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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An award shortlist!

I didn’t expect to be back here so soon. Honest. I thought the next time I blog, it would be for some big cover reveal for the food+romance series. But was I wrong! I woke up this morning, blearily sent off kid 1 to school, tried to catch a few winks before kid 2 would ask for breakfast, dreamed something weird in the interim, checked my phone when Facebook and Google Photos reminded me that last year, on this day, we launched When She Went Away.

Aww, I thought. It’s already a year! Then I went about doing other boring stuff like making tea and again checked Facebook on my phone and there was an announcement from Goodbooks.in about The Hindu-Goodbooks Awards shortlist.

I thought to myself, heh, I never make it into any of these. So I shouldn’t even bother checking because it just feels so godawful when I don’t see my name there. And then I clicked the link, scrolled down and sorry to use an awful cliche, but my heart literally stopped.

My name was there! For When She Went Away. I blinked, hit refresh, waited for page to load through the disgustingly slow internet connection and then expected to read some other name instead of mine. But no! It was my name out there! Woo!

I immediately shared the link with Sayoni, my publisher at Duckbill and because I couldn’t wait for the ticks to turn blue, I called and told her and both she and Anushka were thrilled. The rest of my day has been spent hitting like on everyone who congratulates me on Facebook. Naturally, we have been very productive today, my dears.

If you haven’t read the book, you can order When She Went Away from Amazon here. To read the e-book, download the Juggernaut app and read it here.

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A book launch is not just a book launch!

There’s a huge difference between your first book launch and your (no idea which) later ones. The first noticeable difference is that you’re no longer nervous. You’re also not worried about how many people will turn up and will it just be family and friends like last time. Or the time before that. Because it’s taken me all these books to realise that a book launch maybe many things but it’s above all, a celebration of a book. In the midst of coordinating with various celebrity guests and other such hassles, one tends to forget that and focusing on these things creates a situation where the author is tense and worried.

So here’s the thing. The very fact that the book exists is nothing short of miraculous. You conjure up the book based on just an idea in your head. You write all fifty thousand words (or more) and then if you’re lucky, you land publishers like Duckbill who give their everything to your book. And by that, I mean everything.

They work with you on the book, they make it probably two hundred times better, and they come up with a book cover that completely wows you and everyone else. And it doesn’t stop there.

Anyway, so the book is ready, but doesn’t reach until the very last minute thanks to courier glitches. Your publishers move heaven and earth to make sure you get at least three copies before the launch. They even send off twenty copies through a friend who’s flying to Bangalore from Delhi! You manage to make sure the book reaches the other very sweet author (Jane D’Souza Gopalakrishnan) and your English Literature teacher (Dr. Shantha from college) two days before the launch and hope they have time to go through it.

You call up your family and invite them to attend. This part is very important because I have to make sure I’m inviting them as I would, to a wedding. So you can imagine how I’ve had to invite everyone for all the book launches every single time. Yeah, but the nice thing is that almost everyone turns up. Because like I said, it’s a celebration of the book.

I’ve never been this *unstressed* over a launch and it probably had a lot to do because it was at Atta Galatta, an independent bookstore which is one of my all time favourite stores here in Bangalore. Of course, Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar, the gracious hosts and owners of AG have a lot to do with that feeling of comfort.

So, on 18th October, we all got together at AG for a celebration of my 8th novel, When she Went Away. Friends, family and colleagues turned up in full force! My mother surprised me by bringing a Shahi tukda sweet, all packed into small cups for all the guests and everyone loved it. The book was launched and the three of us got into a spirited discussion about the book. The audience got involved and we went on for quite a bit. The theme of the book was intriguing (after all, how often does a mother leave her perfectly all right family and go away without any reason?) and a lot of people asked questions, not just about the book but about my writing process as well.

Jane had some interesting questions to ask while Dr. Shantha offered some sharp insight into the character of the protagonist and her mother as well. All of us at the launch felt like we were in a classroom (not any class but the Optional English classes she took for us)  once again, listening to her speak so eloquently. And magnificently!

We ended the day by taking plenty of selfies and pictures and the best part was the potluck dinner at my aunt’s house after the launch. Much yummy in the tummy happened!

What better way to bring a book into the world than with family and friends, all with you to celebrate?

Some pictures of the event.

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Book no. 8

Hello! I’m thrilled to report that book no. 8, When she Went Away is coming out in October, 2015. My lovely publishers, Duckbill, finally gave the go ahead and asked me to share the cover with the world at large, so here I am.

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This book is a young adult novel, and I’ll be sharing the synopsis soon. Duckbill is one of the publishing houses I really respect and I love their work. I’m thrilled to be publishing a book with them.

I’m all agog on social media, sharing this cover with everyone, clogging up their timelines and causing people to probably block me. But it’s an amazing feeling when you can share the cover of a book that you’ve written with the world.

When you start writing a book, that first page, those first few lines, those doubts –  believe me, it takes guts to forge ahead and just write. And write. And that is just the easy part.

Editing, marketing and publishing all these take up so much time and there’s a whole lot of effort that goes into it. So yes, the day I get to share the cover with everyone is indeed a special day. And no, it does not grow old. Even if you’ve already published seven novels.

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