Tidal waves. volcanoes and sea monsters all find their way into Family and Other Natural Disasters, a short story collection exploring the sometimes volatile relationships within and around families. With a deft touch and lightness of description, Anita Goveas transports us to other worlds and realities, while keeping her stories firmly rooted in the chaos and charm of human existence.
I loved the stories that showed the complex relationships between siblings, especially Finding Venkat. The unusual format of Virmala Nagra's Hypotheses on Marriage and Motherhood somehow made the ideas more compelling, and I was transported into the tragedy at the zoo in Monochrome.
I talked to Goveas about her unusual route to publication, her use of magical realism and the traditions she draws on in her writing. Read on to find out more.
Warli art, from Maharashta, where Goveas' family is from.
The style inspired the front cover of the collection
At the heart of your collection is, of course, relationships. It was fascinating to see the pull between love and hate, the clashing of twins and siblings, and the difficulties between parents and children. Why do you think you were drawn to familial relationships in particular?
I grew up in England with my immediate family while most of my warm, sprawling extended family lived in India, and I struggled with that a lot in my early adulthood. I didn't feel that I fit in here or in India, and when I started to put the collection together I realised that thinking about what makes a family , and how that subconsciously influences all your relationships, was often underlying my fiction, so that became the theme .
Another thing that struck me about your collection was the way you integrated touches of magical realism within stories about recognisable situations. Why do you think you use things like devils, dragons and curses in your stories, and what do you think they add to your writing?
I think there's often an unsaid layer to my writing, that idea of secrets (Various histories of sea serpents ) or repression (What really gets you is the rising heat) and using magical realism allows me to give those invisible concepts an identifiable shape
It was interesting to see the way your collection is organised – the elements, followed by love and family. Did you have an idea of the elements before you wrote the stories or was this something that became apparent to you later?
The idea of the elements came with the recognition that I used so many elemental motifs, I'd written several water themed flash (I do love going to the beach!), some that had fire as a motif. Then the elements I picked to structure the collection become another unsaid layer, why I consider love and families important to the structure of the universe (and also why they are considered to be separate elements)
The collection in Bookseller Crow, Goveas' local independent bookshop in Crystal Palace
It's refreshing to see what might be termed a 'non mainstream' way of family life in your stories. Are there any particular challenges you've faced as a female writer or as a writer of colour?
One of the challenges is that the way I grew up would not be mainstream! So, I sometimes have to explain aspects of my writing that seem perfectly understandable to me.
And when I was starting out as a writer, and attended beginner writing courses or went to writing groups, it took me some time to realise that there were critiques of my work that were actually somebody telling me that they weren't familiar with my culture, and I had to pick those comments out from critique of my writing. For example, being told the names I used for my characters were difficult to pronounce, or being told that I mentioned food too often (in my world, all the important life events involve food!), rather than comments on the pacing or the grammar.
How did you go about getting your collection published and what is the best advice you've received or would like to pass on to other writers?
I don't think the way I had my collection published is very typical, I was very lucky. I put the collection together for a callout for flash collections and novellas by Ellipsis zine, and then one of my writing friends, Barbara Byar, suggested I submit it to Reflex as she had just submitted to them, and they offered to publish it! (Barbara's collection Some days are better than others is also published by Reflex)
The best advice I'd like to pass on to other writers is to find your writing cheerleaders, the people who you can trust to critique your work honestly, who will encourage you to submit to things that you wouldn't have the confidence to otherwise. I am grateful every day to my critique partners, and to my writing group The Koyal Writers.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, London-based, and fuelled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently by Fractured lit. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, an editor at Mythic Picnic’s Twitter zine, and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer Her debut flash collection, ‘Families and other natural disasters’, is available from Reflex Press, and you can read her stories at 'Coffee and Paneer.'
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