Helen Oyeyemi was born in
Nigeria in 1984 and has lived in London from
the age of four.
Even though she says she doesn't do happiness - 'I don't trust it' - she had much to smile about in 2004 when Bloomsbury UK (J.K. Rowling's publisher) signed her up for a two-book deal at the age of 19 years, on the basis of the manuscript of The Icarus Girl that she wrote while studying for her A-Levels (exams taken before leaving UK high schools). She says, 'I signed the contract on the day I got my exam results'. Although she refuses to reveal the size of the advance she says its enough to put her through university and help out her parents financially (her father teaches children with special needs and her mother works on the London Underground (the subway system).
She is now a student of social and political sciences at Cambridge University and is working on her second novel about Cuban mythology. She says that on leaving university she plans to get a 'proper job'. Even though she acknowledges some writers do live on their earnings she says, "I need to get a life - and you need time to grow as a writer...I think the Icarus Girl is an apprentice work. I was still at school when I wrote it. I love the story it tells but I think the writing's flawed, I wish I could rewrite it. Some of it makes me cringe now".
When she was 13 she suffered from clinical depression and at 15 she attempted suicide, taking a cocktail of sleeping pills and painkillers. Her psychiatrist suggested she should go to Nigeria for a long holiday (like her protaganist). She says, 'it fixed me up. I don't know what happened but it was the best thing that's ever happened to me...' .
She has been shortlisted for the 2006 British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the
Year Award (awarded to an author who is of African, Caribbean or Asian descent) -
she's got stiff competition, the other three authors shortlisted are Diana Evans, Nadeem Aslam and Zadie Smith.
This article was originally published in July 2005, and has been updated for the
April 2006 paperback release.
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