Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire is very much a book about London, and if I had stayed in Karachi I simply wouldn’t have written it
Writer and novelist Kamila Shamsie on new forms of storytelling, her challenges as a writer, her favourite writers and writing as a full-time profession.Updated: Nov 12, 2018 12:55 IST
Kamila Shamsie is a confident voice in the landscape of writing. Her works, In the City by the Sea, Salt and Saffron, Kartography, Broken Verses, Offence: the Muslim case, Burnt Shadows and A God in Every Stone touch up the politics of identity, cultural adaptability, migration, loss, desire and all things in between in multilayered narratives. Born and raised in Karachi, Shamsie witnessed the social and political unrest and these observations have a vivid representation in her works. Her most recent work, Home Fire, a reinterpretation of Sophocles’ Antigone witnesses the conflicted lives of two Muslim families caught up in a battle between love and loyalty in modern Britain. A dichotomy between the pain of alienation and a sense of belonging is told in a hauntingly beautiful way.
Shamsie wrote her first book when she was 21 and Home Fire is considered to be her most powerful work till date. It has been longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 among 16 novels that represent the best works of fiction in the present times.
The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature which was instituted in 2010 by Surina Narula and Manhad Narula, is one of the most prestigious international literary awards mainly focusing on the rise of South Asian writing and its place and impact globally. It encourages fiction writing on the South Asian region from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Maldives and Afghanistan and the trajectories of untold stories and the social, political and cultural collision that each of these landscapes share.
The writer talks about the art of storytelling, her favourite writers and writing as a full-time profession.
Q: Many in the industry don’t look at writing as a feasible full-time profession due to financial constraints. How do you think initiatives like DSC Prize contribute towards changing this perception by acknowledging the demands writing entails?
Writing isn’t a feasible full item profession for the vast majority of writers in financial terms. That’s just the truth of the matter. The DSC prize can’t change this perception, given that only one writer a year wins it. But of course for that one writer the prize can make a great difference in terms of relieving certain kinds of financial pressures, and that’s invaluable.
Q: Do you think that the art of storytelling has changed over the years?
Yes and no. Forms change - the novel is a relatively new form of storytelling, for instance - but the central preoccupations of stories haven’t changed that much over the millennia.
Q: What was your biggest challenge while working on Home Fire?
Switching between five different perspectives through the five sections of the novel.
Q: You grew up in Karachi and now live in London. How do you think that change in cultural, social and political climate impacts a writer’s narrative?
I think it probably depends on the writer. It possible for one writer to be more affected by changes in family circumstances than by changes in cultural climate, and it’s possible for another writer to be more deeply transformed by the books they’re reading than by the political world. For me, though, Home Fire is very much a book about London, and if I had stayed in Karachi I simply wouldn’t have written it.
Q: What are you currently reading?
Milkman by Anna Burns.
Q: You favourite writers and why?
The answer to this question varies depending on my mood. In today’s mood I’m thinking of Penelope Fitzgerald and Muriel Spark, both writers who knew how to pack a great deal into very slim novels, which is something I’m feeling particularly appreciative of at the moment.
Q: Are you working on something right now?
No, haven’t yet started the next book.