Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing with Hassan Ghedi Santur

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On Writing with Hassan Ghedi Santur

Hassan Ghedi Santur's new novel Something Remains "is a novel that masterfully celebrates the complexity and the simplicity of love" (Helen Humphreys).

Open Book: Toronto spoke with Santur about his new novel and his writing.

Santur will be signing and reading from Something Remains Thursday, February 4th at the Gladstone Hotel. More information is available here.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Something Remains.

Hassan Ghedi Santur:

The novel is about the unraveling lives of four Torontonians. It chronicles what happens to these characters as the lives they have built for themselves come undone. There is Andrew, a burned-out former photojournalist turned cabdriver, his grief-stricken father whose wife of forty years dies at the beginning of the novel which gets the narrative rolling and Andrew’s best friend Zakhariye, who is struggling to make sense of a world that doesn’t have his son in it. To make matters worse for Andrew, Sarah, the gifted, beautiful actress from his past comes back into his life, making a mess of an already messy life.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote the book?

HGS:

I never really think of a specific readership when I write. The only thing I think about is: would I find this interesting. If the answer is yes, I just plough ahead because I am certain that since I don’t have a particularly eccentric or dark sensibility, there are bound to be people out there who would find the story interesting. So I just try my best to write the kind of novel I would find interesting since that is the only thing I have control over.

OBT:

How has your childhood, growing up in Somalia, affected your writing?

HGS:

Unlike most Canadian writers, I didn’t grow up reading novels because Somalia didn’t have a flourishing fiction industry but we did have plenty of poetry, plays, children’s stories and folklore. I was obsessed with the radio plays that aired on the national radio which fueled my imagination and made me fall in love with stories. I would say, leaving home as a teenager and coming to Canada not speaking a word of English affected me as a writer more than my childhood in Somalia. It forced to be an outsider and an observer of a new culture and its people in ways I would never have been had I stayed in Somalia.

OBT:

How have the themes of loss and grief shaped the characters in the novel?

HGS:

I believe most of us are wounded in some way or another, of course, some more than others. If there is one common denominator, one thing we can all relate to, it’s that we all have something to get over, some loss that makes us who we are, that makes us do the things we do, which more often than not, involves inflicting pain on others, however unintended. All of the four major characters have some kind of loss they are trying to come to terms with (God, I hate that phrase) which might explain, not excuse, but explain their sometimes less than admirable actions.

OBT:

What, if anything, would you like readers to take away from your novel?

HGS:

This question presupposes a certain level of premeditation on my part about what I want to show the reader or what I want the reader to feel and this is just not the case. I don’t plan ahead what to make the reader feel. If at the end of the novel, a reader takes something away from it, that is great, but it’s not an aim of mine.

OBT:

What is the best advice you’ve received as a writer?

HGS:

No one has a clue what sells or what wins literary prizes so just write the kind of novel that you would like to read and hope that there are others with similar tastes and interests.

OBT:

What advice would you give to young writers?

HGS:

Well, since I am a young writer myself, if not in age then at least in experience, I don’t feel particularly qualified to give advice. Having said that, I would advice them to ignore that old-adage: write what you know. I would say, write what interests you. My favorite part of writing, and incidentally, the most challenging part of writing fiction is the genuine attempt to imagine the lives of others, people who are not like me in many ways but who are like me where it counts the most. They are human beings and that makes them interesting to me.

OBT:

What, if anything, are you working on now? Do you have any future projects planned?

HGS:

I have just finished writing my first play, something I have dreamt about for ages but never got around to doing. I am also in the research phase of my second novel, The Empty Room, which involves lots of note taking, lots of day dreaming and people watching. Since this is the most enjoyable part of writing for me, I intend to stretch it for as long as I can.


Hassan Ghedi Santur was born in Somalia and immigrated to Canada when he was 14 just before the outbreak of civil war in his country. He eventually earned a B.A. in English literature and an M.F.A. in screenwriting at York University. Recently, he completed a radio documentary on the novel and human consciousness for CBC's Ideas. He lives in Toronto.

Santur will be signing and reading from Something Remains Thursday, February 4th at the Gladstone Hotel. More information is available here.

For more information on Something Remains please visit the Dundurn Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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