February 18 2016
A well-established author, whose books have been listed for the Orange Prize (2012, 2010, 2007), talks to us about her work and her rather surprising professional turn, ahead of our very own A Novel Affair…
ROOPA FAROOKI has had six novels published and has just submitted her seventh to her publishers but she is already embarking on a new and very different career – as a doctor.
The novelist is one of our two special guest authors (along with Huma Qureshi) at tomorrow’s ‘A Novel Affair’ in association with www.globooks.net.
Roopa told www.asianculturevulture.com: “It was something I always wanted to do, but life just got in the way. I started the process a few years ago only to find I was pregnant with my little girls (twins, now six) and I thought I will have to put it (medicine) on hold.”
Remarkably, she started training in September at St George’s in Tooting, South London.
“It’s a bit of a commute from Kent. I am up at 5am, and do a bit of yoga and then I am on the train for 6am.
“My twins turned six last week (she also has two sons, the oldest is 10). They still need me,” she reports cheerfully.
Her latest work and as yet unpublished, “The Londoners”, a direct allusion to James Joyce’s “Dubliners”, sounds intriguing and very topical.
“It follows the lives and loves of a group of friends post 7/7, and is about a young Muslim man trying to find love and life and everything like that in a post 7/7 world. It’s set in a diverse and multi-cultural world.”
Rooted in Tooting, it covers some broad themes, perhaps familiar to those who are avid readers of Roopa’s books, even though they are all quite different in scope and texture.
“An advertiser once said we can never build a market around you, because you write such different books, and the only common thread is my name and the fact that I tend to have some subcontinental characters.
“They are all very different in themes, plots, and structures.”
While her books have often contained Asian and mixed race characters, she has never felt the need to write about cultural conflict or confusion, preferring a perhaps, subtler, and more finely drawn, approach towards identity, kinship and faith.
“I’ve been criticised for not being political at times, but I’ve always been interested in what we share, not so much about division, and how we are underneath our skins.
“I always made a deliberate decision not to have my characters pushed away by profanities or current politics or whatever is going on in the papers – but rather by their own emotional prerogatives. I tried to have characters moved by who they are, rather than how they are defined.”
To some, this can look like something of an omission, or more crudely, a cop out – but that is to miss the complexity of character and the machinations of plot that drive a story this way and not that.
“My plots have never turned on cultural conflict. I wrote a piece in Metro on how nationality should not be an issue in fiction.”
She grew up in central London to a Pakistani father and a Bangladeshi mother. They split up in her teens and found new partners – her father a Catholic Chinese woman, her mother an Englishman but of Iraqi Jewish descent.
Her father, who died in 2002, inspired (if that is the right word), her fifth novel, “The Flying Man”.
He sounds an interesting and dapper figure, if rather a dissolute and wayward father. He was a published novelist too and had written a play but the bright lights of London somewhat diverted him, Roopa suggests.
“He was in business and a prolific gambler. He made a lot of money and lost it.”
She has written a moving piece about her father and his rather lonely death in France, and it is the only time in our conversation, when her voice drops and falters a little, understandably.
Her entry into publishing was not conventional – a submission to a Richard and Judy (formerly daytime TV chatshow hosts) writing competition got her noticed.
While that book, “Pomegranate” was not published, the participating publishing firm, Pan Macmillan asked if she had anything else.
It was to be her first published novel, “Bitter Sweets”, which came out in 2007.
It was the culmination of a long cherished ambition, a sort of slipping into the skin she always knew she had, but now others could see it too.
“I always thought of myself as a writer, I finished my first novel when I was still at school. I had completed my GCSEs a couple of years early and I had some spare time at school and they didn’t know what to do with me, so I moved between the computer room and the library.
“I sent it out to publishers and it led to some valuable work experience (including a stint on a newspaper in the US) but then life got in the way.”
After graduating from Oxford, she worked in finance with Arthur Anderson and enjoyed a successful career in advertising with Saatchi and Saatchi.
“What started me writing (again) was a fairly long commute between Basingstoke and London.”
Hear and get an opportunity to talk to Roopa Farooki at ‘A Novel Affair’ Friday, February 19, 7pm, Central London.
Info/Tickets here http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-novel-affair-tickets-18854929602