Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.
This week, we feature Shashi Bhat, author of The Family Took Shape. Her novel is shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.
Shashi Bhat’s short fiction has been published in several journals, including Threepenny Review, Arcadia, and Event Magazine; her story “Indian Cooking” was a finalist for the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Writers Trust Award. She received her MFA in fiction, was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and resides in Halifax. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Dalhousie University. The Family Took Shape is her first novel.
Describe your ideal writing space.
An airplane, because there is no internet, and I am confined to my seat. And sometimes they give you pretzels. I wish Air Canada would introduce a writing residency program, similar to the Amtrak residency in the US but without the sneaky copyright issues.
Tell us a bit about your process. Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I am an obsessive planner, and use colour-coded, numbered lists for my outlines. There’s quite a bit of percolation time before I start composing a story, during which I keep notes on scrap paper. I also google everything. I use google for research and use google images to inspire descriptive passages. I google words to look at their connotations and I google my phrases to see how original they are. I tend to revise as I go, rewriting a paragraph or sentence several times before I move on to the next one.
Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
The Family Took Shape is about a girl in a South Indian single parent family, growing up outside Toronto with her autistic brother. Whether she knows it or not, nearly every action she takes in her life is somehow influenced by the experience of growing up with him. It’s a kind of coming-of-age story. Both children are under the care of their mother; their father dies when they are very young. It’s called The Family Took Shape because I wanted the novel to follow the growth of the family, and the way the members of the family shape each other.
What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
My first draft was told from multiple perspectives, whereas the final version is a close third of just one character. It was a time-consuming rewrite, but I think it made the story more cohesive.
Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
Public readings definitely helped me. I did my first ones at a reading series we put on in grad school, at this weird bar with beds in it, called The Den. The people in attendance were our undergraduate students, mostly science majors, who were forced to attend. In fear of their potential disinterest, I thought much more about timing and rhythm, and about being compelling for an audience. It made me less self-indulgent (as a writer, at least).
Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I teach creative writing – for the past four years at Dalhousie and starting this fall at Douglas College in BC. I’ll also be taking on the editor position at EVENT Magazine. While teaching can be all-consuming, I find reading and discussing raw work interesting and inspiring. It’s refreshing to be around writing students, who are often earnest and excited to be there.
Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
I think it’s pretty nifty but I don’t use it much.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a collection of short stories, experimenting with dark humour and magic realism. Several of them concern ways of dealing with illness.
What book out there do you wish you had written?
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It combines two of my favourite genres – dystopia and coming-of-age. It’s quietly devastating.
Who is your biggest cheerleader?
My dad. He’s a civil engineer, and I think the last book he read was probably about fixing nuclear reactors. But he is the most fiercely supportive father I can imagine. If I made a shirt with my book cover on it, he would wear it.
The winner of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014.
Shashi Bhat’s novel, The Family Took Shape can be purchased from your local independent bookseller.