Before the Diaspora Dialogues long-form program, I hadn’t had previous mentorships but had taken courses and shared stories with others. I think one of the best parts of the DD program is that the mentor looks at your entire manuscript and not just an individual story or excerpt. It was especially helpful for me because I was writing a linked collection.
The advice I have for future mentees is to do the best you can to take advantage of the opportunity. I remember those 6 months being stressful as I had a lot of other things going on at the same time, but also remember it being very rewarding and productive.
Since the end of the program, I (finally) finished a Certificate in Creative Writing at University of Toronto Continuing Studies, which was a process similar to the DD program.
I chose Coconut Dreams as a title for the collection fairly early on. Culturally, coconuts hold certain significance, and personally, ever since I was told stories of climbing coconut trees they’ve held certain mysticism. I think being born in one place and having a connection to another is an important theme, and one many Canadians can relate to. While straddling cultures can come with struggles with identity and other problems, I think there’s also something amazing about it—being able to take the best of cultures and make something your own should be celebrated.
In Coconut Dreams, there are some anecdotes from real life that were too good not to include in some form, and it is set in the world my siblings and I grew up in; however, the stories are fiction. I think if I knew where the stories were going I don’t think it would be as fun to write. There’s a sense of discovery that I love about writing fiction—I don’t know for certain how the story is going to end when I start.
The story So Far Away, which won the 2012 Random House Student Award in Writing, is one of the few stories that came out fairly easily. I wrote it not too long after reading an Alice Munro story called Vandals, in a class taught by Alissa York. Needless to say, I was just floored by that story. The pace of revelation is brilliant and I wanted to attempt to do something similar.
I chose to tell the stories in Coconut Dreams from the perspective of the two kids because everything just seems to matter more for children. Actions and consequences are magnified because of the innocence they hold, and the potential impact on their lives is that much greater. Writing from a child’s point of view can be enjoyable at times, as you get to go back into the world of a child, but you also quickly realize how difficult it is because you’re restricted by vocabulary and scope of knowledge.
I don’t have a favourite story within the collection. The most challenging stories were probably Small Things and The Call of the Bell; the first because it switches between multiple points of view and timelines, and the last because it is set in Goa in the 1950s. That one was inspired by my great aunt who told me a ghost story about a haunted house. I’d heard other stories and visited Goa, but there were so many random things I had to research. I probably have the weirdest Google searches.
Backpacking across six continents has, at the very least, given me perspective. You realize how completely different many places are from Canada and from each other. But you also realize there are some things about human nature that are universal. You get into situations and see things that challenge you and force you to think differently. Living in Goa gave me so much more confidence writing a story set there. I know one day, among others, I’ll write a story set in Nepal, Colombia, and Australia . . . hopefully this list keeps growing.
A good part of my travelling in India was spent at an orphanage called Bal Ashram. It’s such a special place that I knew I would one day have to write about. It’s too early to tell, but I think it’s leaning to towards some kind of magic realism story. What I know for sure is it will be a novel—it’s just too big a story. I always have a few short story ideas kicking around that I’d like to also get to.