The novelist’s canvas

In conversation with novelist Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie (centre), with writers Michael Ondaatje (left) and Teju Cole (right), at the 2014 Palestine Festival of Literature in Haifa, Palestine.<br />Photo: Flickr / Palfest
Kamila Shamsie (centre), with writers Michael Ondaatje (left) and Teju Cole (right), at the 2014 Palestine Festival of Literature in Haifa, Palestine.
Photo: Flickr / Palfest

Kamila Shamsie is indubitably the most eloquent and perhaps one of the most talented among the young breed of writers from Pakistan who write in English. Shamsie's growth as a writer has been an accretion of sorts, over the years it took her to write six novels, unlike writers who appear on the literary scene fully formed with their first offering at the pinnacle of their literary prowess – particular cases are Jamil Ahmad, Arundhati Roy, and Daniyal Mueenuddin from her own generation. Readers familiar with her work will find a remarkable transformation from the writer who wrote In the City by the Sea, her first novel, to her latest A God in Every Stone, which shows the kind of self-assuredness and ingenuity which won her a place on Granta's list of Best Young British novelists of 2014. Strictly in terms of numbers too she is ahead of the handful of authors who have brought Pakistani writing in English into greater notice in the world of English letters.

I met up with her at the Bloomsbury offices of her publishers in June 2014 and was struck by her candour, intelligence, humour – and sharp tongue.

Nauman Khalid: "Female in manners but male in intellect" in the beginning, and much later in the book (A God in Every Stone): "She was a spinster nearing forty… but joining one's life to any of them (suitors) in perpetuity always seemed to entail more loss than gain." Wouldn't you say all this is very tantalising? How much of Vivian Rose Spencer is you and vice versa? What are the similarities and differences between Viv and yourself?

Kamila Shamsie: "Male in intellect" – what exactly does that mean? And 'spinster'? Really, Nauman! In the year 2014, you think this is a word that can be used without a giant eye roll and air quotes accompanying it? The quotes you've chosen were very deliberately placed in the book to reveal the deeply patriarchal mindset of the world Viv lives in. I don't know whether to be amused or appalled that you read them instead as a 'tantalising' possible echo of my life.

NK: (Chastened but not deterred) The leap you've made with characters in your previous (Burnt Shadows) and latest novel (A God in Every Stone) – characters from cultures other than yours – is laudable in its derring-do. There are writers who prefer to stay closer to home. I've heard Mohsin Hamid and Moni Mohsin say that they write about what is close to or in their experience. Would you say that in order to be a true writer of fiction you have to venture beyond the personal?

Reading up on the world around them can help, but mostly you just walk around with them in your head all day, trying to coax them into revealing themselves.

KS: I don't actually think the size of a writer's canvas, or the distance between the writers' lives and those of their characters actually tells you anything about how true a writer of fiction they are. What matters is the novel itself – how good or bad is it? The relationship of the characters' lives to the writer's life is completely irrelevant to that question.

NK: Louise Welsh talking with Mariella Frostrup, about the charge of misogyny against Patricia Highsmith, on Radio 4's Open Book says, "Within literature we have the right to try on any clothes that we want." She calls it 'literary transvestism'. How do you go about creating characters that are true to life?

KS: I don't really know how to answer that because it varies so much. Some characters, such as Sajjad in Burnt Shadows seem to land on the page fully formed. Others, such as Hiroko in the same novel require a lot more work. Reading up on the world around them can help, but mostly you just walk around with them in your head all day, trying to coax them into revealing themselves.

NK: Edmund White in his latest book about Paris, Inside a Pearl, says, "Every country has a fantasy about every other." What was your earliest fantasy of Britain?

KS: When I was a child it was the place my family came to on summer holidays. So I suppose that was the fantasy: it was a place of holidays where you escaped the Karachi heat and could eat McDonald's. Terrible confession there! And of course, I was also reading about England in books by Enid Blyton, and others, but she was the dominant force. So I thought of the English countryside as a place where children could go off with lemonade and watercress sandwiches and have 'jolly' adventures.

NK: For many years you led a peripatetic life but now you've thrown anchor in London. Your cohorts have similarly spent many years in the West – I have in mind Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid who chose to return. What was the allure of the West? Did you choose London because of the cultural power the city continues to exert over the imagination of the Southasian writer writing in English?

KS: I wouldn't call it 'the allure of the West'. I've chosen to live in London, so that rather than a compass point it is the place of allure. And by the time I started living here seven years ago, it was very much a real place to me filled with close friends and favourite parks and restaurants and walks and neighbourhoods; those were the things that made me most want to be here rather than an abstraction of cultural power. Of course, yes, the museums and theatre and other cultural aspects are part of what makes this such an appealing city. But I still wouldn't phrase it as 'cultural power exerting itself over the imagination of the Southasian writer'. I don't know that England has more cultural power than America these days.

NK: "The long story, the novel, is an old-fashioned and, people say, defunct form. Perhaps it resembles oil painting, in that its creation is labour-intensive and enjoins an iron discipline, patience and forbearance," says one of the characters – a character which appears to be based on V S Naipaul, to an extent a caricature of the man – in Hanif Kureishi's new novel The Last Word. What draws you to this form? Why not the short story, the travelogue, the memoir or any other form?

KS: I think the very basic answer is that I grew up reading the novel and that was my great love. I have huge admiration for the short story, getting the short story done well is an incredible feat but as a reader it's the novel that I go to – not the travelogue, not the short story, not the memoir.

NK: The consensus is that writing novels can be a very solitary undertaking. How do you ensure sanity over a four- to five-year period? Do you mix it up by teaching at the Faber Academy and doing Guardian masterclasses?

KS: There is something about the extended engagement with the imagination, with the characters that I enjoy – being able to fall into something for 200, 300 pages. I do think novels are getting much longer than they need to be. I loved Donna Tartt's The Gold Finch – that's a novel that was long and I enjoyed the length of it and I didn't want it to end, but it can get baggy, of course. There is always that danger with it but I do think there's something in being propelled along for a while with these people, and that a novel can have many different changes of pace within it and changes of mood and different characters and all kinds of structures. But it may just be early love and never letting go.

NK: Writing is your vocation. Has earning money by the pen got easier with the accumulation of work and accolades?

KS: Largely the publishing industry is now in more financial peril than it ever has been. With me, Burnt Shadows did well. It was the first one of my novels to actually sell a substantial amount of copies and that means that for the last few years I've been in a happier financial position with the writing than earlier. You can never rely on that carrying on endlessly so there is always that insecurity around it because if the next book doesn't do well, then what happens? For the moment, I'm in the luxurious position where I can live by the pen but that's why you have a lot of writers teaching creative writing. With the first two books, I was doing a lot of that as a necessary supplement. I do an occasional weekend course or two, but the kind of university teaching in America that I used to do, I haven't done in a number of years.

NK: Are you going to carry on doing that?

KS: At some point, I'm sure financially I'll need it again, but as long as I don't I'm sticking to the writing life.

NK: Craft – what did you learn of it at creative writing school as both your undergraduate and graduate degrees were in creative writing? Mohammed Hanif says that all he learned from his creative writing MA was how to be a better reader, which, to a great extent, he already was.

KS: The most significant thing to happen to me as a writer… One thing that was significant was that when I was an undergraduate, I met the wonderful wonderful Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali. So I wouldn’t say it’s what creative writing school taught me, it’s what Shahid taught me because he was a human being so attuned to language in a way that was extraordinary: the possibilities of it, the excitement of it and that was very important to think. I mean because of Shahid I started thinking consciously of words more than I had and I started reading my work out loud to see how it would fall on the ear. So I learnt many things from Shahid. That was as an undergrad.

I wouldn’t say it’s what creative writing school taught me, it’s what the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali taught me because he was a human being so attuned to language in a way that was extraordinary.

In grad school there were… one thing that I think is very important for writers is just to learn that discipline that on Wednesday if you have to turn something in, you can’t say: I can’t do this, oh well it’s not happening today, it’s not happening for weeks. On Wednesday you turn in something else, you find a way to sit down and write. I think it’s a very valuable lesson to learn. Then you can go back and say, actually that didn’t work, I’ll delete it but the actual, I’ll just sit down and I need to get it done by this day, that was significant. I think I got better at listening to criticism. I think that’s one of the important things. So again, like Hanif, I’m not really talking in terms of craft because I think a lot of the best teachers will leave you to figure your way around craft but they tell you what to read or they’ll discuss books. In a way, they are talking about craft via other writers but also you’re sitting in a room with twelve other people who’ve read something you’ve written and they’re saying a lot of different things and sometimes contradictory things about it. And you’ve to learn how to listen to it without taking it personally or feeling offended or that someone doesn’t like me, which is valuable and then you learn to sift out which bits of criticism are valuable and which are not. I think I owe a lot in terms of that to grad school.

NK: So now when you write, you say that’s been very valuable to you, who do you turn to for criticism between drafts?

KS: My agent Victoria Hobbs will read my first draft and critique it. Nadeem Aslam will often read a draft – not necessarily the first one but it’ll be a draft along the way. There’s a friend of mine, Elizabeth Porter, who I was at grad school with who has read everything I’ve written since I was 21. So three of them are, sort of, early readers.

NK: And what about criticism, you say that being in a group of people made it easier to listen to people’s…

KS: I go through a lot of editing so when you give your books to a group of readers it’s not because you want them to go: oh, how lovely your work is! You know, you want them to come and say this isn’t working and…

NK: But I mean post-publication, say if you get a bad review…

KS: You know you’d rather get a good review than a bad review but one of the surprises of being published for the first time was that neither the good or the bad reviews had much of a… you know, I used to assume that when you had a good review you’d be floating for days; when you had a bad review you’d be sitting in a corner. Instead it comes down to… of course, you’d much rather have a good review but you take it as it comes. I suppose, if any book got universally bad reviews that would be another thing but as it is. But also what happens is that by the time the reviews come out, in a way you’ve left the book behind because it’ll have been a year since you’ve finished writing and so it’s not the same as when you’re doing the drafts. And you’re in it and everything about it is your whole life. I mean that’s the bit where you’re listening much more closely and carefully. I also think it’s probably about five or eight years after a book is published before you can properly see it in order to be really able to gauge from its…

NK: Could… would you write a novel based on your own life? What would that be like? Do you see yourself writing your memoirs at some point?

KS: (Guffaws) That would be: then she sat at the desk and wrote another page. The most exciting thing that happens in my life is when you sit down and make things up.

NK: No memoirs, that sort of thing then?

KS: No. Blessedly uneventful life, but also what I enjoy is the making stuff up and learning new things and I’m not a particularly internal being.

NK: And now I’m going to ask you a slightly provocative question.

KS: (Laughs) I like the warning.

NK: It would appear that you and Mohsin Hamid have a lot in common. Both of you did undergrad degrees in the US and went on to do postgraduate study there. Both of you made the move to London and got on the shortlists of major book prizes and the similarities continue with both bringing out new books one after the other.

I know you are friends. Where there is camaraderie, is there competition? Is there perhaps just the slightest feeling of one-upmanship when he lands a major Hollywood deal after writing just two books? Is there a sense of schadenfreude when you get to be on the Granta shortlist while he gets excluded because of a technicality or perhaps when you get British citizenship and base yourself in London while he has to leave because he finds the place too expensive?

KS: I think people tend to assume that writers are much more… and I suppose it’s because when writers are competitive and they take it out in print, they really take it out in print. Now, of course, there are so many writers in Pakistan being published and I remember very early on we met – I think it was quite soon after In the City by the Sea being published and Moth Smoke had already been bought by Granta, the same publishers. Although we ended up discovering that we knew a lot of people in common in Pakistan, it was my UK editor who introduced us a few weeks later, and we got on fantastically. A few weeks later I went back to Karachi and it was the first time that I’d been back since Moth Smoke was out and I sent him an email and said: Mohsin, everyone expects us to be incredibly competitive and seems to think I’m lying, and he said: come on, let’s face it, I can’t expect to not get on fantastically with you because who else am I going to speak to about this business of being Pakistani and a writer. And it has very much set the tone for what our friendship has been.

NK: What about the Karachi-Lahore rivalry?

KS: Oh, that we enjoy doing but, you know, Mohsin is a very generous human being as well as is Nadeem, as is Hanif. I think if you had a writer friend who was doing one-upmanship or was preening or crowing… but what’s happened instead – and it’s very nice and it’s also Moni or H M Naqvi and a number of writers – is they’re often the first to write and congratulate if something good happens, and you never have that sense. It’s small and I think no one can be bothered to, and I think there’s a genuine sense of happiness that there are this number of us.

NK: What was America like? I read your exchange with Pankaj Mishra in Guernica in which you decry the absence of themes of America’s role in the Af-Pak region in American writing. Does it affect the way you see the US? Would you consider living and working there at any stage?

KS: You know the American university campuses were such a part of my growing up and a lot of the critical thinking that I learnt which I can use comes from the best bits of America and American academia. I could certainly go and teach there again. There is always this disjunction when you step into America. I remember all the ways in which I have great affection for the place. It is harder I think now than it was say in the 90s to be in America and not consider. So there are these moments of irritation you keep running into but my personal relationships with Americans and with small patches of America are still governed mostly by affection, because those small patches are places that allow for criticism and where that criticism already does exist.

NK: You have Indian ancestry. Your riposte to Aatish Taseer at the India Today Conclave in Delhi was that, at the moment, India is not as important as people there may consider it to be to Pakistanis because of Pakistan’s internal situation. How do you see India. Does it feel like home?

KS: It doesn’t feel like home because I think it’s a very odd thing to be Pakistani in India… because on one hand, there are levels of familiarity and literally, I have family there and you can speak the vernacular. You can get by as a local but because of the weirdness of the India-Pakistan relation I feel so aware of being Pakistani in India. And you’re aware that when you say to someone that you’re from Pakistan, you never know what reaction… sometimes there are very unpleasant reactions and there are times when I find myself in a cab in Delhi and the guy says, where are you from and I don’t want to say I’m from Pakistan.

Well, I felt this particularly this time in March when I was there and I was surrounded by Modi-love. In a way that was very odd. I felt it this time and I felt it when I was there just after the Bombay attacks. So there are these particular moments when you think actually… I don’t know, as a woman travelling in a cab you have a certain level of anxiety that just lives there and this is an extra thing added on so it’s always there. So it doesn’t feel like home but it feels there is a lot of familiarity and because there is so much familiarity when there is the unfamiliarity, the unfamiliarity is more marked when it appears, I suppose. I think that’ll have to go in the ‘it’s complicated’ category.

Racism is a deep structural thing within a society. I’ve never had sort of in-your-face awfulness. But, of course, you live in London, you’re going to encounter attitudes towards Muslims, towards Pakistanis.

NK: Why did you choose to leave Pakistan? Why not New York instead of London? Is the literary scene here more amenable to Southasian writers?

KS: I never lived in New York… upstate New York, in a village – a campus in a village. If I’d ever lived in New York City who knows I may have gone on living there but my American experiences were always university campuses and small town, literally a village in upstate New York on a hill in the snowbelt and then a college town in western Massachusetts and because I’m primarily an urban person, those situations were very nice but they were never what I would see myself doing long-term. So New York was a city I’d visit but I don’t think I’ve ever been there for more than five days at a stretch.

NK: Do you feel that you are part of ‘the great and the good’ of the British literary establishment now? Has your experience of working/writing here been a trouble-free one? Have you ever encountered racism? I remember when Maya Jaggi called the world of British journalism ‘hideously white’ during the controversy with Monica Ali…

KS: (Chuckles) Anyone who says they consider themselves part of the ‘great and the good’ should be slapped on the wrist. I have friends who are writers, who live in London – quite a number of them – which is a nice thing but I don’t know that that’s ‘the great and the good’. I mean racism is a deep structural thing within a society. I’ve never had sort of in-your-face awfulness. But, of course, you live in London, you’re going to encounter attitudes towards Muslims, towards Pakistanis. There are all kinds of things that you don’t know… what’s under the surface of a comment and it does occur to you that it could be related to where you come from but it’s at that structural level that I’m aware of it, it’s not an in-your-face kind of thing. And, of course, the publishing world is very white, it’s something you look around and you’re just aware of. You’re at book parties, you’re at book launches… the demographic of publishing does not in any way match the demographic of London.

NK: Your novel has had very good reviews. How do you deal with negative reviews? I had one of the few exceptions in mind: Helen Dunmore. You do know the review I’m referring to?

KS: Yes, I do. What is my reaction to that? Well, to get a somewhat critical review from Helen Dunmore is still better than getting good reviews from most people. It’s a flawed book. Any book is flawed. I didn’t think that… there’s nothing she said that struck me in the heart and made me weep. You have to remind me of course now of what she had to say.

NK: Among other things, that the depiction of VAD nurses in A God in Every Stone is less than convincing.

KS: Oh! I mean it’s true but again there are things that I feel I think I did deliberately for some reason. The VAD nurse part: I wanted the VAD nurse part to be flat and lifeless because that’s how they saw it. I’m in her sensibility, describing it and it’s five pages or so and for me that was the bit that you had to see her in long enough to know that this is flat, lifeless and intolerable and let us move on to the next thing and that was the only function of that section within the novel. But, of course, if you were to look at it and say it’s not a fantastic description of VAD nurses, you could read better depictions of VAD nurses – absolutely!

NK: I didn’t think there was anything wrong with… it rung true to me. I maybe felt the inverse in a way. For me the parts set in Peshawar were…

KS: It’s been interesting to see the different response to the book and I think it could also be that if you are a British reader, the British bits are going to be more familiar to you and so then everything in Peshawar seems new and different and whatever, and you have a different critical approach to it. So possibly you don’t know the writing that exists about Peshawar but you do know about the VAD nurses.

One of the interesting things to me in the responses is how much the English reviews have thought this is a book about Viv and that Qayyum is this minor other character which the Indian reviews haven’t taken on. To them, it is both of them and to me it is very much both of them. In terms of actual pages, they get equal pages. She is there at the beginning and by the end of the book, she has really receded quite a lot, whereas he comes in later. And the interesting but unexpected bit is the extent to which the reviews in the UK have thought that this is her story and, along the way, she meets this Pathan man and that has been – even when they have been good reviews – that’s been a little disquieting for me because that is so not how I see the book and how I conceived of it. In fact, for me, the Qayyum story came first and I had lived with him and his story for much longer and if anything, I’d say, to make him a central character. So it’s that sort of thing that’s more troubling in reviews than specific criticism of… you just write and you send the book into the world. Of course, people, depending on their own histories and where they’re from, are going to place weight on different things.

NK: Migrancy for a lot of people, and for many writers, is a painful experience. I have in mind Samuel Selvon, V S Naipaul and Edward Said. What was it like for you?

KS: I think we now live in a generation where we need to have a different kind of vocabulary, so whether you’re talking about me or Hanif or Mohsin or whoever rather than that… I think the earlier generation there was that sort of dramatic: you were here and now you’re transplanted there. But now there’s a lot more fluidity. Also, there’s that sense of I can be here for a few months and then I’ll be there, and then, after a few years, I’ll move there and a few years later I’ll move back. So I think there’s a much more fluid sense of…

NK: Kamila, you are impossible to escape. You are in the Guardian, New StatesmanProspectGuernica, in this publication, at the Southbank curating a day of events on Pakistan when you are not at the National Portrait Gallery, the Donmar Warehouse, Asia House, the British Library, or reviewing the latest cultural offerings for Radio 4 or perhaps recording podcasts for them on the Thames. You have been seen at every literature festival worth its name, whether it’s in the UK or overseas. How do you do it?

KS: (Smiles resignedly) I don’t think I’m around more than a lot of other writers I know. You may be paying more attention to me than you are to, I don’t know, Hari Kunzru or… I’ve been around in publishing for around 16 years now and things just accumulate and I do think there’s been a marked shift after Burnt Shadows; I’ve been asked to do more stuff. I’m so sorry. This may say something of the particular worlds you inhabit Nauman.

NK: (Persisting) But really Kamila, what makes you so ubiquitous: a tiger mom, an excellent agent or just naked ambition?

KS: (Admonitory) My output, it should be said, is declining. I used to do a book every two years and now they are, sort of, four year, five year gaps.

NK: Your output makes it quite apparent that you have a strong work ethic. What makes you so disciplined and prolific – a desire to stay ahead of your contemporaries? Do you not think that it is necessary to experience life in order to write about it? Are you more content to imagine and create? When you are beavering away in your room, is there ever a feeling that you are living life vicariously through your characters; is not experiencing life first-hand a heavy price to pay for the life of the mind?

KS: You know it’s a very curious thing that people think that if you spend your day, your working day, writing then that is your life. I spend less hours a day writing than most people do at a desk job. I write maybe five hours a day. There are still 19 hours a day to go and do other things. The idea that the entirety of my life is sitting at a desk…

It’s been really interesting in the last couple of years to see that you’re getting different genres now in Pakistani English fiction.

NK: Your friend Nadeem Aslam sounds very intense and makes it seem as though he spends all his time locked in a room writing.

KS: Well, I wouldn’t speak for Nadeem, although Nadeem experiences plenty of life. It’s just that when he’s writing there’s just very intensive periods. He has plenty of experience in his life but he can speak for himself. But there are those other 19 hours a day.

NK: Where do you see Pakistani fiction in English heading, say, ten to twenty years down the line? The renowned Urdu writer-poet Fahmida Riaz is of the opinion that Pakistani literature in English is not of the calibre of what is being written in Urdu or other regional languages in Pakistan.

KS: Listen, we don’t have Intezar Hussain, we don’t have a Fahmida Riaz, so where’s the poetry? I mean there is poetry but it’s not of the level of Fahmida – and Intezar is Intezar saab and Urdu has had a long, unbroken tradition. Having said that, I read stuff that’s coming out in English so I can’t do a comparative – and I don’t know why we should – a comparative kind of analysis of them. 

What I will say is that it’s been really interesting in the last couple of years to see that you’re getting different genres now in Pakistani English fiction which is, I think, a very important sign, so whether you have an Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Prisoner… So I do think there’s a lot that’s happened in the last two years that’s exciting. It’s still very early days. I mean it’s four years since everyone was saying the new wave of Pakistani writing is going to take over the world. How much has happened in these last three, four years? You know, it’s not taking over the world but what has happened is that there is, sort of, a quiet accretion and the numbers of writing is growing and the genres of writing is growing.

We need local publishing really and it’s been very good for Pakistani fiction to have the Indian publishing houses because you have so many of the writers now being published in India and nowhere else, or in India first. And that’s made a massive difference and it has been the most significant thing in the growth of Pakistani English writing. But I think to really get to that further further step, you need publishing locally; you need that infrastructure. Otherwise you’ll always rely on other countries’ readers.

NK: How important is Pakistan to you and how important Britain? If Pakistan and Britain were playing cricket, who would you support?

KS: I am a fanatical supporter of the Pakistani cricket team and always have been – it’s not even a question. No, I have very different relationships with both. You know I’ve been Pakistani all my life and it does still tend to be where my imagination goes to in fiction, and Britain, which I still think of in terms of London…  I mean it’s very much this localised space I’m in rather than having a sense of the nation and what it means. That sort of grander narrative of the nation is not really one that I’ve fully attached myself to and you do, once you start living in a place, it does matter to you differently than when you were dropping in and out. So I suppose London is the choice I made and Pakistan was what I was born into. The choice you’ve made is that significant that you could’ve made some other choice but you said: this place, this is where I want to be. There’s sort of a willed attachment to it which is significant.

NK: Do you still spend time in Pakistan?

KS: Not as significant as I used to. I mean I was there for about a month in February and I’m there for ten days in July and there’s always… I like to do a solid month in the winter.

NK: And how do you feel about what’s happening in Karachi at the moment? [I interviewed Kamila the day following the June 2014 attack on Karachi airport in which thirty six people were killed.]

KS: I mean Karachi has always been a violent city most of my life and I think if you do enough moving back and forth, you get very good at switching realities. So you’re  there, it’s sort of like, ok I’m here but it is… they are very different realities, but you know, it’s not a happy place. There’s a lot of gloom around it. But having said that, when you’re in it, people are also leading their daily lives and, in a way, when you’re away you forget that that is going on but there’s, I suppose, a general lowering of the dark clouds about it that’s hard to escape.

NK: Let us end on a positive note – prizes. What was more gratifying: being on the Orange shortlist or being on Granta’s list of young writers?

KS: Do I have to choose? If I have to choose… I don’t know what was more gratifying. The Orange shortlist marked a very dramatic change in the way that the Granta list didn’t. The Granta list was immensely gratifying and partly because when I was growing up, you know, my mother used to subscribe to Granta in Karachi and these books would arrive and was sort of the lodestone of what was happening. But the Orange shortlist was the first thing to happen to me as a writer which made a massive difference and, you know, suddenly there were that many more readers of my work. So for that it was, I suppose. I wouldn’t say it was more gratifying but it was the most marked thing to happen to me.

NK: And what about winning the prize, do you think you might do it this time?

KS: I’ve been on enough prize juries to know that to even start thinking along those lines… you know, it comes down to five people in a room and the other books around. The last time I was shortlisted, Marilynne Robinson won and I’m now reading her new book and I think she should win everything for it.

~Kamila Shamsie was on this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist (formerly the Orange Prize).

~Nauman Khalid is a freelance writer and broadcaster and has taught postcolonial literature and theory at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. He has written for the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Manchester Evening News, the Big Issue in the North and the literary journal Wasafiri and has presented on BBC Radio and Pakistan Radio and Television.

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