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An Interview with Soniah Kamal
Written by
She Writes
December 2018
Written by
She Writes
December 2018

This month our guest editor is Soniah Kamal and her latest book Unmarriageable is available this month. Get to know what Soniah did as her first job, how long it took for her to feel like a writer and why she thinks it's vital for women to share their stories. 

Describe your writing routine. 

I usually wait for inspiration to strike. Once it does I try to write the first draft of an entire chapter or story or whatever I’m working on. I also drink chai constantly to keep up my energy and, for breaks, I step into the kitchen because I find cooking relaxing. Luckily that works out for my family because there’s always something in the fridge!    

What was the first/worst job you ever had before becoming an author.

One of my first jobs was at an outdoor festival. I was painting kids’ faces. I had the standard flowers, unicorn, Spiderman etc on the sign but some kids wanted Pixar level art. It was really interesting to see who said thank you and please and who demanded things and how parents reacted to all this. It was a very long and but ultimately rewarding day—kids have no filter which for a writer is fun.

When was the moment you started to feel like a writer?

I don’t know if there’s any particular moment but rather a series of moments which are on-going. I’d like to say I felt or believed that the act of words on paper was enough to make me feel like I was a writer, instead, publishing and getting paid were part of the validation too. Holding my first novel, An Isolated Incident, and seeing my byline in the New York Times were a huge part of becoming a writer. The essay in the New York Times is about a terrible miscarriage I went through and it took me nine years to write meaning each time I’d try to write it down, I’d write an opening sentence and then freeze, so I really didn’t feel like a writer at all—I mean a writer writes, right? One day, after I suppose something in me was finally ready, I penned the essay in half an hour and sent it off. It just poured out of me. I expected a rejection, instead it was accepted. That’s when I really understood the role of distance and how writing is so much more than simply words on paper. I think it took writing Unmarriageable under extreme pressure—I had literally two months to write the entire novel—and the fact that it sold in that draft form, for me to comfortably claim to being a writer and author. Getting here has been a very long journey.     

What is the number one piece of advice you'd give to aspiring authors?

Do something else. But if you must write then grow yourself the thickest hide you can because rejection at any stage hurts, it hurts less as you go on, but still hurts.

Who inspires you?

Everyone! But to name names:  Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, RohintonMistry, Jamaica Kincaid, Lydia Davis, Thomas Hardy, Paule Marshall, Leslie Marmom Silko, Anne Tyler and myriad Urdu short stories such as ‘Anandi’ by Ghulam Abbas, ‘Maha Laxshmi Ka Pul’ (Maha Laxshmi Bridge) by Krishan Chander, ‘Khol Do’ (Open It) by Saadat Hasan Manto, ‘A Vision of Heaven’ by Sajjad Zaheer.

Why is it important for women to tell their stories?

It is vital for women to tell their stories because stories knit the fabric of our experiences into cohesive tales of solidarity, the ‘I-see-you-I-was-here-I-hear-you’.  I remember walking through the British Museum in the Madonna and Child Section, and all these women with an infant in their arms, painted by men, seen through the men’s eyes as nothing but an umbilical cord and birthing machine and saintly motherhood. I mean here were women and yet erasure. I stood in the museum and cried at the thought of what women themselves may have painted. That anger, those tears, are fuel. Historically women have been silenced in so many ways, expected to be opinionless, rendered voiceless, faceless. My TEDx talk on dreams and regrets is about how I found my voice.

Photo Credit: The Missing Slate

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