2014 Books Round Up

I have a confession. Sometimes I can become a little too obsessed with my fellow writers. In my enthusiasm to give Asian writers a platform to showcase their work and my commitment to find the best emerging talents, I can become (a bit of) an online stalker.

Bilal Tanweer is one of the victims of such stalking. I have followed him (albeit virtually) right from when he was named as Granta’s first new voice in 2011 (has it been that long, really?) to when he was selected for a residency at the prestigious and highly sought after International Writer Program in Iowa. I made sure I got hold of a copy The Life’s Too Short Literary Review which was one of the first projects to bring his work to a wider audience.I read his blog, watched his video interview and later, when I was brave enough followed his tweets too – somewhat perturbed when he didn’t follow back.

So naturally, as a fan I was super thrilled late last year to hear that Tanweer’s debut, The Scatter Here is too Great was to be published (Johnathon Cape in August) and I somewhat prematurely contacted him to arrange an interview late last year. I will of course understand if he declines me the privillege having now read this confession (!) but I hope he will take comfort in knowing he isn’t the only writer that I’m in awe of. Fellow Pakistani writer, Roopa Farooki is another such name.

Farooki has, in the time that I’ve been running The Asian Writer, managed to write a book every year. Five books in five years. She is the one author who reminds me that my excuse of not finishing my first novel has nothing to do with having children – Farooki has four children all younger than my own. Her first three books were light reads, with characters you’d love to spend an evening with but then she started tackling bigger issues, and I struggled through her last book, The Flying Man though having finished it, it became my favourite of the lot. Her sixth book, The Good Children (somebody give this woman a medal!) is therefore eagerly anticipated and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Nikesh Shukla is the epitome of hip and cool British Asianness. He is without a doubt a rare talent, and I’m looking forward to his second novel, Meatspace,  out in July. Shukla’s first novel, Coconut Unlimited was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and was an urban delight.  His last offering, a novella was a poignant tale about a young man learning to cook to evoke the memories of his mother, who he lost to cancer. It made me weep. I’m hoping for some of that emotional depth to spill over in his next novel, and expecting laughs too, in a tale about technology and loneliness. Something that should resonate with my own experiences, only too well.

There are people (and by people I mean amazing writers!) who I can be ignorant of. In my quest to do things well I need to have my finger on the pulse (and do a little stalking) but at the same time I need to spend hours reading and trying to stay focused. And so it’s common for me to know less about those writers who are quietly just getting on with things and being awesome outside of my bubble. Oscar nominated screenwriter, Shah Rukh Husain’s forthcoming novel, A Restless Wind was published in India last year and should be published in the UK this year. Susmita Bhattacharya has been a new writer to watch for some time. She tweeted me some of her short story links some time ago, and on reading her work I was anticipating great things. Bhattacharya’s debut novel, Crossing Borders will be published by Parthian Books in the Autumn.

There are other reasons why I don’t get round to everyone – stalking or otherwise. Sometimes as a relatively small publication with a readership of just over 3k unique visitors a month we are often overlooked by publicists. We’re under-resourced, under-funded, so there’s simply not time to do the chasing. It’s a crying shame that I’ve not yet got round to interviewing Kamila Shamsie whose novel, Kartography changed something in me forever when I read it as a young student studying South Asian literature under the guidance of Rajeev Balasubramanyam. Since then, Shamsie has risen to the top to join the ranks with Nadeem Aslam and Mohsin Hamid, writers who she started out with, earning herself a shortlist on top literary awards, as well as being present on the Granta’s 40 under 40 list. Her forthcoming novel, A God in Every Stone is published by Bloomsbury in April. I’m possibly too afraid of Hanif Kureishi, who’s novel The Last Word is due this week.

There’s no best way to finish off a list like this. I could have started off chronologically or alphabetically so the person mentioned last of all might not feel an inch of injustice but I didn’t and it hardly seems wise to start over. So the next best thing would be to end with a writer who has been dubbed as the next big thing in South Asian fiction. Leaving the best til last perhaps? Well if early reviews are anything to go by Prajwal Parajuly’s debut novel, Land Where I Flee out in February (published by Quercus Books), is going to be a terrific read. His short story collection, The Ghurka’s Daughter was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. I’m expecting nothing short of genius from his first novel which follows the story of three grandchildren as they venture back home to celebrate their grandmother’s 84th birthday.