Frances Mensah Williams
Hi Frances, can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Ghana and my family moved between the USA, Austria, and Ghana for a few years before settling in the UK. After working in Human Resources in London, I moved to Ghana and worked there for several years while starting a family. After we came back to London, I wanted to do something that held real meaning for me and kept my ties to Africa. So, after about a year of bouncing around ideas, I set up a consultancy – Interims for Development – to launch a range of business and people development projects across Africa. It was incredibly exciting to recruit and work with some amazing professionals and organisations, and to contribute towards building skills and talent across many countries.
Here in the UK, I’ve developed coaching and employment programmes to support Black and ethnic minority employees in their careers and advise companies on creating inclusive working cultures.
My life now is a mix of writing, executive and career coaching and publishing ReConnect Africa.com, an online careers and business portal for global professionals of African origin.
Having grown up ‘bi-cultural’, I’m fascinated by the concept of identity and exploring the experiences of people who straddle different cultures. This comes up a lot in my novels, and I gave a TED talk on the challenges of belonging and finding your place in an unfamiliar culture.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I think I was eight or nine years old when I knew I would be a writer, but it took (loud cough) years to get there.
My first books were actually non-fiction. The first one was focused on showcasing Black professionals (Everyday Heroes: Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals) while the second one was a careers guide (I Want to Work in Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent).
It wasn’t until 2015 that my first novel was published, although I’d written the manuscript years earlier. From Pasta to Pigfoot features under-achieving PA and pasta fanatic, Faye Bonsu, and her attempts to find love and her cultural niche as she explores contemporary Ghana. The sequel – From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings – was published a year later, and it continues Faye’s adventures of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
When From Pasta to Pigfoot came out, it was selected by WH Smith Travel as one of the top 25 of its 100 Summer reads, and I’ll never forget the sheer joy of seeing that book on the shelves in bookshops and libraries!
Can you tell us about your latest book?
It’s called Imperfect Arrangements and tells the story of best friends Theresa, Maku, and Lyla and their struggles with the less than perfect arrangements that define their relationships.
Theresa has just moved with her husband to Ghana – where the story is set – and they soon discover cracks in their seemingly perfect marriage. Maku is feisty and ambitious but has to contend with an extremely laid-back partner and his somewhat hostile family. Lyla is desperate for a child and – for reasons that become clear – is tolerating an openly unfaithful husband. The story also depicts the perspectives of the men in the relationship, which was an interesting challenge!
In the novel, I wanted to explore the complexities of relationships and take an honest look at how culture impacts marriage for both men and women. I also wanted to celebrate the awesome power of women supporting other women. Fundamentally, the novel is a celebration of love and sisterhood.
What’s the best bit about being a writer?
For me, it’s being able to write stories that have a Black woman or women at the centre, instead of sitting on the sidelines as exotic or quirky minor characters. Growing up, I read so many books with white heroines having all the mad
experiences and acting in all the crazy ways my friends and I did, but none of them looked like me!
So now, I love having the creative freedom to write about Black women in our everyday lives dealing with the same challenges of annoying partners, rubbish bosses and wobbly self-esteem as everyone else. I write upbeat, uplifting stories where I can explore serious themes but present them in a humorous and accessible way. Love stories travel, and it’s great to show how people of African and Caribbean heritage, whether living in Britain or elsewhere, experience the same joys and tribulations as other
Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
A couple of things. I’m writing a second novella which will be part of a series featuring different women who live in a fictional luxury housing complex in Ghana called Marula Heights. The first one in the series – Sweet Mercy – is available as a free download from my website.
I’m also editing my next full-length novel, Hot Sauce and Croquet. This one is set in London and tells the story of Cara, an events manager from a large racially blended family who’s obsessed with fixing everyone else’s problems. When we first meet her, she’s madly in love with her new boyfriend, Henry – whose aristocratic family is the polar opposite of hers – until her ex shows up, bringing a whole new set of problems.
The Coronavirus crisis has delayed publication, but I’m hoping it will be out in late 2020 or early 2021.
What other interests do you have?
Reading tons of books, watching serial killer TV shows, and eating food I did not have to cook. And I generally have a strong interest in a glass (okay, several) of wine.
OK, here are the questions everyone needs to know the answers to:
Chocolate Hobnob or Lemon Drizzle cake?
It has to be Chocolate Hobnobs! I see eating any kind of chocolate whenever possible as part of my duty to help boost Ghana’s cocoa exports.
Cream soda or Limeade?
I’ll say Limeade… but only because you’d have to torture me to drink cream soda.
Jollof or plantain?
WHYYY???! What kind of question is this to ask a woman from Ghana? It cannot be either/or. It must be both.
Trainers or Flip-flops?
Definitely flip-flops. That way, I don’t have to pretend I’m exercising.
Tucking your shirt in or leaving it out?
Ms. Dorothy . . . your questions . . . Hmmm. Leaving it out so people can imagine I have a svelte waist instead of tucking it in, so they can see I don’t?
What’s your best celeb spot?
Spotting the actor Danny John-Jules in M&S in Brent Cross shopping centre. Oh, and Diana Ross in a London nightclub years ago.
If you had to start a rumour about yourself, what would it be?
You mean, like the rumour that Oprah Winfrey is featuring Imperfect Arrangements in her book club?
Thanks, Frances, where can we find out more about you?
On my website www.francesmensahwilliams.com
Instagram & Twitter: @francesmensahw
Where can we buy your book?
All my books are available on Amazon and through most online booksellers in both paperback and eBook formats. Please get in touch via my website if you have any problems finding copies or want signed books: Frances Mensah Williams.
Imperfect Arrangements is on sale now.