by Sandra Hunter
After Indian Independence Arjun brings his family to London, but hopes of a better life rapidly dissipate. His wife Sunila spends all day longing for a nice tea service, his son suddenly hates anything Indian, and his daughter, well, that’s a whole other problem. As he struggles to enforce the values he grew up with, his family eagerly embraces the new. But when Arjun’s right leg suddenly fails him, his sense of imbalance is more than external. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, he is forced to question his youthful impatience and careless cruelty to his family, until he learns, ultimately, to love them despite — or because of — their flaws. In a series of tender and touching glimpses into the shared life of a married couple, Sandra Hunter creates strikingly sympathetic characters — ones that remind us of our own shortfalls, successes, hypocrisies, and humanity.
When the body no longer operates, the self disappears. He feels this diminishing, a gradual receding of who he is, what he likes how he dresses, where he goes. And he can go nowhere. A short trip to the back window and he is tired enough to have to rest for a while on the sofa before he makes the trip back to the safety of his amchair. He longs to walk with his grandson by the seashore and go searching for treasure. Let’s dig for gold, Sami. And he would slyly drop in a few polished pennies so that Sami shouts with delight.
It is my pleasure to welcome Sandra Hunter, author of Losing Touch, to Room With Books.
Please tell us about Losing Touch and what inspired you to write it?
The story opens in the 1960s. Arjun Kulkani has brought his family to London after Indian Independence.
He’s appalled by how eagerly Sunila and his children, Murad and Tarani, embrace the customs, idiomatic language and food preferences of this new country. His attempts to control his children demonstrate his loss of identity. This identity loss is compounded when he discovers he has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a neurological degenerative disease. He’s forced to question his impatience and cruelty to his family and eventually learns to love them.
My inspiration: Back in 2005, I wrote a short story about Arjun and Sunila that won a Glimmer Train award. I kept writing stories around this couple and finally decided, “Hey – maybe this might be a novel.”
It’s set in North London, where I grew up. Arjun has the disease my father had. I wanted to explore loss of identity first through immigration and then through degenerative disease. Okay, so this seems a bit cruel But even so, Arjun also develops other characteristics such as patience, humor, and a redeeming self-awareness.
It was also fun to revisit places I knew, especially the toy village of Beconscot. If you visit to England you must go. It’s magical!
When you start writing a new novel, do you outline the story or do your characters dictate what will happen?
With my novel-in-progress I have my new tool—the storyboard! I’m a born-again story-boarder. I love how I can see what’s going on at a glance, and it even looks pretty.
Occasionally, the characters tend to run off with the story. I usually follow along because you never know what may happen.
Do you ever have arguments with your characters and who usually wins?
I’ve learned not to argue with them. It’s their story and they can be quite insistent. However, during rewriting, I’ll try to be more objective about story elements such as arc, continuity and so on.
What is something about you your readers would be surprised to know?
I have a secret love of motorbikes. A hog-lover! How cool would it be to cruise along Angeles Crest Highway on a Harley D?
If you could write with any other author who would it be any why?
Alissa Nutting (Unclean Jobs for Girls and Women). She examines what it’s truly like to be humanly naked. That is, being stripped of all the comfortable clothing of manners and the niceties that keep us safe in unfulfilled relationships or mind-numbing jobs. “We smell great despite the pain,” she says of being boiled alive in a stew. I’d love to write a joint short story with her, our voices going back and forth. I know we’d create quite different rhythms and tensions.
When you were little what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I’d go to sleep with one arm above my head, one arm out to the side, in some inaccurate imitation, and one foot tucked behind the other knee. I was so sure I’d wake up as a ballet dancer!
I had a book of ballet and was enchanted by the pictures of the dancers in their tutus. They were the most beautiful creatures in the world. I’d totter about on tiptoe with my arms spread wide, feeling this was the nearest thing to flying.
When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
I kept shelves of journals when I was in college. But it was when I went to Kenya that I started writing stories. Coming from England’s grey skies and monochrome palette, Kenya was like a child’s paint box had been upended over the world. The intensely blue sky, the ridiculously green maize plants and banana trees, the deep red of the earth. Everything was so vivid: the language, the storm clouds relentlessly stalking across the valley in the rainy season. They even shook hands more vigorously. After that, I did a creative writing degree at San Francisco State and began sending out short stories. It took a lot of submissions before one “stuck”. Acceptance: it’s a matter of timing and persistence. Really.
What music inspires your writing?
All sorts. Golijov, Jeff Buckley, Palestrina, Gorecki, Annie Lennox, the Mahotella Queens, Los Van Van, Active Child, Chopin. I can’t listen to music while I’m writing, though. Too easily distracted!
What is your favorite breakfast? Home-made granola with almonds and fresh blueberries and peaches. I’m hungry now.
What is your favorite color? Indigo. Actually, indigo clouds with sunshine. Love that color combo.
What is your favorite movie? Spirited Away, and Totoro. And Porco Rosso. Okay – anything by Miyazaki. And anything by Satiyajit Ray. And Wes Anderson. Got a theme going here.
What is your dream car? This is awkward. I don’t have a dream car. I’d love to ride in a Rolls Royce – just for the amazing suspension, and I’d love to race a Camaro. But I don’t want to own either.
How can our readers find you?
Portfolio website (photo-text art)
Sandra Hunter’s fiction has been published in a number of literary magazines and received awards including the 2014 H.E. Francis Fiction Award, 2012 Cobalt Fiction Prize, 2011 Arthur Edelstein Short Fiction Prize and three Pushcart Prize nominations. Her debut novel, Losing Touch, was released in July (OneWorld Publications). She lives in Simi Valley, CA, with her husband and daughter, and is always on the look out for the perfect gluten-free cupcake.
Sandra will be awarding a Losing Touch luggage tag, mini book necklace and a $15 Starbucks GC. (International Winners)
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