Sean and Seng

Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa in 1981 while Somalia was falling deeper into dictatorship. In 1986 she moved to London with her family in what she thought was a temporary move but a couple of years later it became permanent as war broke out in Somalia. She was educated in London and went to Oxford to study History and Politics. She featured on Granta magazine's list "Best of Young British Novelists" in 2013, and in 2014 on the Africa39 list of writers aged under 40 with potential and talent to define future trends in African literature. She lives in London and her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, based on her father's memories of his travels in the 1930s, was published in 2010. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize and the Guardian First Book Award. Her 2021 novel, The Fortune Men, has been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, making her the first British Somali novelist to get this honour and the only British author who has made the shortlist for the 2021 Booker prize.

How many ideas for potential works do you have in your head?

At the moment one idea for a novel that keeps shifting and some ideas for film.

When working on a new project, how do you sift through competing ideas in order to move forward?

I think they compete for your attention in a subconscious way, The Fortune Men pushed aside another story I was trying to work on. Ideas can gestate for a long time but when they are ready you can feel it.

What writing habit do you have that is impossible to shift? (That could be a particular snack, writing hours, location, caffeine consumption etc.) 

Playing music in the background, especially Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. I need warmth, a familiar space, solitude too.

The international literature festival berlin (ilb) has become an essential part of Berlin’s literary calendar. What do you connect with the city?

It has a very interesting history but I'm still very new to Berlin, there is a lot I would like to see.

What impact did the past 12 months have on your writing and ways of working? (Answers could range from challenges of home schooling to enjoying some quiet time or a writing routine turned upside down)

I think everything has been so hectic and unstable in the wider world that the quiet part of the mind that slowly pieces fiction together has been drowned out. I have got back to reading though and feel a stronger urge to take risks in different parts of my life, including creative risks. 


The Fortune Men (Penguin, 2021). Image courtesy of Nadifa Mohamed