Interview with Australian Author, Roanna Gonsalves, “The Permanent Resident.”

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1) How did you get started as a writer?

I have always wanted to be a writer. I remember writing poems as a very small girl. They were quite terrible, but I loved the act and process of writing. As I was growing up in Mumbai, my aunties in Kuwait and Australia would write letters to me and expect letters back. I enjoyed spending time with a pencil and paper, giving them information about our day-to-day lives, thinking they would be impressed with big words like ‘length’ and ‘breadth’. After I finished my degree in English Literature at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai University, I got a job in journalism, and learned to write to a deadline. The moment I started writing fiction while doing the MA in Writing at UTS, I knew I had found my calling. Fom then on it has been a hard slog as a writer, but a joyful one.

2) What made you want to write “The Permanent Resident”?

I wanted to chronicle our contemporary presence here as Indian Australians, not with autobiography but with fiction. I wanted to render on the page, the complexities of being an outsider yet wanting to be an insider, while being burdened and also strengthened in different ways by culture, class, gender and religious background. I wanted to add my voice to the tradition of writers of indigenous and non white heritage who are trying to change the way Australia imagines itself – as a White nation. But I also wanted to play with language, as a child plays in the sand. Most of the stories in The Permanent Resident started as sparkles of word bundles in my head and in the process of putting those words down on paper I understood the story that was emerging from them, the story I had to tell.

3) How long did it take you to write your story? (was it over a few years of journal/diary writing?)

As this is not a work of autobiography but a work of the imagination, I didn’t really rely on journals or diaries. Some stories are based on incidents that happened in Australia, such as the spate of violence against Indian students a few years ago, or tragic cases of violence and abuse of women by their husbands. This book took me about four or five years to write as part of a PhD at UNSW (the other part is a sociological study of the contemporary Indian literary field in the English language). However, this book is based on decades of writing practice. It’s like it takes a chef a few hours to prepare their signature dish, but those few hours are possible only because of years and years of training and practice as a chef.

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4) What message do you want your readers to take away after reading your story?

I would be ecstatic if readers get to the last word of the last sentence of the last story, and wish the book didn’t end. For me, literature is about speaking to that part of ourselves that is not fed by excel spreadsheets and shopping trolleys and electricity bills, however necessary (or not) these things may be for our survival. It’s that feeling of being enchanted that I aspire to when it comes to what I hope for when someone reads The Permanent Resident.

5) When growing up, who were your favourite writers/authors and why?

When I was growing up, my mother who worked for Glaxo, would bring home magazines and books every week from her office library. I read everything she brought home, from Women’s Era and Savvy, and Femina magazines, to the Trixie Belden series and all sorts of Enid Blyton books. As a child I loved the adventures that Trixie Belden went on near the Hudson River in America. It sounded so far away and exotic to me, growing up in Mumbai. The Famous Five would always drink ginger beer and play in the heather. These were alien and therefore highly desirable to me as a child. It was the adventures that these children were having in those enticing stories that attracted me to them like iron filings to a magnet. I remember trying to mimic these adventures around the compound of our block of flats. I’m so glad that this cultural imperialism of the West is not as strong as it used to be in the 70s and 80s. There are so many amazing Indian publishers of kids books in different languages now, such as Tara Books, Tulika, Katha, FunOkPlease, Karadi Tales, Eklavya, Pratham. Navayana’s Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, Juggernaut’s Ramayana For Children by Arshia Sattar, Goa 1556’s Espi Mai series by Anita Pinto, and all of Tara Books’ gorgeous books are standouts.

My parents got us a subscription to Target magazine for kids. From what I could remember it was very Delhi-focussed, with big Delhi words like mohalla and gol gappa in it, words that I was not familiar with, we used different words in Mumbai. This added to the attraction for me. Occasionally we would read the wonderful Amar Chitra Katha comics about Hindu mythology. Growing up in the Catholic community, we had lots of reading material about Catholic saints around and I think I wanted to be a saint for a brief period of time because when the female saints died a shower of roses would always fall from heaven, and that sounded quite glorious to me. I must say that the stories in Don Bosco’s Madonna, a weekly publication that most people in my community would read from cover to cover, had a big impression on me because it contained wonderfully implausible stories of hardship and ultimate redemption, the perfect hero’s journey.

6) What advice would you like to give to upcoming writers?

Read all you can and write as often as you can. As with anything, it’s all about practice.

7) What’s next for you after The Permanent Resident? Have you got a sequel or another story up your sleeve?

I have so many different ideas that I want to work on, so many different stories. It’s about balancing a day job to pay the rent and then prioritising the most urgent stories that I would like to tell. I hope I can manage this precarious balance in a suitable way in the future.

Roanna Gonsalves is an Indian Australian writer and academic. Her series of radio documentaries entitled On the tip of a billion tongues, was commissioned and first broadcast by Earshot, ABC RN in November and December 2015. It is an acerbic socio-political portrayal of contemporary India through its multilingual writers. She received the Prime Minister’s Endeavour Award 2013, and is co-founder co-editor of Southern Crossings. She is the author of The Permanent Resident a collection of short fiction published by UWAP in November 2016. http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/the-permanent-resident
See roannagonsalves.com.au for more information.

 

Q and A with Yassmin Abdel-Magied

On Saturday 5th March 2016, I was given the honour to emcee an International Women’s Day event with the launch of Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s book, “Who do you think I am?” at Westfield Burwood.

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ABOUT YASSMIN ABDEL-MAGIED

Yassmin was born in the Sudan, and her parents moved to Brisbane when she was two and has been tackling barriers ever since. At 16 she founded Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on helping young people to work for positive change, in their communities. In 2007 she was named Young Australian Muslim of the Year and in 2010 Young Queenslander of the Year. In 2011 Yassmin graduated with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and in 2012 she was named Young Leader of the Year in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s inaugural 100 Women of Influence Awards.  Yassmin has now been awarded Youth of the Year in the Australian Muslim Achievement Awards. And Penguin Random House is contributing royalties of her book, “Who do you think I am?” to Youth Without Borders.

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During my discussion I was able to record some of Yassmin’s replies to my questions below.

Joy: Your book launched just five days ago, what inspired you to write this book?

Yassmin: I generally wanted to write a story I wished was out there. When I grew up, there were no stories out there about Muslim women, no one I could identify with. I had a chat with my mum and told me to tell our story. My mentors are my parents – Mum and Dad.

Joy: When you write, do you pretend you’re writing to one person or a group of people?

Yassmin: One. I started out writing like a diary. It was like a place where I vented. (crowd laughs)

Joy: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Yassmin: First I think, why do we need just one day? Why can’t it be everyday? Then I think it’s a good time to recognise and highlight important issues involving women, putting it out on the table for the world to see. It’s an empowering day for women. A day to discuss equal parity and gender equality.

Joy: How do you hope you can be an inspirational Australian woman in today’s fast-paced world of social media, changing perceptions and ideas?

Yassmin: Because there’s such a wide reach thanks to social media and the net, I hope people can look at what I do and say, “If she can do it, so can I!”

Joy: What advice would you give your younger self?

Yassmin: Don’t be in such a rush and just have patience. When I was younger I would be at full speed, and when mum asked me why was I in a rush, I’d reply, “I could die next week!” (crowd laughs)

Joy: You have received many accolades for your community work, is there one award that stands out for you?

Yassmin: Yes I once took up roller blading and I won a good VIBE award! (crowd laughs)

Audience question by Nicole: What would your advice be for more diversity in the media?

Yassmin: Take on jobs in the media and be engaging and connected with people in the media. Get sponsored by someone or be taken under the wing of someone who is established in the media and learn from them.

It was such a pleasure to interview such a humble yet inspiring woman like Yassmin. I wish her all the best. Yassmin’s story, “Who do you think I am?” is out now at all good book stores. EnJOY!

 

Unearthing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert at Seymour Centre (Sydney Writers Festival)

One of my favourite Sydney Writers Festival events so far is Unearthing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert. I love her honesty, wisdom and humbleness when speaking to an audience of hundreds at the Seymour Centre. I must admit I tune out and am no longer a fan of those who are arrogant and think they’re better than the average person because in reality, we’re all part of the human race and experience the same emotions, fears and even life’s ailments! But with Elizabeth Gilbert, she never fails to inspire.

 

I particularly enjoyed hearing her thoughts on creativity, embracing it and facing the world with courage and not fear. At sixteen she made a vow to herself, it was the day she got married to writing and committed herself to a life of writing. She said, “I will support you and you will support me. I will take care of us.” Elizabeth feels that everyone starts off being creative. “Everyone is curious. If you put Lego in front of a child, no child is going to say, I’m not into this today.” The result of someone not being creative is partly due to the fact that someone earlier on in their lives put them down, perhaps a teacher or a parent, or friend. And usually when the person re-enters their creativity again, they start where they’ve left off as a child. They start writing or painting or drawing where they’ve left off. Elizabeth says, “There’s no good reason to not do it. Nothing else makes you feel connected to people. Choosing a life of creativity is a path of curiosity not fear.”

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She then went on to explain that there are two levels of creativity, one that is driven by ego, who is competitive and is never satisfied and the other that is unfolding something that is soulful and content in one’s own path of curiosity, no one else’s. To be creative, you’re in “the zone” – being engaged in the flow or stream. Also it is “a break from the anxiety of who you are. That is Big magic!”

Elizabeth encourages people to do something creative for thirty minutes a day, and eventually, “maybe not the first day but maybe on the 10th day, big magic will happen!” When writing, Elizabeth writes as if she is talking to one person. She feels that if you are talking to everyone, no one will hear you, but when you are writing as if you are talking to one person, everyone will hear you. With her first book, Eat Pray Love she is writing as if she is talking to her friend – Darcy.

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When a person in the audience asked her, “I’m worried about my friend making a the wrong creative decision in her life…” Elizabeth answered, “You should be only worrying and focusing on your own path, not your friend’s. She has her own path to learn and make mistakes from.”

Another audience member asked, “I want to start writing a book but I’m worried about what a family member will think.” Elizabeth replied, “You should ask yourself if that’s an excuse playing in your mind to not want to start writing and do the work, because most of the time, the thing you think someone will be upset about will not be the thing the person is upset about.” Elizabeth gave an example of how someone was upset about a reference that they had size 11 feet, nothing else but just that! The crowd laughed.

“Do you still meditate?” one audience member asked. Elizabeth replied, “I take silent baths which replaces my meditation.” Everyone laughed again. “Some people may call it napping but I call it my ‘silence bath’ and afterwards I feel much better and ready to be creative.”

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Who better than to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak – the creative guru herself! They always say, life’s about learning. That was one good creative life lesson jam packed into an hour session. Thank you Elizabeth.

Big Magic is out now at all good book stores.

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