“I shall become the writer of thy work, provided my pen doth not for a moment cease writing.” — Ganesh.
Master of Fine Arts
I am now (from July 2016) reading for an MFA in Creative Writing at New York University. Over the course of this two-year program, I plan to complete my novel.
Having a writing community helps to make writing a less solitary process, and as such more enriching. I am supplementing the MFA with as many writers' retreats as I can afford, the first having been with authors-at-large in Indonesia in July 2016.
Part of getting to know one of my main characters, Tomoe Gozen, was travelling to Kyoto, Uji, Shimonoseki and Miyajima Island, where I have had the privilege of private access to Diaganji Temple. It was also an opportunity to visit the Tale of Genji Museum. The novel has made great strides since this visit, with new and revised scenes, two new characters, plot changes and narrative restructuring.
Lucifer, still seething from his unfair expulsion from Heaven, is determined to force God to abolish the Day of Judgement for rigging the trial against humans, the prospective accused. To this end he causes select people, Lanterns, to be born on earth, their role being to guide humans back to taking responsibility for themselves, thereby undermining God's existence. Things did not go quite according to plan. The story follows the journey of two such Lanterns, one Persian and the other Japanese, both women, as they flee their respective homelands to save their lives. Flight becomes quest, as they interact both with themselves and with the people and non-humans they encounter along the trading and pilgrim routes of 12th century Asia, Middle East and North African. They don't know what they're looking for, nor do they know whether they'll ever find it, or if it even exists.
Excerpts from my work-in-progress novel
Cries of an imminent birth issue from a mud-brick room — a stable. Her cries travel across several courtyards and alleys. “Push, Juhanah. Push, my girl,” urges an elderly Jewess wearing a widow’s shawl. With Juhanah’s head against her, she caresses the sweet-soaked hair. Other women scurry about.
The woman called Hajjah Fatima removes her veil as she comes through the door. She is of surprisingly advanced age, and held in great respect by the other women in the stable.
“You are Allah’s gift to Egypt,” says the widow. The other women nod and exclaim in agreement. “Especially here in Fustat,” says the Jewess. “No one takes care of us poor since the Caliph walled himself in. We have no other blessed midwife.”
Hajjah Fatima washes her hands, and examines Juhanah internally. “How long has it been since her waters came?” she asks.
“About three hours,” says the widow.
The midwife’s eyes grow large and intense, but just for an instant. Whatever it is, she seems to have put it from her mind.
In the courtyard, a cluckery of women are unmoved by the labour cries. The gathering swells in number and indignation. Zina, adultery, is muttered several times; something about a disgruntled fourth wife who abandoned her duties. Some believe she’s been raped—and as soon as she’s able, would invite more rape. “She goes with men,” one shouts, “and ran away before her family could kill her.” Others shriek that she’s a heretic and must be killed.
“Kill her twice over,” cry several.
The Jewess appears at the door. “We have always helped a woman who is with child, whether she’s in Allah’s favour or not,” she says. “Why are you so vicious towards her?”
“She’s a Persian,” shout several.
“My grandparents came from Persia too,” says the widow. “My religion started there.”
“But you’re a Jewish widow; she’s an Isma’ili harlot.”
“You don’t know that!” shouts the widow.
“All Persians who flee from there are Isma’ilis,” say more than one.
“I should never have revealed she’s a Muslim,” says the widow in exasperation, before returning inside and bolting the door behind her.
“She’s not a true Muslim,” they shout. “She’s a heretic!”