Having always expressed the desire to read more stories that I can relate to, and having read Toni Morrison’s stupendous quote about writing the novel you want to read, the realisation that I could write a story that I could relate to came pretty recently.
I’d just finished Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and while it’s an exceptional work in terms of its craft and ability (can I just say, this book is not a piece of erotica but it does the crudely puntastic thing of climaxing with a climax) it’s also one that has moved me. First, it affected me by turning me into mush – my usual pragmatic senses (which underlie the very emotional parts) had become nonexistent, or at the very least they had relaxed. I thought hard about love, and sex, and the world, and how Foer had taken the parts of the world that I couldn’t put words to or even thoughts to and hammered them into his story, made them so very obvious.
So I turned sappy, yes. But also, reading Everything is Illuminated gave me the courage to write my own story. American Jew Jonathan Safran Foer writes a story about American Jew Jonathan Safran Foer who travels somewhere in (or near) the Ukraine in order to find out what had happened to his ancestors, namely who had saved his grandfather from being killed by the Nazis. I can’t stress how amazing this book is, and how dimensional it is. I wanted to be Mahima who wrote a story about Mahima, and have that story be dimensional too.
I had wanted to write a novel since I was twelve (trust a bookish entrepreneurial twelve year old to set her money on books) but I don’t think I could have ever written one if I hadn’t read Everything is Illuminated. The book freed me from the restrictions I had unknowingly put on my writing (because I’m young, and I don’t want to seem like a daft bugger from the word “go!”).
Here you have kitschy Bilal and I’s Perfect (Halal) Love Story where the main character is called Mahima and her “love interest” is Bilal. More importantly this book does something renown spoken word artist Sarah Kay attributes as her writing inspiration: she writes poetry in order to figure out her problems. And so I set out writing a book with no idea about where it would go except that I had a problem and I wanted to write my way out of it.
I am so proud. This is my first novel-worthy book. It is sorely under the 50K word range, but it has a beginning and a middle and an end. And I’ve solved the problem (or it’s as solved as it can be). It is incredibly embarrassing, and a lot of it needs enhancing, removing, tweaking, etc. It is nowhere near where I want it to be, but I can see the bones of a story I am going to enjoy banging my head on the table editing. This November I’ve written a story, and I’ve sown the seeds. Now it’s up to me to nurture those seeds, and see what may grow out of this.
If you want more insight, (and in fear of more rambling), I’ve linked up with Cait’s Beautiful Books link-up, which offers some questions so I can introduce my novel to you.
What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
The idea is marriage. Marriage is different in my culture, it’s not this big thing you do to celebrate the love you have for your significant other, rather it’s the first event of your love life.
See here’s the process of a typical perfect love story:
- You have a crush on someone
- You figure out this is mutual
- You ask the person out
- You like them a helluva lot
- You hang out with the person a lot more
- You’ve hanged out with them so much that you want to do something else
- This something else is marriage
And it’s pretty much the same for me, and girls who belong to my culture, except that this perfect love story gets taken by the reigns of your family by Step 2. And marriage comes way before Step 5 (and maybe even before Step 4).
I hate the idea of marriage, of how it’s presented and adhered to in my culture. Those Victorian period dramas you read and claim to love? They’re probably the closest I will get to reading a Canonical piece about Me. Family is a very important aspect of our lifestyles, so important that they get to decide which families you get to immerse yourself with, who you get to love. With your input of course, but marriage in my culture is not a personal affair. It’s public from the very beginning.
And because I’d been teased about marriage (in the same way people tease you about liking someone, or dating someone, marriage I guess for us is that blase a topic) since I was thirteen or younger even – I’ve always been anxious about it.
I don’t know how to say that without sounding like a buffoon.
The fears of achieving a Perfect (Halal) Love Story:
- How can you meet the love of your life and see the potential in spending the rest of your life with them from a handful of dates? Don’t people change? What if he’s abusive? What if he’s secretly incredibly sexist? What if everything he’s shown himself to be is a farce?
- His family suddenly become my family.
- Considering marriage as a public debacle where everyone has their two cents and rumours galore!
- Living Jane Eyre’s life (and any other Jane Austen main character).
- Never being able to have my own living space, always having to share this with someone else.
- How limited my glorious singledom is!
- The lack of freedom and independence I’d have after I’d gotten married.
- Not being able to explore myself and the world by myself.
I can’t stress how looming marriage seems. How I see it as this sinister force that will quash my independence. Perhaps marriage has its benefits, but I sure don’t see them. I’m not working this damn hard to be reduced to working in the background, sacrificing the world I am clawing out for myself in order to serve my new family.
There’s this freedom kids who’ve graduated from university can enjoy. Even in university, they have the freedom to do whatever the hell they want without having many commitments in the form of family. We are our own selves, but for girls especially, I think that marriage takes this away.
And so I wrote this novel in order to explore how I could escape marriage, or at least the ways in which it imposes on my freedom and not shatter the relationship with my family in the process.
Describe what your novel is about!
Mahima marries Bilal in a bid to get her parents off her back. She has designed her marriage in order to protect as much of her freedom as possible: Bilal would not impose on her life and she won’t on his. Yet, because her parents believed that women were not allowed to travel to other countries and live by themselves, she takes Bilal on a “honeymoon” travelling the world. She lives the life her parents would not have allowed her to live: she has her own living space, visits the friends who live abroad, learns so much about herself, and Bilal remains in the background, an accessory for her adventures.
The story is about the repercussions of trying to make your own way in life, the consequences that come with protecting your independence.
How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)
This time I decided to go in with only a set of daily prompts to shape the story. I started off writing a story about school kids who talked like the school kids I knew and who had their own problems. That story soon turned into a sci-fi catastrophe that I couldn’t pants my way out of. So I abandoned that, and started one about something that was quite important in the first story: love and how politics ruin it.
What are you most looking forward to about this novel?
Exploring all the different themes that have come up, and doing the story justice. I feel like marriage, as ridiculous as it may seem, is a growing issue for independent ladies like myself. Not just marriage, but certain aspects of my culture just all in all piss me off. And these aspects affect how I am and what I do and how I think, not just my sensibilities. Writing this was so much fun, though I’m going to have a sore time unpicking everything I want to talk about: the struggle for independence over your life, the responsibilities on women, the importance of family, what sacrifice really means and whether it’s only a tinge of love that women can know (and be forced to adhere to).
List 3 things about your novel’s setting.
- Domestic: this story is definitely chick-flick worthy, but I want it to be chick-flick worthy in the same sense that Jodi Picoult’s novels are called “women’s fiction” in that they centre around women.
- Hot: the honeymoon takes place in the summer but also heat has this clever thing of being able to make people and their thoughts sluggish, or increase their sense of adventure, or make them want to fight.
- Only slightly unfamiliar: it’s about her adventures but she mostly travels to European countries, and doesn’t do much tourist-worthy activities. (She has friends, she meets them, she talks to them). I want to do this justice too: visiting a place that speaks a different language to you, but the people look familiar and the buildings look familiar even if on the inside they’ve got their own history and are completely alien to you.
What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?
She wants independence while also appeasing her parents: Bilal’s stupid heart (and of course, her own) stands in the way.
How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?
It’s a very quiet resolution, but it comes from a helluva lot of turmoil and upheaval. Mahima realises that she could get married, and her life would still be her own.
What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?
God, I want my readers to be enraged with my conclusion! I want them to be like, no you have this all wrong! Stop sacrificing yourself for love! You don’t need no man! Sod your freakin’ parents.
And then I want them to write their own stories. Figure their own ways out of this. And maybe some of them will reach my conclusion too, and be all the more happy for it. I feel like the happiness and the satisfaction can only come from actively exploring this issue and finding a solution that is your solution.