A photo of Yrsa Daley-Ward, author of The How side-by-side with the interview title, 21 Questions, on a yellow, orange and grayscale background.
A photo of Yrsa Daley-Ward, author of The How side-by-side with the interview title, 21 Questions, on a yellow, orange and grayscale background.

Artistically speaking, Yrsa Daley-Ward is a true triple threat, combining acting, modelling and writing in various permutations: she fuses writing and acting in her spoken word work, and combined her poetic flair with her musical side in collaborating with Beyoncé on Black Is King, the visual companion to the 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift.

Having already released a book of short stories, a poetry collection, and her 2018 memoir The Terrible, Daley-Ward is now releasing The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself, a written guide to unlocking your creative potential, to “see and feel more of who we really are behind the preconceived notions of propriety and manners we've accumulated.”

To mark its release, we reached out to Daley-Ward to ask her our 21 Questions about life and literature, and she opened up about the “joy and strange, strange things” of Roald Dahl, drinking wine with Jeanette Winterson, and the superpower she wishes she had.

Which writer do you most admire and why?

There are too many to list here, but the first person that springs to mind is Alice Walker. She was such an important influence on my early writing because she touched topics I had never seen explored before. She spoke of things I wanted to hear about but had no reference for. I was so inspired by the frankness and beauty of her work.

What was the first book you remember loving as a child?

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I loved the mix of absurdity and poetry and deep, dark meaning. I was not raised with my parents, so I felt a kind of kinship with James.

What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The story was so full and charged with difficulty and cruelty, but also so much beauty and joy.

Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path

Any book by Roald Dahl as a child; he made me want to write and write (and infuse poetry with fiction). His books were full of joy and strange, strange things. Funny, sad and downright frightening.

What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?

Too many to mention. Too strange for this form. You might have to read my books!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Sit there and do it; it’s not gonna write itself. Show up for it each day, and give only what you have, but give it each day.

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson. I LOVE this story! And the stories within the story! It is interesting, fantastical and beautifully written. Now I’m thinking of it, of course I love it: it reminds me of the books I read as a child (if you remove the very adult themes!).

What’s the one book you feel guiltiest for not reading?

None. If I want to read it, I’ll read it, at the cost of doing something else.

If I didn’t become an author, I would be ______

Quite unfulfilled.

What makes you happiest?

New and exciting projects to jump into. I love a new venture. Tea, books, long mornings. Nature!

What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?

Identifying trees and flowers, but if you know me, that isn’t surprising! Taking pictures of said trees and flowers. Touching the leaves.

What is your ideal writing scenario?

A country house with lots of grounds. An early start, loads of ideas, delicious, never-ending tea. The workday ends at 2 p.m. and then it’s time to explore the sunny city.

What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?

Nothing has happened yet – I think I have it to look forward to!

If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?

Not dinner, drinks. Jeanette Winterson. Red wine for her (if she’s into it), pink tea for me.

What’s your biggest fear?

Running out of time. In general. For everything.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Being fluent in every language. I’d love to translate my own work and the work of others.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, again. For like the fourth time. But also Outline by Rachel Cusk.

Reading in the bath: yes or no?

Of course! That’s what they’re for!

Which do you prefer: coffee or tea?

Tea every time.

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

Nope. I love books too much to name just one.

What inspired you to write your book?

Lockdown and (to be honest) a looming deadline!


The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself is out now.

Image design at top: Alexandra Francis for Penguin

  • The How

  • A treasure trove of inspiration and an invitation for personal renewal from the acclaimed author of bone and The Terrible

    We still dream though, don't we? We are gifted with a way into ourselves, night after night after night.

    Yrsa Daley-Ward's words have resonated with hundreds of thousands of readers around the world: through her books of poetry and memoir bone and The Terrible, through her powerful writing for Beyoncé on Black Is King and through her always-illuminating Instagram posts.

    In The How, Yrsa gently takes readers by the hand, encouraging them to join her as she explores how we can remove our filters, and see and feel more of who we really are behind the preconceived notions of propriety and manners we've accumulated with age. With a mix of short, lyrical musings, immersive poetry and intriguing meditations, The How can be used to start conversations, to prompt writing, to delve deeper - whether you're on your own or with friends, on your feet or writing from the solace of home.

    'Lyrical . . . visceral truth is at the heart of her work' i Newspaper

  • Buy the book

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