Favourite Lines: ‘Exit West’ by Mohsin Hamid

Dear readers,

Isn’t it a beautiful moment when you read the first line of a book and connect with it instantly? I recently started reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, and within the first line, it somehow found its way onto my list of favourite books.

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Exit West is the kind of book I can’t help but read as a writer more than a reader, admiring each carefully constructed sentence. Today I thought I would share with you a couple of my favourite lines, starting with the opening line.

 

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in class and did not speak to her.

– page 1

 

The following evening helicopters filled the sky like birds startled after a gunshot, or by the blow of an axe on the base of their tree.

– page 32

 

One’s relationship to windows now changed in the city.

– page 68

 

…but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.

– page 94

 

If you haven’t read Exit West, I strongly urge you to go pick up a copy! What are you reading at the moment? Please let me know in the comments below–I’m always looking for suggestions.

As always, thank you for being here.

Yours,

Tamara Drazic

A Writing Update in 3 Parts

Dear readers,

I structured this writing update in three parts, using questions that I (and I’m sure all of you) get from some well-meaning friends and family. I hope you enjoy!

What is it that you actually do?

I’ve been revising  Juice of Half a Lemon for over a year now, longer than the time it took to write the damn thing. I can recite the first five chapters by heart. I wake up every morning thinking about what else I need to fix. But I think I’m almost there. I’ve made a couple of big changes in the past week and I’m a lot happier with the manuscript now, at draft 8, than I have ever been.

In saying that, its flaws and shortcomings hit me in waves. At this point, I’m holding on to that quote by Anne Enright: “Only bad writers think that their work is really good.”

Oh great, you’ve finished your book. Are you getting it published?

I remember around draft 4 when I thought, yep, after this draft I’ll be ready to query. I wrote up a query letter, a synopsis, the whole package. Then I did four more drafts.

How do I know when it really is finished?

I don’t want to rush myself to submit, but at the same time, I don’t want to keep rewriting and rewriting, making the manuscript different but not necessarily better. I don’t want to use the editing process as an excuse not to send it away.

My next steps are to:

  • wait to hear back from a few more beta readers
  • finish this draft
  • let it sit for a while, and then do a thorough line edit
  • fix up my query letter and synopsis from draft 4, ask for feedback
  • submit Juice of Half a Lemon to an unpublished manuscript competition to get this whole submitting thing started.

If that doesn’t lead anywhere, I’m going to start querying agents. To the query trenches I go!

Thanks for that super long-winded answer that I did not understand/need to hear. So what are you working on next?

I’ve started brainstorming my second manuscript and am looking forward to drafting it! It’ll be a magical realism novel set in a world where people don’t have reflections.

I have been itching to go on another writing residency, so I think I’ll make that a goal for either the second half of 2018, or the first half of 2019. I work best in short bursts, as I saw with Juice of Half a Lemon, so a residency would be perfect to cover some ground on project number 2.

 

Please feel free to comment down below! I love hearing about other writers’ works-in-progress.

 

All the best,

Tamara Drazic

4 Things You Will Learn From Writing Your First Novel

Hello everyone,

I am back from my hiatus and ready to share regular posts on this blog again. Thank you for sticking around–I hope you enjoy this post, and the many posts to come!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I recently finished writing my first novel. Today I’m sharing some of the things I learned along the way.

1 – Writing the first draft of a novel doesn’t actually take that long

There were times when I thought I would never finish writing my first novel. I thought the task was too big, the word count out of reach. That was until I got to my residency, and wrote the second half of the book in two weeks.

The actual writing isn’t what takes years, it’s the life that you have to live in between. Once you realise this, the task of writing a novel seems far less intimidating.

2 – Self-doubt is a killer (but it doesn’t have to win)

You probably already know about this thing called self-doubt. Most people do. But the self-doubt that a writer meets while writing their first novel deserves a warning label of its own. People rarely write and finish books unless writing means everything to them, which means that the stakes are high.

While writing my first novel, I often felt like I just wasn’t good enough, and that there was no point in trying to finish it because everything I’d written was terrible.

But you can’t edit a blank page. That’s one of my favourite sayings, and one that I repeated to myself until I stopped using my self-doubt as an excuse to stop writing.

3 – It won’t be as good as it is in your head

Nothing you write will ever be as good as the version in your head. Your first novel will drill this into your head, mercilessly. The only way to move forward is to let go of the need for perfection, and accept imperfection.

Thoughts and words are two different forms. Try not to compare them.

4 – It won’t be the best thing you’ll ever write, and that’s a good thing

I know it can feel like this book is everything. It can feel like these characters are the only characters you’ll ever be able to write, and any others won’t feel as real. But the more you write, the more you will learn about writing.

Although your first novel may not be up to standard, it was not a waste of time. Take everything you’ve learned, and then start another.

 

All the best,

Tamara Drazic

Introducing My Novel: “Juice of Half a Lemon”

The plan involves turmeric, lemons, and letters slipped under doors; a murderer’s sister and a victim’s brother; midnight phone calls, and a stagnant small town. Juice of Half a Lemon is a quirky contemporary adult novel about two people whose loneliness is intertwined.

 

Hi everyone,

Over the past year and a half of posting on this blog, I’ve gone into a lot of detail about my thoughts, my experiences, and my life as writer, but I’ve been quite tight-lipped about my actual writing. I’ve never really told you anything specific about this novel that I’ve been working on for almost exactly a year now, and I’m not completely sure why that is. I think it might be because, until I wrote the end scene only a couple of days ago, I didn’t entirely believe that I would be able to finish it. I didn’t want to introduce something to you only to scrap it a couple of weeks later. I’m finally at a place now where I can confidently say that this one’s sticking, and I’ve got no more excuses! I am currently working on the second draft, and will start looking for beta readers in the near future.

I have to start out small to avoid becoming a nervous wreck, so here are a few very vague details about the story:

Title:

Juice of Half a Lemon

A little introduction:

Adele Zimmerman hasn’t seen her brother since the night he told her he shot someone in the head. When she discovers that the victim was an identical twin, she sets out to find the leftover sibling and anonymously improve his life, as a way of settling her conscience and ridding herself of her second-hand guilt.

Juice of Half a Lemon is about identity after loss, and the suffocating nature of belonging. It’s about things that can’t be fixed, mistakes that can’t be unmade, and connections that can’t be broken.

***

The tone of the story is slightly whimsical, with a bit of dark humour. I plan on talking more about the protagonists, tone, P.O.V, inspiration, and editing process in the posts to come.

Let me know what you’re working on in the comments below; I’d love to hear about it! If you’d rather just talk to me privately, please feel free to send me an email at tamara.j.drazic@gmail.com.

I hope you found this post interesting, and I wish you the best of luck with whatever you are working on.

As always, thank you so much for reading.

Yours sincerely,

Tamara