Every writer hears the advice “write what you know” at some point in their professional development. But Sonia Saikaley has always wanted to do that. She grew up without seeing experiences like her own represented in fiction, and as a writer, she works to change that for other readers. We caught up with the 2004 School for Writers grad via email to learn more about her new book and her journey as a writer.
Tell us about your book? How did it come about?
I started writing my novel, The Allspice Bath, about twenty years ago, shortly after I graduated from the University of Ottawa. The Allspice Bath is a coming-of-age story about a young woman trying to find her place in the two worlds she inhabits, namely, her Canadian and Lebanese cultures. It is also about an immigrant family and how sometimes our choices go against what our families want for us. When I was growing up in Canada, there were hardly any books about Lebanese families, and I never felt represented in the fiction I read. Therefore, I wanted to write about someone I could relate to and hopefully have others connect with the character and story as well. While working full-time and juggling family commitments, I wrote in the early morning hours. There were many setbacks as I worked on this book. For instance, I hurt my back and ended up writing in bed and when my father was diagnosed with cancer, I wrote around the care I gave him. The grief I felt after my father’s death forced me to give up for a while, but then I returned to my writing. However, I didn’t return to The Allspice Bath. I worked on another project, one very different from my own culture, and when I saw an advertisement for the Humber School for Writers’ Creative Writing Correspondence Program, I decided to apply and was accepted to work with the talented Karen Connelly.
How did you find the experience of working with your writing mentor? What insight into your writing did you gain through the mentorship process?
At the beginning of our correspondence, Karen Connelly called to introduce herself and as we talked, she asked me if I had a different manuscript because she felt I had another story to tell. After that telephone conversation and with her encouragement, I returned to The Allspice Bath. Karen’s insightful comments helped me improve my craft. I have a tendency to tell rather than show and she suggested ways I could turn the telling into powerful scenes. I also learned from her to be brave, to take risks in my writing, and that’s what I have been doing ever since. I am grateful for the wisdom she shared with me during our correspondence. For anyone working full-time, the correspondence program is an excellent way to complete and/or polish a manuscript. My mentor was understanding and accommodating given my other commitments. Working with the Humber School for Writers was a rewarding experience that made me realize I could complete a manuscript and find publishers who believe in my writing as much as I do.
To learn more about Sonia Saikaley and her writing, follow her on Twitter @saikaleysonia or on Facebook. You can also visit her website at soniasaikaley.com. Her novel, The Allspice Bath, is available directly from her publisher or via your favourite bookseller.