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Poetic touch to prose

British writer Bernardine Evaristo treated Chennai-ites to a reading of excerpts from her works

WITTY, FRESH, punchy, enjoyable romp, funky... these are but some words that have been used in various reviews to describe British writer Bernardine Evaristo's two novels-in-verse, "Lara" and "Emperor's Babe". And as the writer read out excerpts from her two works at The Park ("It's the funkiest hotel I've ever stayed in," she says) on Tuesday, the descriptions came alive.

The poetry reading session with Bernardine ("I try to make it a little theatrical to keep the audience engaged"), on her first visit to the country and the city, was put together by the British Council as part of its series of Vibrant Viewpoint programmes, which showcase young writers and literary commentators from the U.K.

Bernardine has been hailed as one of Britain's "most talented, innovative and successful" contemporary writers. She has a background in theatre and has written several plays too.

That evening, the part-Nigerian part-British Bernardine took the gathering on a quick yet captivating journey as she read out passages from "Lara". The novel-in-verse is almost autobiographical in that it traces the roots of Lara, whose father is African and mother British. "I've always wanted to write about my parents, for it was perhaps the most traumatic happening in the family. My grandmother could never come to terms with the fact that her daughter had chosen a `coloured' man for a husband," said Bernardine answering questions later. "I had access to some letters and old photographs, which helped in etching my characters. I travelled to Brazil and Nigeria to learn first hand about many things. Of course, my mother provided me with a lot of information when I interviewed her, though my father was not as forthcoming," she said about the sources.

How long did it take to pen "Lara"? "I first wrote in prose which took me three years. But I found that it did not work. So I set about exploring this form, and took two years to create the poetic version, one page a week." She continued, "I took a poetry writing course before I embarked on this journey. And I must say I find this form more fulfilling, more challenging as I have to compress ideas without losing out on the spirit."

The next novel-in-verse by Bernardine is titled "Soul Tourists", which "will be published when I finish it!" It is a tale of "two 20th Century misfits" who encounter ghosts of real people on a trip to Europe.


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