Wednesday, March 26, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Jaspreet SinghJaspreet Singh is the author of Chef, a novel, and Seventeen Tomatoes, a collection of linked short stories, which was awarded the 2004 McAuslan First Book Prize. He recently finished writing Speak Oppenheimer, a play, for Montreal’s Infinite Theatre. He was the 2006-2007 Markin-Flanagan Writer-in-Residence at University of Calgary.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

The book didn’t change my life. It changed my death (shall I say). Because of the book I will be ‘remembered’ a couple of years after I die!

2 - How long have you lived in Calgary, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing?

I moved to Calgary to be closer to Banff. The Rockies helped me restore memories of growing up in Kashmir. While writing the ‘glacier scenes’ in Chef (my new novel) I drove to the Athabasca Glacier 11 times to get it right.

3 - Where does a piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

For me a piece of fiction often begins as an image or a sound or a smell. I allow it to take me in any direction. Soon it grows (or rather crystallizes) into a sketch. In the beginning I don’t know whether the sketch has the potential to become a ‘short story’ or a ‘novel’ or a ‘play’.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Both. I love public readings. I find them a distraction. To read in public is a creative act. Sometimes the readings leave me exhausted. Sometimes they inspire new writing.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

The relationship between ‘people who do not matter’ in this world and the ‘people who do matter’?

I am interested in different kinds of ‘power’ relationships. I try to pose questions about power with my writing.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

The literary quarrels between the editor and the author often benefit the book.

However, I refuse to work with editors who ask me to explain the ‘mysterious’ in the text or to change the first person narrative to third person because of the ‘demands of the market’.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It doesn’t get easy.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Last week when I visited Kashmir after a gap of five years!

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

One doesn’t know what one knows until one starts writing.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

A typical ‘writing day’ begins and ends with writing. Generally I am more creative ‘early in the morning’ and ‘late at night’.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Cinema. Poetry. Long walks. Travel. Music. Cooking.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent book is really a ‘dialogue’ with the previous book.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Cinema, science, and poetry.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

W.G. Sebald. Thomas Bernhard.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Write a book for children.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Cinema (directing films)

By the way, I moved to writing from engineering. I have a PhD in chemical engineering.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I like Orhan Pamuk’s response to this question. Let me quote (from his Nobel Acceptance Speech, My Father’s Suitcase):

“I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can't do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live... I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life's beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can't quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.”
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Book: State of Exception (by Georgio Agamben)

Film: Close-up (by Abbas Kiarostami)

19 - What are you currently working on?

New novel.

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