Critical acclaim for Bristol academic’s debut novel about power relations and arranged marriage
Press release issued: 29 March 2021
Armed with insights from more than 10 years of academic field work exploring women’s issues in her birthplace Liberia, University of Bristol academic, Dr Peace Adzo Medie, turned her hand to writing fiction.
Her debut novel His Only Wife, which comes out in the UK on Wednesday, 31 March, has received rave reviews including from the New York Times and actress and women’s rights advocate, Reese Witherspoon.
Dr Medie is a Senior Lecturer in Gender and International Politics at the University of Bristol. The novel took five years to write and draws on her PhD studies in Public and International Affairs, which deepened her passion for women’s rights in Africa. It charts the life of a 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 society, mother, friends, and so on. Fiction allows me to explore these important themes in a new way and to reach a wider audience, beyond academic publications and conferences,” Peace says.
Although some of the students she teaches at Bristol 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.
It was running out of books to read as a child, which inspired Peace to try writing stories herself.
“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, which I still do lying down but with my laptop now.”
Sources of inspiration include her experiences as an African student living in the US.
“Having lived in different places gives you new insights because you can look at a culture with fresh eyes and question what you find as an outsider. I like to observe through a sociological lens and examine why things happen,” she explains.
A voracious reader from an early age, Peace was a big fan of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and later recalls an obsession with Sweet Valley High, a series of novels about identical teenage twin sisters who live in Los Angeles.
“I read absolutely everything, so I was always trading and exchanging books with friends. I also had a beautiful collection of cloth-bound books, which my uncle gave me, with titles like Heidi, Arabian Nights, and The Story of King Arthur,” she remembers.
As for His Only Wife, it’s a far cry from the romantic conclusion of the Sweet Valley High series, which sees the protagonists happily paired off with their perfect partners.
“I can’t promise a traditional fairy tale ending, but it’s a journey to self-discovery and freedom which makes me very happy.”