Writing: The Early Years – Guest Post by Nazneen Sheikh
Somewhere in the mid-eighties I had a prescribed and sweet life. I was raising two little girls, playing two hours of tennis daily, volunteering at their school, and rapidly becoming a seasoned hostess. A friend of mine who was churning out a literary review, M.G Vassanjee, called me and said there was a children’s publisher looking for a story for a book about South Asian kids being raised in Canada. Could I write one? I had earlier that year taken my daughters to a family wedding to Pakistan and to visit their excessively indulgent grandparents. In the city of Karachi, we spent a day at the beach. My Canadian daughters had never seen a camel. I took my younger daughter Zorana for a camel ride. Her response was amazing. So I wrote a short story based on her experience, but added a twist of adventure with the camel running away with her. I called the story Camels Can Make You Homesick.
Precisely three days later, I received a telephone call from the publisher inviting me for lunch. I met him and he promptly informed me that he loved the story. Did I know that I was a talented children’s writer, and would I consent to do the entire book with four other stories that they would illustrate? I was dumfounded! In my reckless fashion, I said yes, I would. I was not sure about the children’s writer part. Foolishly, I even signed the contract without consulting anyone. That book became part of curriculum at the YA level and sold thousands of copies, as well as a teacher’s guide. I used my daughters for two more stories and created three others. When the book came out and the publisher discussed other books, I told him I was ready to write my first novel: a work of adult fiction.
The YA book garnered press across Canada and I did an author tour. Suddenly, I had the confidence to see myself as a woman who could be a wife, a mother, and a writer as well. Three years later, my first novel Ice Bangles was published. It was reviewed on the front page of the Arts Section of the Globe and Mail, I joined the Writer’s Union of Canada, and my personal horizon shifted. I had new friends who were established authors, and a woman called Margaret Atwood became a friend.
I did two more YA books; one that had rights sold to Germany, and the other for the Degrassi television series. Yet I decided what I wanted to write, I was fortunate enough to do that. My writing hours were from 11am to 3pm while my daughters were at school. I had no financial constraints as my husband comfortably supported the family, and the bonus was that I had the first PC before a lot of my peers did, as my husband worked for IBM.
Nazneen Sheikh has written several works of fiction and non-fiction for adult and young adult audiences, including Moon Over Marrakech: A Memoir of Loving Too Deeply in a Foreign Land, Chopin People, and Ice Bangles. Her culinary memoir, Tea and Pomegranates: A Memoir of Food, Family and Kashmir was a critically acclaimed success. Nazneen was born in Kashmir and went to school in Pakistan and Texas. She lives in Toronto.