Fatima Bhutto was born in Kabul. She is the author of a book of poetry, two works of non-fiction, including her bestselling memoir Songs of Blood and Sword, and the highly acclaimed novel The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon, which was longlisted in 2014 for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Read on to know more about her new book The Runaways, as we catch up with her on a conversation:
How did you decide the characteristics of the main three people in the book? Are they someone you know?
Sunny and Monty are the two characters that I knew right out of the gate. I had the idea of these two young men, alone, on a march who can barely stand each other. But then you start to wonder just why someone might loathe the idea of another person and you start to consider each man afresh. The characters always surprised me, I had ideas what I wanted from them but I didn’t always get my way. They’re not anyone I know in real life, but parts of them are composites of me and other parts are figments of completely made up universe.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
I wanted to write about what it means to be at war with the world around you – with your family, your community, your country, your history, everything. How much pain do you have to be in, how wounded do you have to feel, to begin a battle that large?
What were some of the challenges in writing The Runaways?
People are afraid of the topic. Fear or discomfort means that the idea that we have to understand radicalism and the consequences of political alienation rather than solely condemning it is an unusual one. What does it mean to speak of freedom but to be afraid of contrary political ideas? That has been the biggest challenge – everyone wants to talk about freedom, no one wants to test it.
What was your favourite part about writing this particular book?
Spending time with these people and going deeper and deeper into their lives. Writing is a lonely occupation, you spend hours and hours by yourself at a desk in silence but writing Sunny and Anita Rose I never felt lonely. I wrote The Runaways over four years and they were not easy years for me, my time writing this book helped me through a difficult time and it has my heart.
What is your book writing process?
I need a lot of space and time to work. I’m not someone who can work in coffee shops or public places. I need to be on my own, in quiet. I think books begin with a disturbance, something you can’t get out of your mind that haunts you and follows you until you surrender. The whole process of writing fiction is so otherworldly and mysterious, I don’t think one can describe it with any justice.
Do you have a message for aspiring authors/writers?
Read widely and deeply. Be generous to others. Accept that you don’t know anything, only then can you learn.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I keep saying writing is solitary work but the truth is, I’m a bit of a loner. I like to be by myself and to have unlimited space to think and read and wonder. When I’m working, I inhabit another place and resent any and all disruptions so I can’t say I’m a great joy to be around.
What is one important quality one must have in order to become an author?
Patience. You need to devote yourself fully to your work and that devotion may mean years of labour that no one will ever know about. If you don’t have the fire inside to see you through, you’ll rush, you’ll make mistakes and you won’t end up with anything deliberate or true.
What was the research process involved in writing The Runaways?
I watched a lot of videos on LiveLeak, which is a sort of alternate Youtube. They have all the stuff Youtube has like pandas sneezing and prank videos but they also have tabs on the war in Syria and Iraq. I read a lot of blogs and Tumblrs and Reddit threads – they hadn’t been taken down back when I started working on The Runaways – written by young people who had joined jihadist groups. I followed the news of the wars in Iraq and Syria very closely too but after a while, the research ran continually in the background and I began to work off imagination.
What is the one thing that authoring books has taught you?
That the work of learning and investigating what you think you know is never done.
The Runaways is an explosive new novel that asks difficult questions about modern identity in a world on fire.