Anbara Salam is half-Palestinian, half-Scottish, and grew up in London. After studying in Beirut and York, she graduated from Oxford with a PhD in Theology in 2014. She lives in Oxford with her partner where she works as an academic.
Anbara will be reading from her debut Things Bright and Beautiful and answering your writing questions at The Riff Raff on Thursday 9th August and we cannot wait....
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Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?
I was living in the South Pacific, and a few girls in the village had taken it upon themselves to exorcise each other. It was late at night and I went out to investigate. Just as I came across them chanting in a big circle in the forest, my torch died. It was one of the spookiest moments of my life and I was inspired by a sudden thrill to put it onto a novel. That interaction never made it into my book but I couldn’t shake that sense of foreboding.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?
Not to be put off by the mysticism surrounding writers and writing. All the rules about how to write can be intimidating and everyone has their own methods and habits. There’s no ‘right’ way to do it.
What’s your go-to procrastination method?
This is a bit gross, but it’s giving myself spontaneous haircuts. I have curly hair so no one ever really notices if it’s uneven, so when I’m really frustrated I just snip a bit off here and there until I’m in danger of an unplanned fringe and then it’s back to work.
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What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?
When it came time to choose the title, we spent weeks trying out hundreds of different ideas and I was so over-wrought by that point I spent a whole train ride scribbling potential titles and then burst into tears because my pen stopped working.
Best thing about writing your book?
Having an excuse to do lots of nerdy research. There’s something thrilling about the minutiae of detective work when you finally track down a playbill from a 1950s theatre production on ebay.
And the worst?
The very final edit stage when I was over-saturated by the book – like when you say a word out loud too many times and it loses all meaning. At the final edit stage, if my editor had suggested putting dinosaurs in there I wouldn’t have fought her – just for the sake of being rid of the thing.
Go-to writing snacks?
Coffee and mini Babybells.
Who or what inspires you to write?
For me it’s probably the moment when you get interrupted from a good book and stare around you sort of dazed and grumpy and disorientated. Those moments of total immersion in a book inspire me to write better. I would love to be able to offer other people that escapism, even if just for a couple of hours.
The book that changed you?
The summer after I turned 16 I accidentally ended up with a pile of life-changing reads one after the other – Beloved, Mrs Dalloway, Regeneration, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, The Bloody Chamber. I was very emo for the rest of the vacation but it left a lasting impression on me.
Your pump up song?
‘Grown Woman’ by Beyoncé. Almost anything Beyoncé-related to be honest.
If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?
I feel like tipsy Mary Shelley would make for a pretty wild evening.
One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published?
Once you’ve got your draft in good shape, get ready to get obsessive. Read everything about the publishing industry you can find online – all the resources are there – advice about editing, querying agents, about self-publishing, about comparable titles and word counts. It’s not worth making a mistake that could have been solved by a one-minute trip to Google.