Castles from Cobwebs

J.A. Mensah

J.A. Mensah is a writer of prose and theatre and a Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of York. Castles from Cobwebs, her first novel, won the inaugural NorthBound Book Award (for a full length work of literary fiction or non-fiction by writers based in the North of England) in 2019. It was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2021 and nominated for the 35th annual Chambéry Festival du Premier Roman (2022).

Her plays have focused on human rights narratives and the testimonies of survivors. Her work has appeared in several collections, including Test Signal, an anthology of the best contemporary northern writing, published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

Read J.A. Mensah’s interview with New Writing North here.


Castles from Cobwebs

by J.A. Mensah

  • RRP: £14.99 (print)
  • Format: Hardback
  • ISBN: 9781912235766

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LONGLISTED: Desmond Elliott Prize 2021


‘I absolutely love this book.’ – Yvonne Battle-Felton

I’d always known that I was Brown. Black was different though; it came announced. Black came with expectations, of rhythm and other things that might trip me up.

Imani is a foundling. Rescued as a baby and raised by nuns on a remote Northumbrian island, she grows up with an ever increasing feeling of displacement. Full of questions, Imani turns to her shadow, Amarie, and her friend, Harold. When Harold can’t find the answers, she puts it down to what the nuns call her “greater purpose”.

At nineteen, Imani answers a phone call that will change her life: she is called to Accra after the sudden death of her biological mother.

Past, present, faith and reality are spun together in this enthralling debut. Following her transition from innocence to understanding, Imani’s experience illuminates the stories we all tell to make ourselves whole.

Prizes and awards

Winner: NorthBound Book Award 2019

REVIEWS OF Castles from Cobwebs

'Lyrical and magical … a powerful and very readable novel.' Louise Maskill

‘A compelling exploration of memory, race, mothers and the fractured self, Mensah questions the frameworks through which we understand the world and interrogates how to put disparate parts of our identities together to become the most true version of ourselves.' – Jessica Andrews, author of Saltwater, winner of the Portico Prize 2020

‘[I was] gripped by Castles from Cobwebs from the first page – with its arresting opening, lyricism, and unconventional narration. There are moments of real beauty and clarity in the prose, especially around race, a subject handled skilfully and thoughtful by the author. There is something real, powerful, and unique in this debut.’ Chitra Ramaswamy

‘From start to finish, I was spellbound by the characters (especially Imani), the narrative voice, and the vivid imagery. Mensah intricately weaves complex characters, vivid descriptions, universal topics of love, loss, identity, religion, with themes like the search for a place to belong, into a well spun tapestry, a mind-spinning tale, a heart-pounding novel – and I'm hooked. I absolutely love this book.’ – Yvonne Battle-Felton, author of Remembered, longlisted for the Women’s Prize 2019