Love in its many forms, the limitations of gender norms, art and addiction are just a handful of the themes explored in Okechukwu Nzelu’s upcoming novel, Here Again Now.
The Manchester based author has already won awards for his work, which focuses on centring family and Black British life. His book The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, which explored identity and Igbo-Nigerian culture through the eyes of a teenage girl, was shortlisted for a Desmond Elliott Prize and a Polari First Book Prize.
Now, Nzelu’s upcoming second novel takes a similarly thought provoking approach and aims to shed a new light on emotional intimacy and queerness.
“I’m really interested in the idea of a love story going far beyond stereotypical romantic boy meets girl, what I want to explore is what love can mean between friends or family,” Nzelu tells The Big Issue.
“I think that for the LGBT community, even if you have a loving relationship with your biological family and especially if you don’t, chosen family is such an important part of your life because you need that sense of understanding and acceptance that you might not get from the people who raised you.
“So, the novel is definitely about family in lots of different ways, particularly chosen family, the sort of family you might find and build for yourself. You know, what does it mean to be someone’s most important person even if you are not their parent, child, or any relation of theirs in a formally legally recognised way.”
As well as a wider demographic, Nzelu suggests that cis heterosexual parents who love, or who want to know how to love, their queer children are among the novel’s target readership.
“I think this [Here Again Now] can be something for parents who just need a push in the right direction, or who just need to be shown that certain things are possible. That it’s not completely ridiculous to say: ‘Yes, I come from this culture, this is my heritage, these are my parents and my ancestral history but I can still support my queer child who’s in front of me right now’. I wanted to show that it’s possible to hold those things in balance,” he says.
In addition to being a successful author and winner of a Northern Writers Award, Nzelu is also a lecturer of creative writing at the University of Lancaster. It’s no surprise then, that important life lessons can be learnt from his work.
“When I look back at the things I’ve written, I want to be able to say: ‘OK, I’ve explored and helped my readers explore what it means to feel and experience human love’,” Nzelu says.
“I think it can come in so many different forms and there’s this really interesting paradox that we put so many conditions on it. Many of which are arbitrary and culture specific and not really helpful. I really want to look at what it means to go beyond those things to the benefit of the human heart.”
So what piece of advice does the author have for young writers looking to make it in the industry from underrepresented backgrounds?
“I think it’s really important to try and find your ancestry- and I use that word in the loosest way possible, go to your local library, or your local bookshop if you have those resources, and try to find your people in terms of the readings. Try to find writers who are interested in the same things as you,” Nzelu says.
“As a human being, I think it’s so important that you get that wonderful feeling of knowing that you’re not the only one.
“I think it’s much easier to write something that you are proud of when you’ve done the research and looked around you and thought: ‘OK, this writer might be doing that, but my thing is a kind of a different take on that’, or: ‘I’m gonna try and do this my way’. I think it’s much easier to do that when you’re bouncing off people that you’ve read and feel passionate about.”