally, but I decided I wanted to capture it and develop my own version of that rhythm on the page. A few years later, when I first started writing this book, that thought was very much with me.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading two books at the moment – I’m re-reading an old favourite, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I’m also reading Little Gods by debut author Meng Jin.