Tag: Where the Air is Sweet

 

EEEBFE01-1A7E-49D0-8198-5B98FD4B5FFCLook at my GIANT head. 😮

On Friday, I participated in my first ever Skype book club with a group of thoughtful, intelligent, lovely women in Vancouver. They kindly accommodated the time difference by meeting earlier (so I wouldn’t have to stay up too late).

We had a few very short freezes but overall it was smooth and a success. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The only thing I might do differently in the future is have a glass of wine (I could see theirs on the table). 😉

If you’d like me to join your book club (either in person if you’re nearby or via Skype), drop me a note on my contact page.

All I ask is that each member make a reasonable effort to purchase a copy of my book.

T.

photo-26A friend of mine, photographer Karl Griffiths-Fulton, asked me to pose for a portrait. He is doing a series on writers/poets/artists. Here he is in this photo (taken with my iPhone) preparing to capture my image with his twin-lens reflex camera. Using real film. Old-fashioned grainy film. It was an honour to pose for a talented photographer. A little weird and uncomfortable. But an honour.

The experience has me thinking about the changes in my life since Where the Air Is Sweet was published in June.

People now ask me to do things like this: be photographed, filmed, interviewed, to read aloud from my book, give a talk. In other words, people want to hear from me, see me.

This is new. This is not the person I have been all my life.

Ever since I was a child I knew I wanted to be a writer. But at some point — I don’t know when — I pushed the idea of writing creatively to the back of my mind. After high school, I did an undergraduate degree in journalism at Ryerson. I wasn’t happy in the program. Right after I finished I decided I wanted to study English literature. So, I enrolled as a special student at the University of Toronto. A special student is someone not working towards a degree. I was trying to get into the master’s in English literature program and I didn’t have enough prerequisite courses. I spent three years as a special student before being admitted to the master’s, which took a year to complete and to convince me that the study of other people’s writing was not for me. At that, I was done my formal education.

After this I didn’t feel ready to be in the world. After a four-month trip backpacking in South Asia, I took on internships and jobs where I was being “trained.” If I was asked to actually do something that might put me in the position of being judged publicly, I’d panic. So I spent years being underemployed.

When I finally took on jobs that challenged me, I found positions where I could remain largely unseen. Copy editors don’t have their names anywhere near the copy. They are, in the newspaper business, pretty much invisible. Vital, absolutely vital, but invisible.

I was a professional hider.

Until now.

I recently changed the quote on my blog. It’s over on the right-hand side of my page (if you’re not on a mobile device). I update the quote every few months when some words inspire me or speak to my current state of mind. This one is by writer Jhumpa Lahiri.

“Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.'”

My experience of this shift hasn’t been jarring. In fact, it feels right, comfortable. I’m ready. I’m excited to share my story, my thoughts. I enjoy interviews. I enjoy people stopping me to talk about my book, about their experiences, not only of my book but of what they have brought to the book from their lives.

I’m even beginning to enjoy being photographed.

Being judged — by others, in public — I am learning, is okay. What people see is what they project. I can’t control their responses. It is utterly liberating to make peace with this.

The real gift though is that by finally coming out of hiding I have opened myself to so much, to other people’s thoughts, their stories. I’ve opened myself up to the conversations of life and to the experience of living.

By allowing myself to be heard and be seen, I’m hearing and seeing others in a way I was not capable of before.

How unexpected and lovely.

My interview with Piya Chattopadhyay on TVO’s The Agenda aired tonight. It’s a little ridiculous how nervous I was today, considering I taped it about 5 weeks ago.

I wasn’t sure I’d watch it. In the end I couldn’t resist. We taped it in one go and I hadn’t watched any of it, so I was curious. Plus it was sufficiently long ago that I didn’t recall all my responses to Piya’s questions and so I was quite intrigued to hear what I would say. :)

Some behind the scenes pics (thanks to my cousin Alia Kherani for taking them):

My publicist Lauren Morocco and I.

 

 

The makeup room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being made up.

Where publicists and friends watch the taping.

The whole picture.

The whole picture.

photo7I had a the honour of being a part of the launch at Carleton University in Ottawa yesterday of the Uganda Collection — an archive of over 1,000 newspaper clippings, two video recordings, and a personal memoir that documents the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda in 1972.

This is a magnificent collection (now digitized and therefore preserved) of a very important event in Canadian history.

Senator Mobina Jaffer, herself a Ugandan Asian expelled in 1972, spoke at the event, as did Michael Molloy, president of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society and an immigration officer in Kampala at the time of the expulsion. I was thrilled to participate by doing a reading.

The collection includes this now infamous ad  the Leiceseter town council placed  in the Uganda Argus in 1972 (and which was referenced in Where the Air Is Sweet).

uganda_leicester_poster

TasDean

My agent Dean Cooke and I.

After last night’s Toronto launch at the Dora Keogh pub on the Danforth, Where the Air Is Sweet is officially launched.

Launches are not what they used to be. Before the internet and social media, a book used to be launched by means of an event — much as a young lady was presented at court, I imagine? (Not the best comparison, I know; but I love Downtown Abbey)

Nowadays, a launch is  simply a celebration for the author. It doesn’t really serve a purpose as far as the book is concerned.

But for me it was essential. For me, the launch was a ritual — as important as a wedding or funeral — in that it marked a significant transition. And in this sense it was like a presentation at court, which  would mark a girl’s transition into womanhood and her entry into society at large.

For  many years this book was a deeply personal experience. It became less personal when I acquired an agent and then a publisher. But even then it was malleable, fluid, in progress, in many ways abstract, becoming. Now it’s finished, solid. Many, many copies have been printed. And it’s out there, in the public.

And, so, it was important for me to mark that shift, from evolving and personal to completed and public. I’ve already documented the big, fun bash we held in Waterloo here.

Tasjane

Editor Jane Warren and I.

The Toronto affair was smaller, quieter, but people who were a huge part of bringing the book to its final form and into the public were there — my agent, Dean Cooke, my editors Jane Warren and Iris Tupholme ( who is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Canada), my publicist Lauren Morocco. Many former media and publishing colleagues (who have become dear friends) were in attendance  as well. They were all a part of my growing up (career-wise) and therefore a part of bringing my book into reality.

It was a big day, a big week, and I’m grateful to everyone who was a part of it.

Corey

Photo: Kris Culp

It’s been a busy few days and I’m finally sitting down to write about the bash we had on Saturday night. I could not have  imagined a better event to kick off the public life of Where the Air Is Sweet. We had plenty of books, drinks and munchies on hand and even a fabulous DJ (big thanks to Doug of Sound Dynamix)!

The venue

ButtonFactory

Photo: Geoff Grenville

venue

Photo: Catherine Unrau Woelk

The Button Factory (25 Regina Street South in Waterloo) offered a beautiful, bright space with massive windows and high ceilings. The Button Factory is the home of the Waterloo Community Arts Centre (which is a non-profit, volunteer-run, charitable organization that exists to promote all forms of art programs in the community) and so it felt right to hold the launch in such a hallowed space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The food

Spanakopita

Photo: Catherine Unrau Woelk

Family and friends provided tasty appetizers, including a gorgeous candy bar!

candybar

Photo: Saj Jamal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The posters

Thank you to the Canadian Immigration Historical Society for these fabulous poster boards that included 1972 newspaper clippings about the Asian expulsion from Uganda.

Ugandaargus

Photo: Saj Jamal

Easels

Photo: Geoff Grenville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The speeches

Michael Molloy, president of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society and former ambassador to Jordan, travelled from Ottawa to give a riveting speech about the efforts of Canadian immigration officials in getting Asians out of Uganda in 1972. Mike was a big part of that operation. You can view a talk he gave in 2012 about the Ugandan Immigration Movement here. After a sweet introduction from my husband (and biggest supporter) Craig Daniels, I had an opportunity to publicly thank everyone.

Mike

Photo: Catherine Unrau Woelk

Craig

Photo: Catherine Unrau Woelk

Tas

Photo: Alia Kherani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The books

Thank you to Words Worth Books of Waterloo for selling books at the event! The party became very loud but the sales continued.

Wordsworth

Photo: Geoff Grenville

Books

Photo: Catherine Unrau Woelk

BlogScreenShot launchdayWhat a fantastic launch! Where the Air Is Sweet reached #20 in Books on Amazon.ca today. I was hoping for a spike in sales on Day 1 and you made it happen! So thank you to all of you who are buying, posting, tweeting, emailing, telling friends.

I’m loving this ride. Let’s keep going…xo

 

canstockphoto6298451If you don’t live in Canada and you want to buy Where the Air Is Sweet, please read:

You can purchase the book at Amazon.ca and have it shipped internationally.

Unfortunately you cannot download an e-book unless you are living in Canada.

But if my fellow Canadians buy the book in nice, big numbers, perhaps we can sell rights to publishers in the UK, US and elsewhere who would then distribute the book in their territories, making everyone’s lives easier. 😉

If you encounter any problems/issues purchasing the book, please contact me via my website (the message goes directly to my gmail account).

1db52c66a5f762d1990d27e1e9ac401eI found this 1908 poster (on Pinterest) advertising the Uganda Railway. According to the poster, East Africa comprises “nature’s zoo.”

I’m really glad it’s no longer 1908.

A number of people have asked me, with respect to Where the Air Is Sweet, and also with respect to my place of birth (i.e. Uganda), how was it that South Asians came to live in East Africa in such large numbers.

Late in the 19th century the British empire wanted to build a railway (the Uganda Railway) from the Indian Ocean to the East African interior. And they recruited labour from the Indian subcontinent to do this dangerous job. Many South Asians came and many stayed on. Many, many died.

To be precise, 30,000 South Asian labourers died constructing the Uganda Railway.

This is yet another reason I want to document and honour the role Asians played in the history of East Africa.

As my June 3rd pub date draws closer, a question has been popping up in my mind:

“What do I want to achieve with this book?”

The answer is somewhat obvious: Success, of course! In all its myriad forms. But the thing is, I have been successful with respect to the book. I found time and space to write it. I finished it. I found an agent to represent me. We sold it. I edited it. And edited it. And edited it. It’s about to be published. But I feel a need for something. I still want something. What? Sales are important, positive reviews, media attention, more time to write my next book. These are reasonable responses.

And yet my mind, unsatisfied with the answers I am offering, keeps asking the question.

And so I have been sitting with it. And sitting with it has taken me back to the impetus for writing this novel. What is it that has given me the energy and the willingness to spend money (giving up and turning down well-paying jobs is spending money), the willingness to take time away from my small children, the willingness to give up every safety net I have carefully woven in my life?

Of course I want my book to sell. But if I wanted money and material security I could have kept my job or worked at advancing my “career.” Attention, not so much. I generally hid in the newsrooms in which I worked. Figuratively, literally.

Media attention can drive strong sales, as can positive reviews. And I want my book to reach as many people as possible. But why? To what end?

I often like to read interviews with authors I love. Old interviews, new ones, whatever I can find. Recently I came across a 2003 interview in Quill and Quire with Ann-Marie McDonald. In it she discusses her second novel, The Way the Crow Flies. Something she said, and the way she said it in this interview, grabbed me, held me. Answered my question.

She is speaking about endings, and what constitutes a happy ending.

“I always think the happy ending today is when the story comes out. When there’s a witness. When you know that the story, in its fullness, will be released and returned to the people who should have had it all along. I think that’s a happy ending. That’s a release.”

Ugandan Asians leave Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: NHQ/AC Roger St. Vincent Collection PH-437

Ugandan Asians leave Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: NHQ/AC Roger St. Vincent Collection PH-437

What gave me the guts to spend money, to take time away from my precious children, to be certain in the face of apparent uncertainty was the knowledge that I was bearing witness. The story of the Ugandan Asians has never been told, not in any meaningful way. My fictional story tells of truths these people lived. To share their story is what has compelled me. To share their story is what I want to achieve with this book.

I have my happy ending. It’s here. The story is written, freed, and soon it will be returned to the people who should have had it all along. And how grateful I am for the privilege of being able to give them what was always theirs.

Everything else is icing on the cake.


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