1. How did you come up with the idea for Crossing the Stream?
My grandmother lived to the age of 95. I spent many precious hours sitting in an armchair across from her in absorbing conversations about family, faith, history, literature, politics and more. The idea of a boy discovering the past from a chair beside his grandmother grew from that.
What was your writing process like?
As always, I work in the lab by day and at night – I write.
2. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Absolutely. As a child who devoured books, I truly could not imagine doing anything with my life other than writing. Growing to become a scientist was the surprise! Do you find your job as a scientist has parallels or overlaps with your job as an author? As a clinical biochemist, I am in the business of running laboratory tests to investigate disease – either to confirm, rule out, or prevent the same. In my writing, I find it comes naturally to me to investigate my characters by putting them to the test and getting them to reveal who they really are.
3. What kinds of books did you enjoy as a child? What’s on your to-read list now?
As a child I read anything I could lay my hands on – drama, sci-fi, romance, adventure, mystery…nothing was off-limits. At the moment, I’ve got Walter Moseley’s Devil in a Blue Dress to read (my interest was piqued when I listened to him talk about it on Masterclass) and also Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland because I heard it mentioned during an online writer’s event and it sounded like fun.
4. Accra itself almost plays a secondary character in this book. What is it about the city that makes it such a vibrant character?
Accra, Accra - humid, chaotic, dusty and so alive! Everything co-exists side by side: churches and drinking bars, rickety three-wheelers beside sleek Mercs, wooden kiosks across from contemporary apartments. There’ll be a wedding and funeral running simultaneously on the same stretch, both spilling out into the street. The city is a polygamous marriage of several extremes. What is your favorite part about living in the city? Never being too far away from anything… if only the traffic would allow one to get there.
5. Were any of your characters based off people in real life? Were any based off other literary characters?
Nana, Ato’s grandmother was inspired by my own grandmother who was a five-foot two fount of wisdom with a herbal remedy for every ailment. No literary character influenced my writing: truth is always a lot more interesting than fiction.
6. The leading figures in Ato’s life are his maternal figures—both his own mother and Nana. They are more than matriarchs—they sculpt Ato’s character and power so much of his choices. How did you choose to write them?
I had only one grandparent when I was growing up, but I maintain she was like four grandparents rolled into one. Wise, loving and fearless. My friends’ grandmothers cooked soups and baked cakes. Mine was a fire- breathing dragon with a grey wig who was renowned for her undertaking skills. But beneath those green scales was a tender-hearted woman who taught me about kindness, industriousness, love, duty and wisdom. Ato’s mother on the other hand, is an amalgam of a number of women I know who live in fear that their children will grow up wrong and put them (mothers) to shame.
7. Do you have a favorite scene in Crossing the Stream?
Nana and the neem steam scene, of course – because it reminds me of my grandmother!
Were there any that you found difficult to write?
Burying Choco. I shed a tear here, remembering several pets of blessed memory, one whose end was the tragic result of trying to swallow a live chicken whole.
8. Crossing the Stream is such a tender and humorous exploration of grief, and you’ve crafted such a powerful symbol in the couch. How did you decide to tackle such a difficult (but universal) subject?
Crossing the Stream was intended to be a book about love. The fact that grief seeped through this story demonstrates the inextricable link between the two sentiments.
9. Environmentalism is one of the main themes of Crossing the Stream. Is this an issue that you think speaks to young readers?
I feel young people have a heightened generational consciousness of the need to preserve the environment. They have grown up in an information era where concerns and discussions about overfishing, global warming, plastic pollution and its impact on ocean life etc. are every day conversations. They are largely sensitised and may be more ready than the generation before them to inconvenience themselves for the sake of the environment.
10. Family means the world to Ato, but his friendship with Dzifa and Leslie are also equally special. Are there any literary friendships that you admire?
Jo and Laurie in Little Women! Decades after I read Little Women in my childhood, I still wonder what would have happened if they had gotten married.