1) How did you get started as a writer?
I have always wanted to be a writer. I remember writing poems as a very small girl. They were quite terrible, but I loved the act and process of writing. As I was growing up in Mumbai, my aunties in Kuwait and Australia would write letters to me and expect letters back. I enjoyed spending time with a pencil and paper, giving them information about our day-to-day lives, thinking they would be impressed with big words like ‘length’ and ‘breadth’. After I finished my degree in English Literature at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai University, I got a job in journalism, and learned to write to a deadline. The moment I started writing fiction while doing the MA in Writing at UTS, I knew I had found my calling. Fom then on it has been a hard slog as a writer, but a joyful one.
2) What made you want to write “The Permanent Resident”?
I wanted to chronicle our contemporary presence here as Indian Australians, not with autobiography but with fiction. I wanted to render on the page, the complexities of being an outsider yet wanting to be an insider, while being burdened and also strengthened in different ways by culture, class, gender and religious background. I wanted to add my voice to the tradition of writers of indigenous and non white heritage who are trying to change the way Australia imagines itself – as a White nation. But I also wanted to play with language, as a child plays in the sand. Most of the stories in The Permanent Resident started as sparkles of word bundles in my head and in the process of putting those words down on paper I understood the story that was emerging from them, the story I had to tell.
3) How long did it take you to write your story? (was it over a few years of journal/diary writing?)
As this is not a work of autobiography but a work of the imagination, I didn’t really rely on journals or diaries. Some stories are based on incidents that happened in Australia, such as the spate of violence against Indian students a few years ago, or tragic cases of violence and abuse of women by their husbands. This book took me about four or five years to write as part of a PhD at UNSW (the other part is a sociological study of the contemporary Indian literary field in the English language). However, this book is based on decades of writing practice. It’s like it takes a chef a few hours to prepare their signature dish, but those few hours are possible only because of years and years of training and practice as a chef.
4) What message do you want your readers to take away after reading your story?
I would be ecstatic if readers get to the last word of the last sentence of the last story, and wish the book didn’t end. For me, literature is about speaking to that part of ourselves that is not fed by excel spreadsheets and shopping trolleys and electricity bills, however necessary (or not) these things may be for our survival. It’s that feeling of being enchanted that I aspire to when it comes to what I hope for when someone reads The Permanent Resident.
5) When growing up, who were your favourite writers/authors and why?
When I was growing up, my mother who worked for Glaxo, would bring home magazines and books every week from her office library. I read everything she brought home, from Women’s Era and Savvy, and Femina magazines, to the Trixie Belden series and all sorts of Enid Blyton books. As a child I loved the adventures that Trixie Belden went on near the Hudson River in America. It sounded so far away and exotic to me, growing up in Mumbai. The Famous Five would always drink ginger beer and play in the heather. These were alien and therefore highly desirable to me as a child. It was the adventures that these children were having in those enticing stories that attracted me to them like iron filings to a magnet. I remember trying to mimic these adventures around the compound of our block of flats. I’m so glad that this cultural imperialism of the West is not as strong as it used to be in the 70s and 80s. There are so many amazing Indian publishers of kids books in different languages now, such as Tara Books, Tulika, Katha, FunOkPlease, Karadi Tales, Eklavya, Pratham. Navayana’s Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, Juggernaut’s Ramayana For Children by Arshia Sattar, Goa 1556’s Espi Mai series by Anita Pinto, and all of Tara Books’ gorgeous books are standouts.
My parents got us a subscription to Target magazine for kids. From what I could remember it was very Delhi-focussed, with big Delhi words like mohalla and gol gappa in it, words that I was not familiar with, we used different words in Mumbai. This added to the attraction for me. Occasionally we would read the wonderful Amar Chitra Katha comics about Hindu mythology. Growing up in the Catholic community, we had lots of reading material about Catholic saints around and I think I wanted to be a saint for a brief period of time because when the female saints died a shower of roses would always fall from heaven, and that sounded quite glorious to me. I must say that the stories in Don Bosco’s Madonna, a weekly publication that most people in my community would read from cover to cover, had a big impression on me because it contained wonderfully implausible stories of hardship and ultimate redemption, the perfect hero’s journey.
6) What advice would you like to give to upcoming writers?
Read all you can and write as often as you can. As with anything, it’s all about practice.
7) What’s next for you after The Permanent Resident? Have you got a sequel or another story up your sleeve?
I have so many different ideas that I want to work on, so many different stories. It’s about balancing a day job to pay the rent and then prioritising the most urgent stories that I would like to tell. I hope I can manage this precarious balance in a suitable way in the future.
Roanna Gonsalves is an Indian Australian writer and academic. Her series of radio documentaries entitled On the tip of a billion tongues
, was commissioned and first broadcast by Earshot, ABC RN in November and December 2015. It is an acerbic socio-political portrayal of contemporary India through its multilingual writers. She received the Prime Minister’s Endeavour Award 2013, and is co-founder co-editor of Southern Crossings. She is the author of The Permanent Resident
a collection of short fiction published by UWAP in November 2016. http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/the-permanent-resident