Running out of books to read as a child inspired Bristol-based Dr Peace Adzo Medie to turn her own hand to writing stories. Armed with insights from more than 10 years of academic field work exploring issues facing women in her birthplace Liberia, Peace is now a revered novelist in addition to her role as a Senior Lecturer in Gender and International Politics at the University of Bristol.
Her debut novel His Only Wife comes out in the UK on Wednesday, 31 March, after receiving rave reviews in the US, including from The New York Times and Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon, who is involved in women’s advocacy organisations.
Although some of the students she teaches have picked up on her new-found fame, Peace is modest about the success and spent much of her spare time in lockdown finishing her second novel. “I just start writing and hope for the best,’ she says.
Between five and seven o’clock in the morning are her most prolific hours, before her research and teaching duties begin, and she still writes on her laptop lying down.
“Writing fiction is a very nostalgic experience for me. It takes me back to when I was 10 years old in Ghana scribbling while lying down and letting my imagination run wild. I first started writing because I ran out of books and thought if I wrote something and left it for long enough, I wouldn’t recognise it as my own,’ she says.
“It worked and I still surprise myself today. I don’t work to deadlines as that takes the fun out of it and my plans for what will happen often change as I write.’
His Only Wife took five years to write and draws on her PhD studies in Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, which deepened her passion for women’s rights in Africa.
“It led me to work which aimed to improve gender security and equality at a policy level. From speaking with women, I learned about gender-based violence and I’ve written a book on campaigns against it,’ she says.
“But I didn’t want to write fiction about physical violence. So I focused on power relations, exploring the competing pressures facing women in society and how hard it is to break away and overcome these challenges.’
The novel charts the life of young seamstress growing up in Ghana who is lured into an arranged marriage promising a glamorous new world, which soon turns sour.
“Women are under different pressures from their mother, friends, and so on. Fiction allows me to explore these important themes in a new way and to a wider audience, beyond academic conferences,’ Peace says.
“I can’t promise a traditional fairy tale ending, but it’s a journey to self-discovery and freedom which makes me very happy.’