Siya Turabi was a student on our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2018 – she was part of a hugely supportive group of students which included Bonnie Garmus, who has also gained a book deal for her novel Lessons in Chemistry. Siya’s debut novel The Last Beekeeper will be published by One More Chapter (HarperCollins) this summer.
We caught up with Siya to find out about the inspiration behind her debut, her time studying with us and her words of wisdom for aspiring authors…
You studied on our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2018. How did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?
My time on the course impacted my approach in fundamental ways. It made me realise and acknowledge that I am a writer. A massive step on this journey. I remember when Jack told me that the story was great! My individual agent tutorial was incredibly confidence boosting. Norah Perkins really helped with looking at the overall story. It was a great learning experience to be amidst industry professionals and have in-depth talks by a number of agents and authors who were generous in imparting their understanding of what makes a book work. The whole experience was an important stepping stone in my journey. I’ve also felt supported by Curtis Brown Creative after the course finished.
What is one piece of advice from your tutor Charlotte Mendelson that has stuck with you?
There are so many pieces of advice from Charlotte that I have absorbed. But if I had to pick one, it would be that Charlotte made me realise the importance of really bringing out the voice of your characters and not being afraid to take risks with your writing. She showed me ways of getting closer into Hassan’s experience.
Many of our students find a real community on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
I’m in touch with all of them and the group has been a great community to belong to. We used to meet regularly before lockdown and I know we’ll get together again one day to celebrate each other’s steps along this path.
Your debut The Last Beekeeper is to be published by One More Chapter this August. Can you tell us more about the book and the inspiration behind it?
The Last Beekeeper is set in Pakistan in 1974. It tells the story of Hassan who has always been drawn to the forests outside the village in Pakistan where he lives. He knows if he doesn’t find the last beekeeper and also the mythical black honey before the floods come, his mother will lose her sight. But then he wins a scholarship to study with the local state governor and goes to Karachi. There he meets Maryam, the governor’s niece from London. Hassan needs to make a decision, Maryam or the beekeeper, England or Pakistan. It’s a story of family and friendship amidst a brewing storm of political turmoil. And it’s about our relationship with nature, in particular the bees.
I’ve been fascinated by the bees for a long time and the contribution they make to all of life and how much they can teach us. I’m also interested in the properties that honey has been attributed with through the ages and I still remember when, as a child, I visited Karachi one Christmas and my aunt gave me some honey from the Sindh to try. It was dark and thick and straight from the nests in the forests.
Do you have any words of wisdom to share with the aspiring authors reading this?
Keep at it. Don’t give up and try to write something every day even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. It was the regularity of the practice that did it for me in the end.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Sometimes, when I’m deep into the writing I can stay up late and a momentum develops. Normally, I write during the day. I work part-time so fit my writing around that. I also walk for an hour or two every day and that’s when my head clears and ideas become clearer.
Finally, what is next for you and your writing journey?
I won’t stop writing. It’s been my childhood dream to be a writer and I’m thrilled to have One More Chapter as my publishing home. I want to explore issues that I’m deeply curious about in my novels. My next one is set in Spain in the fifteenth century. More to come!
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