Jeannie recently reviewed Kamala Nair’s novel, The Girl in the Garden and also had the opportunity to interview her. Enjoy!
I see that you were born in London and raised in the US. Were you old enough to see and feel the differences of the 2 countries/cultures? Did you experience any of the biases that Rakhee experienced as a child in school?
I was barely three years old when my family moved to the United States from London, too young to feel the culture shock. We moved to Minnesota when I was twelve-going-on-thirteen, which is a sensitive age for any child, and I did feel some bias at that time. In one instance, my mother took me to register for eighth grade and the woman working in the office took one look at me and blurted out “She’ll be signing up for ESL classes, right?” I was mortified. Every kid wants to fit in, and my school was pretty racially homogenous. I stood out. There was a brief window of time where, like Rakhee, I would have given anything to have blonde hair and blue eyes.
I would love to know, when you were growing up, was reading a favorite pastime? What about writing?
Yes, I was passionate about both reading and writing from a very early age. My parents didn’t allow my sister and me to watch TV during the weekdays, so my biggest form of entertainment was to curl up somewhere with a book and get completely lost in a story. This love for reading soon transitioned into a desire to write my own stories. Writing was and is the most intuitive way for me to make sense of the world.
Who were your favorite authors as a young person and your favorite authors now?
As a child I loved L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Judy Blume, all those great classic authors. Some of my favorite writers now include Edna O’Brien, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Arundhati Roy, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Daphne du Maurier, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Brontë, and Emily Bronte.
Have you ever been able to meet any of your favorite writers?
In the last year I have been lucky enough to meet both Edna O’Brien and Jennifer Egan, both at readings in New York City. They were both as impressive and lovely in person as I would have imagined.
I think The Girl in the Garden could become a story for children, if made right as a movie. If your book was to be picked up for a movie, would you prefer it was geared toward children or adults?
The Girl in the Garden definitely has crossover appeal, and I can understand why young adults would relate to the story. However, if it were to be made into a movie, I would prefer that it be geared toward adults. Ultimately I consider it an adult fairytale. I would worry that some of the darkness might be lost if it was specifically made with kids in mind.
I compare your book with Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and think that your story equally has the same caliber of magic and suspense. Were you a fan of the book?
Thank you, that is such a wonderful compliment! I was (and still am) a huge fan of The Secret Garden. There are so many elements of the book that entranced me: the grand old estate harboring a dark secret, a family of lost souls, a young girl dealing with cultural confusion, and a garden which holds the key to the family’s redemption. I wanted to explore similar themes in my own novel in a darker way and through a different cultural lens.
How long did it take to write The Girl in the Garden, start to finish?
It took me about three years to write The Girl in the Garden from start to finish, including revisions. I was working a full-time job at a magazine during that time, and wrote early in the mornings before work, and on the weekends.
When you were a child, how would you have completed this sentence: When I grow up I want to be…..
Depending on the year, a poet, an actress, and a broadcast journalist. The latter two are so funny to me in hindsight because I was very shy. I’m not sure why those career choices appealed to me so much.
Now that you have written your first novel, are there others in the future? Have you pondered finishing Rakhee’s story where The Girl in the Garden leaves off?
There are many more stories in my future, and I am currently at work on a second novel, which I’m a bit superstitious about discussing just yet. I am very satisfied with where I left Rakhee in The Girl in the Garden. I don’t anticipate revisiting her story, but you never know.
What did it feel like when you knew your story was picked up for publication?
It was an extraordinary feeling, one of intense pride, happiness, and wonder, but also mingled with a little fear. I had the sense that my life would never be the same after that moment, and I was right. Up until then this significant part of my identity had been hidden from everyone except a few close friends and family. To everyone else, I was just a girl who worked at a magazine. It felt almost like I was carrying around this secret, and the moment I knew it was going to be published, I fully came into my own.
Lastly, what would be your advice for those who have the dream of having a book published?
Read a lot. Reading voraciously is the best education for a writer. Also, be disciplined about your writing schedule. If you’re not tough with yourself it will never happen. If this is something you really want to do, you have to tackle the goal with laser-like focus. Also self-doubt is inevitable but don’t let it consume you.