An afternoon with Preeta Samarasan

I meet with Preeta Samarasan, it’s my first interview of the day and its obvious that I’m nervous but Preeta is so friendly she quickly puts me at ease. We talk about her book The Evening Is a Whole Day – and I apologise to her for not having read it yet! (Maybe I shouldn’t admit this…it’s tempting to say I really loved your book – but I resist!)

Preeta Samarasan has been described as a compelling debut novelist,
she is a determined author, and heavily focussed on her writing. She lives, what she describes an isolated, solitary life in Central France. Of her decision to move to France she says ‘it was really completely random. I had been living in the United States for as long as I had been living in Malaysia and I decided it was time to leave and go somewhere else.’ When her friends asked her to go and help run a B&B for a year she was only too willing to go and has been living in France, with her husband ever since.

We talk about the SAMA festival and what she hopes to get out of it. ‘I hope people will learn about the book, and some of them will be able to go away and read it.’ But she is also excited to meet other authors. Away in France, she writes every day and doesn’t get to meet writers, so this is a great opportunity for her to meet with like minded individuals and exchange ideas.

Later this month, Samarasan is due back in Malaysia where she will be doing a special reading with Eric Forbes. She’s returned to Malaysia each year since she left it, it is the country of her birth and she still has family there.

The Evening Is a Whole Day hope to raise awareness of Malaysia’s political history particularly the role of ethnic Indians. In a country where censorship is still relatively high and public debate is limited, Samarasan isn’t too concerned by how her be received by the government. ‘I don’t think the Malaysian government or mainstream will be reading the book,’ she dismisses.
‘I think people who are going to ready my book are the ones who are going to be on the same side, and to a large extent people who read literature, and English, and who write about it are on the same side of the political fence as me. I think I will be well received by that circle.’

But the author sitting at an arms length fascinates me. As a child she was encouraged to read and she always knew she wanted to ‘make these things which I enjoyed so much’. She says her parents have accepted her choice of career finally. ‘Malaysia is a very socially conservative place’ she explains and parents whether ‘ethnic Indian, Chinese or Malay nudge their children towards “practical careers”, medicine or engineering. So that’s what my parents wanted, that’s what they expected me to do. One of her brothers is a lawyer, the other is an engineer, so naturally it was expected that Samarasan would become a doctor. ‘Quite early on they realised that my interest wasn’t really in that and I sort of drifted around doing various things for long enough that by the time I said ‘Okay I’m going to be a writer’, they had already given up on me. Although they accept her writer status ‘they’re still a bit anxious about it, and they still think about what I’m going to do when I’m older and how I’m going to retire.’
Samarasan is writing her next novel, but she isn’t going to give anything away, so we shall have to look forward to it patiently. What advice would she give to anyone trying to make it? ‘Read, read poetry, not just fiction, keep working at it…it takes a lot of hard work and you have to do it because you love it, not because you want fame and glory.’ And with those wise words, I thank her for her time, and we part. She took the stage, stepping into the limelight, while I joined the audience to become part of the eager and awaiting crowds once more.