Friday, November 18, 2016

Q&A with Meera Syal

Meera Syal is the author of the new novel The House of Hidden Mothers. The book focuses on the issue of international surrogacy. She also has written the novels Anita and Me and Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee. She is an actress, playwright, and producer based in the U.K.

Q: You have several female protagonists in your new novel. How did you come up with these characters?

A: All my novels have focused on the lives of South Asian women, whether in Britain or in India, quite simply because we are ripe and bursting with untold stories, why would I need to look further than my own front step for inspiration?

And of course much of the inspiration comes from the lives of women around me, Priya and Lydia encapsulate any of the women I know in their complex life choices about relationships, children, ageing.

I wanted to try and create a snapshot of women in their late 40s/early 50s, an age where many of us are judged to be invisible by society but ironically it is the period where we are as women full of life experience, know and like ourselves, have suffered the highs and lows of life and gained wisdom from this journey, and yet because we are passing from fertile women into what used to be the wise old witch phase, suddenly we are not deemed “useful” or “attractive” by many….

I also wanted Mala the surrogate to be as complex and strong as Shyama is, that you feel given different circumstances, she could be running a business just like Shyama….

Q: What does the book’s title signify for you?

A: …The title for me echoes the images and feel of one of my favourite books, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Because her iconic disturbing novel seemed to see this coming!

Her brilliant prophetic novel deals with a dystopian future [where some women] become baby-making slaves for their rich infertile owners, the handmaids are owned and their most precious asset, their wombs, still don’t belong to them. I was obsessed with this book, still am, unbelieveable it was written so long ago. 

Q: You’re also an actor and playwright. How do your various types of artistic work fit together for you? 

A: I’m happy to take both descriptions as I feel very lucky I can move from one to the other, it’s the variety that keeps both fresh I think…

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Happily, the TV adaptation of The House Of Hidden Mothers--we have just submitted our first episode.

I’ve also just finished shooting on the Disney film of The Nutcracker and have a few bits of filming dotted about the autumn.

What I’m really hoping for next year is another juicy theatre role. Last August I finished playing The Nurse in Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet in the West End and it was great to get my teeth into a complex, come-tragic role written for a woman of my and Shyama’s age!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Well, I am rather proud of the fact that my first novel Anita and Me is on the schools curriculum here in the U.K., which means it is a set and studied text in British schools….  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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