Photograph: Nina Subin, 2018


Contextualise yourself in one line.
I’m eternally lost between countries trying to write myself back home.

First book that left an indelible impression on you.
The great stories: Thousand and One Nights, The Brothers Grimm, Hauff’s fairytales.

First memory of writing and what was it on?
My writing career really began with stories I wrote for my friends at school. Often for girls I liked. The stories were about them, but set in absurd and magical contexts. My later published works contain many traces of those beginnings. 

The one ritual you can’t do away with while writing.
Strong black coffee. I drink far too much of it.

An event from the past that has most influenced you?
I’m writing a book of history at the moment, so there are many. Perhaps the Opium Wars? Just as a reminder of how insane history is.

The one artist (from any genre/field) whom you can’t stop admiring.
Most art–books, movies, paintings–fade for me over time. But music never does. I would have to say, “Bach.” 

Favourite thirst quencher.
Red wine. Preferably French and old.

The best thing to spread on toast.
Peanut butter.

Three things people will be surprised to know about you.
I hate writing books. Much prefer playing the piano.  And growing tomatoes.

The one label a person from the 31st century writing about us would use to describe humanity today.
Blind, foolish and crippled by lack of imagination.

One book you love to gift.
A big atlas. Since the Internet, people have stopped looking at big maps. It’s a loss.

Three things that influence your work.
Encounters with strangers. A sense of tragedy. And hope, all the same.

The one cure you stand by to overcome a writer’s block.
Constant naps.

Freedom for you means.

What would the title of your biography be?
Gosh, I hope no one ever writes such a thing.

Fiction or non-fiction, which is more challenging to read and write.
Fiction. In both cases.

One book you would like to reread.
Crime and Punishment.

Your biggest learning from the pandemic.
How much nourishment we get from the people we don’t know well. Shopkeepers, neighbours, casual acquaintances–all the people who disappeared from our lives during that period. I felt much poorer without them.

One piece of advice you would like to give young writers
Scare yourself.

Give us a blurb on your next book. We all live in nations. But nations as we know them are in decline. After Nations tells us why and how we should prepare for what is next.
The last time you did something for the first time.
I shucked oysters for the first time recently.  Great fun.