What do you write?
I’ve written two novels, a whole bunch of short stories and am now moving on to writing plays for children. My work generally focuses on the voices we don’t normally hear from, with my first novel (The Things We Thought We Knew) written from the perspective of a British-Bangladeshi young woman growing up on council estate with chronic pain and my second novel (How to Find Home) about a homeless character who goes on a Wizard of Oz style adventure from Nottingham to Skegness.
Is writing your first love or do you have another passion?
Writing came after my very first passion: reading. But yes, since the age of eight it’s all been about writing. I was a really shy kid and writing allowed me to have a voice as well as helped me escape my small council house life by delving into the lives of others.
I can flit between hobbies, but nothing quite grips me the way fiction does. It’s my one way of communicating that I think truly expresses what I mean.
What was the first book that made you cry?
That’s a tricky question and I honestly don’t think I know the answer, so I will swiftly move on…
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
I think the arts in general is such a precarious field to work in as it’s so incredibly subjective. A lot of ‘success’ is down to luck, timing and getting your work in front of the right people. And sometimes things don’t work out – rejection is part of the job.
This gets easier as you go along but it is never easy in itself. I’ve learnt the best way to deal with this is to decide what my own criteria for success is and not get too distracted by stuff outside of that. This is easier said than done, especially when flicking through Twitter!
Name a fictional character you consider a friend.
This sounds cheesy, but it’s true so I’m going to say it: I consider the characters in my novels to be friends. You live with your characters for so long as a writer and nobody knows them better than you. In many ways you become them for a while, which hopefully the reader does too.
It’s always hard for me to finish a novel because I know I’m having to say goodbye to these people that I’ve grown to know and love. This was particularly true of Molly in How to Find Home, because she is such a complex, positive and warm human being despite all the obstacles thrown at her. I was truly walking in her shoes for a while and it was hard to shake them off.
Did getting published change your perception of writing?
I’ve known for a long time that the publishing industry is a tough nut to crack and that I needed to better myself as a writer at every stage to break it. Now that I’m published, I think this knowledge has been reinforced.
My aim is to always get better at the craft, and I think getting published hasn’t changed that aim though it’s given me tighter deadlines to do that in! On a personal level, I think getting published gave me a huge stamp of validation to keep going.
Suddenly I knew that I wasn’t just a fantasist who wanted to be a writer, I was a writer. I don’t think you need to get published to know this, winning competitions and positive feedback definitely helped me along that path, but getting published was the big fat cherry on the cake.
Who inspires you and why?
I’m most inspired by my close friends who work at the coalface: hospitals, prisons, in mental health, schools. They have to deal with the repercussions of government policies while also trying to do what they went into their jobs to do, namely making the world a better place for everyone.
I think it’s really easy to glamorise writers, actors, musicians etc. and although I think their work is vital to our sanity if nothing else, it’s the people who are the unsung heroes that really inspire me.
Which book deserves more readers?
I don’t think it’s my place to say who ‘deserves’ more readers as reading is a very personal thing and you should only ever read something because you are personally drawn to it. What I would say is, that as a reader, you should not limit yourself to thinking a book isn’t for you because it’s got a character who is from a different background from you as the lead.
I try and find books that have different perspectives, particularly from underrepresented groups. Just because I’m not disabled doesn’t mean I can’t read a book by someone who is disabled (in fact, because I’m not disabled, I will benefit greatly from reading a book by someone who is disabled – First in the World Somewhere by Penny Pepper is prime example of this).
In the same vein, I hope people will read my books whether they come from my background or not. I think the wider you read, the wider your empathy grows and that can only be a good thing.
Do you have any friends that are writers? If so, do you show each other early drafts?
I have a few writer friends, though we don’t really show each other work! We generally chat about writing related stuff and the ridiculous price of coffee in cafes. I used to attend a Writer’s Club though which was very helpful, and I’d recommend that to anyone who wants to get feedback.
But with friends, you have to have a special relationship to be able to share work and also the time to really discuss it. Even then, I don’t think I’d show anyone an early draft of anything I’ve written.
That’s the beauty of first drafts; no one has to know it exists except you.
Mahsuda Snaith events