Suhayl Saadi does nothing by halves. First he writes a 680-page behemoth of a novel, Joseph’s Box, then he promotes it by creating an amazing website. He’s a busy man as you will see in the following interview regarding his appearance at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.
LS: How did you become part of the 2009 Programme?
SS: My publisher, Two Ravens Press, informed the EIBF (I think that’s how it happened, but I may be wong!) of the impending publication of my new novel, ‘Joseph’s Box’. It was originally scheduled for publication in October 2009, but when the EIBF expressed an interest in scheduling an event in August, the publication date was brought forward. I appeared at the EIBF from 1999-2006, inclusive, so it was lovely to return this year.
LS: If you’re part of a double-bill, what do you think of the book you’re paired with? Is there an obvious connection?
SS: Yes, and refreshingly not because the other author, Rana Dasgupta, was of South Asian origin! Both Joseph’s Box and Solo deal with, among other things, regions and states of being which might be termed, liminal. They also delve into aspects of memory, remembered stories, contested histories, the dead, etc.
LS: How did you prepare for the EIBF event? Have you obsessed about your ticket sales?
SS: I always rehearse for readings, perhaps 14-20 times beforehand, once a day, every day. I have found that most EIBF events – not just mine! – tend to be sold-out, so I never worry about ticket sales.
LS: It’s the morning of your event – what happened beforehand? Are there any rituals to be followed before you step on the stage?
SS: Ha! I was at work all morning and typically it was – how shall I put it – a particularly challenging morning. Nonetheless, I am a professional and so as far as possible I tend to try and make sure that I’m not too tired or stressed with other matters before a reading, in fact, being bloody-minded, I refuse to allow anything really bother me – a 40-mile train journey or a medium-length walk is a good way of relaxing in these circumstances! I also tend not to talk too much beforehand, to keep my powder dry, as it were. One strong coffee, three deep breaths… and I’m on!
LS: How did the event go?
LS: How did you choose which extract to read?
It’s a section of this 680-page novel which to some extent is self-contained. Also, it’s passionate and intense and that kind of style suits my vigorous and emotive reading technique. I am not a ‘Home Counties’ writer, and I am not a ‘Home Counties’ reader, either. It is set in Sicily, which I think audiences might find interesting.
LS: Which was the best question and why?
SS: Someone asked about how a novel comes together structurally, how much does one have to plan ahead, etc. It’s always quite difficult for me remember exactly how I came to think about a particular strand in a book, but talking – a little – about it can help me codify my own ideas – rationalisations, possibly – in relation to thse dynamics.
LS: Book-signing – love it or hate it?
SS: Love it! The more, the better!
LS: What did you do after the book-signing?
I had to rush to do a photo-session with the EIBF’s photographer and an interview on-site at the EIBF for a podcast. Then I had another event at the EIBF. Phew! But enjoyable!
LS: How do you feel about book festivals in general? The EIBF in particular? Do you consider it part of the day job that you signed up to when you became an author?
SS: I enjoy participating in literary festivals. You get to meet other authors, some of whom you may never have met before, and also readers, likewise! There are often synchronicities between books/events. Also, lots and lots of tempting books. The EBIF is a superb lit-fest – the welcome, the events, the setting, the audiences, etc. Yes, it’s part of the civil life of a literate society, to talk about words and their power and meaning in relation to the world. One can get too much of it, though and it’s important to remember that the core duties of the job are about sitting alone, conjuring-up worlds from sand. I have another day-job, and because of multifactorial economic, historical, artistic and societal aetiologies, I will never be able to just be a writer, so being a writer for half-a-day again is a vignette from the long struggle that is the exploration of the true measure of my potential and of my ability to elucidate truth.
LS: Did you / Are you going to attend any other events?
SS: No. I didn’t have time. I work full time.
LS: Have you ever done a blog tour? If yes, how does it compare to meeting the readers in the flesh?
SS: No, but I’d like to, especially given the circumstantial limitations now on my ability to travel. I have undertaken sporadic e-mail interviews with arts magazines over the years – Spike Magazine and 3AM, for instance. I think both are fun – meeting readers in the flesh and discoursing with – or simply coming across – their blog personae.
LS: Thanks Suhayl. I have yet to open Joseph’s Box but I’ve been following the pre-publication activity at Two Raven’s Press: excitement on reading the manuscript, panic at bringing forward the release date to tie in with the EIBF and finally delight at Boyd Tonkin’s review in the Independent. It’s an emotional rollercoaster in itself and one, I suspect, that mirrors the ride that will accompany a reading of your novel.