Sharika Alam on Writers@QMUL with Anjali Joseph Event

A few weeks ago, I attended the second event in Writers @QMUL series, where the delightfully witty and brilliant Anjali Joseph read the opening chapter of her upcoming novel, and was in conversation with our very own Patrick Flanery.

Anjali Joseph is a British-Indian author and journalist. Her debut novel, Saraswati Park, was immensely successful, winning the Betty Trask Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize, and in 2010 she was listed by The Telegraph as one of the 20 best writers under the age of 40.

She is currently working on her fourth novel which is set largely in the northeastern state of Assam in India, where Joseph had been living in for the past few years before relocating to Oxfordshire last year. The opening chapter entitled ‘Everlasting Lucifer’ begins with the meeting of an Assamese woman, Kethaki, and a British Asian man called Ved in an airport lounge and chronicles their subsequent interactions. In this chapter, I really liked Joseph’s treatment of temporality. It felt almost cinematic, with the narrative seamlessly moving forwards in time. She also has a knack for humour. I think it is really difficult to deliberately write something funny because it often feels contrived but here the narrator has a sharp, insightful and natural wit.

During the conversation section of the event, Joseph talked about the pressure to write a certain kind of book. She believes that all writers  feel a certain degree of anxiety attached to their work: “I do some teaching in the creative writing Masters Course at Oxford. I was talking to one student who is from Nigeria, who said ‘I don’t want to write an “African” book’. And I said just don’t. Don’t do it. But it’s a problem. When I was writing my first novel which was set in Bombay I had these worries about what is an Indian novel in English and there were some tacit expectations”.

Moreover, her first book is sweet, and a family story, and some people wanted her to write another one just like that. While her second book, Another Country, is not autobiographical, it does use some autobiographical material. Joseph feels that there is a complication if a female writer does that: “[Another Country] is not particularly explicit but it has a certain amount of sex in it because it’s about a young woman in her twenties. And there was just this thing, and I was talking to a poet-friend, whose wife is also a poet, and experienced something really similar, where people would just say ‘so this book is basically about you, yeah?’ and they would look me up and down. Erm yeah… you sort of think that if I really wanted to find myself somebody for the evening I wouldn’t necessarily go to the trouble of writing a novel. That’s a very long-winded way of going about it’. I couldn’t agree more!

If you are interested in finding out more about Anjali Joseph and her writing, our wonderful friends at Wasafiri recorded and uploaded the whole Conversation on their Facebook page.