The longlist, or ‘Man Booker Dozen’, for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize was recently announced. We chat with Kamila Shamsie about her longlitsed book, Home Fire, a contemporary and fiercely compelling retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone.
Kamila Shamsie is a Pakistani author born in 1973 in Karachi. She is the author of In the City by the Sea, Kartography (both shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Salt and Saffron and Broken Verses. Burnt Shadows was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and has been translated into over 20 languages.
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born and raised in Karachi, went to university in America, lived a fairly nomadic life moving between Karachi, London and upstate New York for about a decade after university, and finally stopped (sort of) in London about ten years ago.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
A novelist, a novelist, a novelist. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Why? Because reading novels was the first great love of my life.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That the world was moving inexorably in the direction of progress.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Influence is such a difficult one to pin down, particularly as you get older. But, with that caveat, here are three works of art that made me think differently about writing – Ingmar Bergman’s movie The Silence; Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry collection The Country Without a Post Office; Sara Suleri’s memoir Meatless Days.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel? |
I never had innumerable avenues. The novel is the form I’ve always loved, and understood, in a way that isn’t true of any other art form. And I knew how to write sentences, from an early age, in a way that I didn’t know how to draw or act or dance or sing…
6. Please tell us about your latest novel….
Home Fire is the story of 3 British Muslim siblings who’ve grown up in a house of secrets, related to the jihadi father they never knew. The two sisters try to break free of their father’s legacy, while the brother is drawn towards it. Things get further complicated when both sisters meet the attractive son of the Home Secretary, himself a British Muslim, and have to decide how much to tell him about their father, their brother, and their own feelings and motivations.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’m interested in getting a range of responses to my work – obviously, you always want your work to make people both feel and think, but I enjoy it particularly when someone tells me something unexpected about how or why one of my novels spoke to them.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Since the idea of Home Fire comes from Sophocles’ Antigone I’ve done a lot of thinking abut how extraordinary a play it is – very much of its times and yet continuing to speak to us 2,500 years after it was written.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Write better next time.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
If you’re going to write something, first make sure that you think you might not be able to pull it off. There always has to be some element of terror involved to make it really worthwhile.
Thank you, Kamila!
From the Orange and Baileys Prize-shortlisted author comes an urgent, explosive story of love and a family torn apart.
Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she is finally studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London – or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream: to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs...
About the Contributor
Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the former editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.