A chat with Zainab Sulaiman

Zainab and I met early last year when our common publishers treated us for ice cream (yes, they’re very cool like that!) and we met on and off at book launches etc. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the book launch of Simply Nanju but I had the pleasure of reading it recently. What can I say? Totally wowed by it.

In case you’re not aware, Simply Nanju is set in a school for disabled children and Zainab writes from her own experience as being a teacher at such a school in Bangalore. I got the chance to ask her some questions about her writing and everything and decided to put it up here. By the way, I’ll be doing more of this soon, meaning talking to other writers and putting up our conversations here. Here goes:

AW: What’s your writing routine like? As in when do you prefer to write?

ZS:  No routine at the moment, as am swamped with work – I work at a sports company and head their HR. But otherwise like to write in the mornings when I’m fresh and well-fed. I wake up ravenous and can’t do anything until I’ve eaten a good breakfast 🙂

AW: Are all the characters in Simply Nanju based on real kids you met while you taught at that special school, or did some fictional ones also creep in? Tell us the names of one real character and one fictional character please?

ZS: Mostly, ‘inspired’ by real children 🙂 Nanju’s a real enough character; Pratik’s more fictional.

AW: I guffawed when I read about ‘Gussel Market’. Any reason why you changed this name as well?

ZS:  Pure laziness! Couldn’t think up a good name and so just changed poor old Russel market into Gussel market, haha. There’s another such change I made – again out of sheer sloth; those familiar with Fraser Town might have picked up on it.

AW: Was your experience as a teacher enough to write this book or did you do more research? Any books you read?

ZS: I set out by volunteering, then moved to fund raising, then got a special Ed degree in inclusive education. So yes, a lot of research in that sense 🙂 Didn’t read any specific books in this genre though as I had a fair idea of what I wanted to write – though the plot was a killer! – and didn’t want to be too influenced by anything written in a similar vein; though books about disability and inclusion are honestly few and far between.

AW: What genre of books do you enjoy reading? Anything you’d like to recommend?

ZS: I love crime stories but the gentler ones – can’t handle the very dark violent versions; there’s enough chaos in the world as it is. Good ole Agatha Christie and now, Alexander McCall Smith are favourites.

AW: Are you writing something else now? Fiction? Non-fiction?

ZS: Yes, and it’s fiction. Hopefully it won’t take me another three years to write though!

AW: How did you decide the name of this book? I’m always at a loss when it comes to this part of writing.

ZS: I didn’t actually. Sayoni and Anushka thought it up 🙂 And no one sucks more than me at finding an appropriate name!

AW: Is your next book also for children? Do you want to tell us a bit about it?

ZS: No, it’s for adults. And wouldn’t really want to talk about it till it’s clearer in my head 🙂

And finally, since there are hardly any books about disability in India, especially fiction,

AW: Any advice for writers who want to write about disability?

ZS: Write from the heart. Don’t be scared.


Friends, this is a book that you must read!


Buy Simply Nanju here.

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