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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Ilana Masad and ‘All My Mother’s Lovers’, a novel

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable, a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan

Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American writer of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, NPR, StoryQuartlerly, Tin House’s Open Bar, 7×7, Catapult, Buzzfeed, and many more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, an interview podcast featuring fiction writers. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she has received her Masters in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she is currently a doctoral student. She is the author of the novel All My Mother’s Lovers.

About All My Mother’s Lovers

All My Mother’s Lovers has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris’s will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she’s never heard of. In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter’s sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall? Told over the course of a funeral and shiva, and written with enormous wit and warmth, All My Mother’s Lovers is a unique meditation on the universality and particularity of family ties and grief, and a tender and biting portrait of sex, gender, and identity, challenging us to question the nature of fulfilling relationships.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

ILANA MASAD: The first book I actually read by myself was Harry Potter, but for obvious reasons, it feels really weird to talk about that now. It hurts when authors turn on you, doesn’t it? A unique kind of heartbreak.

So, another early read of mine and a book I fell deeply in love with was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I’m not entirely sure why at the time except that I loved that Harriet was a writer (though I had no inkling of wanting to be a writer at the time) and a tomboy, and I loved that she was sort of unreasonable and had Big Feelings, and I loved her little attic room and her relationship with Ole Golly, and I loved how gritty the book was despite being about a sheltered child living in a brownstone her family owned. (Imagine owning a whole NYC brownstone?! I simply cannot.) She was faced with realities outside her comfort zone in the book – Ole Golly introduces her to her mother who is ailing and lives in a tiny and messy house, Sport has a single dad who is a writer and a starving artist, Janey’s trying to be a scientist when her parents want her to get dancing lessons… Fitzhugh makes Harriet contend with all sorts of realities outside her own, makes her curious about them in a voyeuristic way at first but then allows Harriet and readers alike to build empathy and understanding around these people who—at first—Harriet feels so separate from. Over the course of the book we see those people she spies on change, their lives becoming more and more real to us. And Harriet herself is emotionally insecure and scared and lonely in all sorts of ways once her only real parental figure leaves. I mean we get a non-stigmatizing view of therapy in the 1950s! It’s bonkers ahead of its time.

Obviously, I’d never have articulated all of this as a kid—back then I just liked the smell of the really old book I had, that had once been my aunt’s, and I loved Harriet and her friends and the things she did and the man with all the cats. (I desperately wanted a cat for much of my childhood.)

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

To unwind—water or wine. To wake up? Coffee.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

I don’t know that I believe in any kind of universal mandatory reading. Mostly, I just want people to have access to books so they can find the ones that they love, and that we didn’t pooh-pooh the other methods of storytelling that we all indulge in. Stories are so important, and while for me books are the most amazing vehicle for them, I also don’t feel like I can or should ever force anyone to feel the way I do about books.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I didn’t read many classics until my late teens. Maybe The Iliad and The Odyssey because I still haven’t read them and it would have been nice to have already read them.

Favorite quote from your book 

This is such a hard question! Hmm. I think it still might be the first line, because it’s been with me the longest:

“Maggie is in the midst of a second lazy orgasm when her brother, Ariel, calls to tell her their mother has died.”

Favorite book to film? And why?

Matilda. When I first saw it, I had no idea it was even based on a book. I just loved this kid who was a huge reader getting powers. When I eventually read the book, I just really didn’t like it that much. It may be sacrilege to say, but Roald Dahl’s books never really did much to me. They felt uncomfortable and itchy to be inside of.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

A favorite: McNally Jackson in New York City. I went to some of my first ~literary events~ there when I first moved to NYC after college, and I love it.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I don’t know that there’s anything I wish I’d known, actually. I think if I knew more about it beforehand rather than figuring out what it was going to be like along the way, I wouldn’t have done it. Or I still would have but would have been angry at myself forever for making a conscious choice to put myself through what I have.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

In terms of publishing and marketing, I have no idea since I’ve only published one book. In terms of publishing other things, and in terms of writer—absolutely not. I wish it got easier. I’m sure there are people for whom it does, but for me, every time I sit down to write fiction I kind of feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and I can’t possibly get this done.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I love and have respect for all sorts of animals, but in terms of my own pets, I have three cats and I love them to ridiculous degrees. They are: Margaret Catwood aka Meg.Jane Pawsten, aka Jane, who loves Meg more than she loves most things. And, the most recent addition, Abigail, aka Abbi, who had a name and a home before joining us and was already three and a half when we got her and so we didn’t change her name.

Ideal vacation?

Somewhere warm where it gets cool at night, where I don’t have to do anything except take walks and read.

Favorite book cover?

There are so many that are so beautiful! A recent one that I love and that I just wish could hang on my wall because I find it so soothing somehow is the original (UK) cover of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Starling Days.

Favorite song?

I don’t think I have one!

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Similarly, I don’t think I have one, unfortunately. There’s one painting I saw in a museum that has never left my mind, of a brown girl wearing a blue dress with a white shift underneath and brown hair (I think it was down to just after her shoulders or so) and—if my memory is correct, and it might not be—the name “Marie” in an awkward sort of all-caps painted near the bottom, and I remember that not being the artist’s name, but I’ve also no idea who the artist is. The reason that painting stuck with me was because there was a book I loved that took place in New Orleans where the main character was this spoiled white girl whose father—in the ways that fathers do in such books—had become destitute or was taken prisoner of war or something like that, and she was sent to stay with an aunt she’d never met. The aunt was gone when she arrived in New Orleans because the aunt’s own mother was sick and she’d gone to Baton Rouge to take care of her. Anyway, the girl was meant to work in the bakery her aunt owned. The girl’s uncle, who had died some years before, had taken in an orphan named Marie many years before and raised her like his own and she worked in the shop and was hoping to one day own it herself. Marie was bilingual and a really good baker and she loved the shop. She also kind of whipped the spoiled white girl into shape. She was always the character I liked more in the book, and her story was always more interesting to me, and I had always wished I could work in the bakery with her and smell all the amazing loaves she lovingly sold and known the people in the neighborhood whose stories were somehow always known to Marie. When I saw that painting, wherever and whenever it was, I was just shocked. It was like Marie from the book had come to life. Down to the clothing, which was described very similarly in the book. She looked like the Marie I’d had in my head. It was the strangest experience. I’ve always wondered, since then, whether there was any chance that whoever wrote the book might have seen that painting (it was an American Girl book, which didn’t have an author on the cover, and it was probably awful and I’ve never gone back to re-read it as an adult because the memory would be ruined by my far more critical adult eyes and everything I know about the whole weird franchise). Probably not, but hey, who knows! It just felt magical, seeing a character who’d lived in my head and looked a very particular way spring to life in this painting.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Not really – my book came out after the pandemic started so I’ve never been to a lit festival of any kind in person with it! Maybe the only epiphany I’ve had would be about how odd it is being on this side of things, because most often I’m a reader just like readers who go to author events.

 What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

So, to my shame (because I love Austen), I’ve yet to read Persuasion so I don’t have the full picture. But my favorite Austen is still Pride and Prejudice, because I think it’s so funny and so acerbic. My favorite adaptation is most definitely Clueless

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

I love Unnamed Press and 7.13 Books and 5 Accomplices and the Feminist Press. As for lit journals, there really are so many to choose from that I’m not sure I can. The Account, The Offing, and 7×7 are all wonderful, but there are truly so many good ones!

Last impulse book buy and why?

What a great question. I haven’t had a lot of chances to impulse buy recently (since I tend to do that a lot more often in stores than online), but a couple impulse buys recently include a poetry book I didn’t know a friend of mine had published, Mammal Room by Kristen Evans  and a book by Michel Faber that Carmen Maria Machado recommended on Twitter (actually, I accidentally bought the wrong one, the second in the series, because that’s what I’m like with impulse buys online—not sufficiently attentive!)

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.  www.soniahkamal.com
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Jenny Bhatt, Each of Us Killers, short story collection

Nancy Johnson, The Kindest Lie, a novel

Yousra Imran, Hijab and Red Lipstick, a novel

Sejal Shah, This Is One Way To Dance, memoir

Madi Sinha: The White Coat Diaries, a novel

Chika Unigwe, Better Late Than Never, short story collection

Anju Gattani: Duty and Desire, a novel

Christopher Swann: Never Turn Back, a novel

Zetta Elliott: A Place Inside of Me, middle grade fiction

Veena Rao: Purple Lotus, a novel

Tara Coyt: Real Talk About LGBTQIAP, non fiction

Maureen Joyce Connelly: Little Lovely Things, a novel

Molly Greeley: The Heiress, historical fiction novel

Donna Miscolta: Living Color, short stories

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Eman Quotah and ‘Bride of the Sea’, a novel

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable, a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan

Eman Quotah is the author of the novel Bride of the Sea. She grew up in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Toast, The Establishment, Book Riot, Literary Hub, Electric Literature and other publications. She lives with her family near Washington, D.C.

About Bride of the Sea

During a snowy Cleveland February, newlyweds Muneer and Saeedah are starting their lives in America and expecting their first child. But Muneer harbors a secret: the word divorce has begun whispering itself in his ear. Soon, their marriage will end, and Muneer will return to Saudi Arabia, while Saeedah remains in Cleveland with their daughter, Hanadi. The more time she shares with her daughter, the more Saeedah wants to keep her close, and before long, her fear of losing Hanadi leads Saeedah to think that she and her daughter have no choice but to hide. Saeedah disappears with the little girl to build a new, secret life, while Muneer is left desperately searching for his daughter in a different country for years. The repercussions of this abduction ripple outward, not only changing the lives of Hanadi and her parents, but also their interwoven family and friends—those who must choose sides and hide their own deeply guarded secrets. And when Hanadi comes of age, she finds herself at the center of this conflict, torn between the world she grew up in and a family across the ocean. How can she exist between parents, between countries? This question lies at the heart of Eman Quotah’s spellbinding debut about colliding cultures, immigration, religion, and family; an intimate portrait of loss and healing, and, ultimately, a testament to the ways we find ourselves inside love, distance, and heartbreak.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author and book you fell in love with? Why?

EMAN QUOTAH: I don’t know the first for sure, but I was a big fan of Scott O’Dell’s historical fiction for a while, and of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, both the Wrinkle In Time series and the Austin family series. I loved Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, and the Belgariad books. And Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and the books that followed, about his quirky English family living in Corfu and his early love of nature.

Then, eventually my favorite author of childhood became Robin McKinley. I remember seeing The Blue Sword in the library in Cleveland Heights one summer and loving the cover of a veiled character on a horse with a flaming blue sword. I had to read it! The protagonist, Harry, becomes a sword-wielding, magical hero. Even better, she’s mixed-race, like me, something I don’t remember finding in other book characters in those days. It’s exciting that these days, my kids have so many more books about characters that aren’t white — and by authors from many backgrounds — to choose from.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

To unwind, chai. To wind up, coffee. No wine. I’m a teetotaler.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Many people don’t think reading literature and understanding it and analyzing it has any bearing on the real world. But read Toni Morrison’s literary criticism, and you will understand a lot more about race in America.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Oh, gosh. I pushed through a lot of classics in grad school, including Clarissa and Wings of the Dove, so I don’t have many regrets about the books I haven’t read. Maybe I wish I could get myself to read The Satanic Verses and others by Rushdie. But not really.

Favorite quote from your book 

“If anyone aims the sentence ‘You are divorced’ at Saeedah three times, she is not there to hear it.”

Favorite book to film? And why?

Lord of the Rings. Because there is no epic film or film series that can match it, and I feel no need to read the books with the movies in the world.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

The Island Bookstore in Corolla, North Carolina.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

People won’t just hand you money to write and most writers need day jobs.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Nope, but I do think seeing a list of outlets I’ve published in and holding my published novel makes me feel like I’m really a writer.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat(s). Molly and Freddy

Ideal vacation?

A beach or a city.

Favorite book cover?

Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire.

Favorite song?

Crowded House’s whole first album.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

I’m a big fan of Arabic and Islamic calligraphy. There are a lot of great artists working in this medium today, and one of them is Shaker Kashgari.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

I have only read at one literature festival, pre-book and pre-pandemic. But I’m loving hearing from people who find solace in my book. One woman wrote on Twitter, “Bride of the Sea grapples w. belonging, assimilation, erasure, and Islamophobia. Still, @EQuotah’s words are like hot tea in a snowstorm. The ultimate comfort.” I mean, this is why I write.

Do you have a favorite film, or two, or three?

I used to go to a lot of movies, but since my kids were born, I don’t as much. So I feel like there’s a decade of films I’ve missed out on. But, I’ll say The Philadelphia Story and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

I think Pride and Prejudice for the novels — it’s the only one I’ve reread recently. For film adaptations, I like the cheeky modern ones, like Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary. How are those two movies more than 20 years old?

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

Does Tin House count as a small press? I love being on their list. And I’ve enjoyed books from Graywolf Press, Red Hen Press, Catapult and Unnamed Press recently.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Morgan Parker’s poetry collection Magical Negro had been on my “want to read” radar for a while, and when it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry I decided to grab it. So maybe that was a slow-burning impulse!

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.  www.soniahkamal.com
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal
More Drunk on Ink Interviews:
Awais Khan: No Honor, a novel
Natalie Jenner: The Jane Austen Society, a novel
M.J Irving: Nova’s Quest for The Enchanted Chalice, a novel
Saumya Dave: Well Behaved Indian Women, a novel
Aruni Kashyap: There Is No Good Time For Bad News, poetry
Gayatri Sethi: Unbelonging, a memoir

Jenny Bhatt, Each of Us Killers, short story collection

Nancy Johnson, The Kindest Lie, a novel

Yousra Imran, Hijab and Red Lipstick, a novel

Sejal Shah, This Is One Way To Dance, memoir

Madi Sinha: The White Coat Diaries, a novel

Chika Unigwe, Better Late Than Never, short story collection

Anju Gattani: Duty and Desire, a novel

Christopher Swann: Never Turn Back, a novel

Zetta Elliott: A Place Inside of Me, middle grade fiction

Veena Rao: Purple Lotus, a novel

Tara Coyt: Real Talk About LGBTQIAP, non fiction

Maureen Joyce Connelly: Little Lovely Things, a novel

Molly Greeley: The Heiress, historical fiction novel

Donna Miscolta: Living Color, short stories

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel

 

 

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Awais Khan ‘No Honor’, novel

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable, a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan

Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He has studied Creative Writing at the prestigious Faber Academy in London. He is the author of thr critically acclaimed In the Company of Strangers (published by Simon & Schuster, Isis Audio and Book Guild) and No Honour (published by Orenda Books, August 2021). He has given lectures on creative writing at Durham University, American University in Dubai, Canadian University in Dubai etc. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Hindu, Missing Slate etc and he has appeared on several media stations including BBC World Service, Dubai Eye, Voice of America, Cambridge Radio, Samaa TV, PTV Home, City 42, SpiceFM etc. He is represented by Annette Crossland at A for Authors Agency Ltd London.

About No Honour

In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves. When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore and then disappears. Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape. Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honour is a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms … a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman’s battle for change.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

AWAIS KHAN: The first book I fell in love with was The Railway Children. I think I read one of those abridged Ladybird classics, but there was something about the strength and resilience of those kids that made me read that book again and again. The first author I fell in love with would have to be Enid Blyton. I devoured her books. There are so many, but the Secret Seven series was a particular favorite of mine.

 To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Strangely, caffeine doesn’t really wake me up. That’s why I can drink all the coffee I want and still be able to sleep. In an ideal world, I’d like to unwind with an XL cup of Tim Hortons French Vanilla coffee, but since that’s not available in Pakistan, I settle for a White Chocolate Mocha from Gloria Jeans.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

There are so many, but if I were to choose, I’d say ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles. It’s fiction, but the protagonist’s force of will to live, to enjoy life even in the worst kind of circumstances imaginable, makes it something everyone should read. It is a book to be savored and cherished.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the works of Dostoyevsky. I do love Austen and Dickens, but I feel that Russian classics also deserve our attention. I wish someone had told me about books like ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ back when I was a teen. Yes, they are a bit depressing, but so is life sometimes.

Favorite quote from your book

This is a tough one, but if I had to choose one, it would be

‘That’s the beauty of life. You always have a choice.’

It’s from In the Company of Strangers.

Favorite book to film? And why?

Lord of the Rings (watch trailer). (Book). I think I simply don’t have the words for it. One only has to watch the film series to appreciate the sheer scale of work that has gone into it. Everything from the location to the actors is perfect. I’ve read the series only once, but I’ve watched it for over a dozen times.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

I absolutely love my local bookshop, Readings. I don’t know how they do it, but somehow they have all the books I want to read. They import some of the best books from the UK and US and make them available for reasonable prices. They also stock my book, In the Company of Strangers, and have promised to stock No Honour too.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

That it’s a lonely job, and that 90% of the time, you have to deal with rejection. After a while, it begins to crush your soul.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I don’t think writing ever becomes easy. Not for me, at least. I really envy the writers that can produce three books a year. For me, it is a mammoth task. Marketing does become easier as with each book you consolidate on your existing following, but I don’t think publishing gets any easier unless you’re James Patterson or J.K. Rowling. My agent had to struggle for No Honour just as hard as she struggled for ITCOS.

 Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m not into pets, but if I were to ever keep a pet, I think I’d go with both a cat and dog. They have such different personalities. I love the indifference from a cat and the sheer unfiltered love from a dog.

Ideal vacation?

London! That’s all. I have so many friends there that if it were up to me, I’d be visiting that city ten times a year. I love London!

Favorite book cover?

These days, publishers are coming up with such amazing covers, but if I had to choose, I’d say the covers of The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton) and The Illustrated Child (Polly Crosby) are absolutely stunning!

Favorite song?

Anything featuring Juhi Chawla. She is my all time favorite actress! I can listen to her songs on a loop. As far as western songs are concerned, it’s a mixed bag. I don’t listen enough, but I like most of the popular songs.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

My cousin, Ujala Khan, is an artist and creates the most beautiful art. She recently gifted me a piece from her collection, and it is just exquisite. Apart from that, I do like Victorian art.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

I haven’t been to a lot of literary festivals, but I remember I was at a university for an event (before Covid) and while I was walking back to my car, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and saw that there were almost a dozen young people smiling at me with pens and paper at the ready. They all wanted me autograph. I was shocked! I remember asking them if they had the correct person. They also wanted to take selfies, and I happily posed with them.

Do you have a favorite film, or two, or three?

There are too many to count, but I absolutely love Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, 2012 and The Help.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

I think Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. I found it to be very different from Austen’s other novels, more grounded and assured. I really liked BBC’s adaptation of Emma, the one with Ian McKellen. I found it to be such a breath of fresh air. I also liked Bride and Prejudice for its peppy songs.

 Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

There are so many small independent publishers out there that are doing an absolutely fabulous job publishing good books. Orenda Books is publishing my next novel, No Honour, and I really like the passion and verve with which Karen Sullivan brings out her books in the world. In addition to that, I also like Red Dog Press, Hera Books and Legend Times, all of which are doing a great job.

Last impulse book buy and why?

My entire life is a series of impulse buys. You do not want to let me loose in a bookshop. You should see the smiles with which the staff at my local bookshops greet me. The last time I was there, I bought Atlas Shrugged and Thorn Birds even though I had perfectly pristine editions of both books sitting at home.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.  www.soniahkamal.com
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal
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