In Conversation with Silmy Abdullah

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Told through a collection of eight short stories, Home of the Floating Lily is a mesmerizing debut that provides a glimpse into the lives of inmigrant families from a Bengali neighbourhood in Toronto that strive to navigate their home, relationships, and happiness.

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TOK Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with author and Diaspora Dialogues alum, Silmy Abdullah, to discuss her debut collection, the writing process and the power of mentorship.

Home of the Floating Lily follows multiple characters in different scenarios, what inspired the characters and the plot?

The characters and stories in the collection are completely fictional, but the seeds for them came from my own lived experience, and what I observed around me. I came to Canada with my family in 1998 and we spent our first years in the Oakridge neighborhood of Scarborough. As we built a community there with other Bangladeshi immigrant families, I experienced and saw first-hand, the struggles, the sacrifices, the ups and downs, the challenges and triumphs that come with trying to build a new home, miles away from what you’ve known to be your home for years. There is so much richness and diversity in the experiences of my community members, that I felt that they needed to be known and recognized. Thus, writing the different stories in Home of the Floating Lily was a compulsion, fuelled by the desire to highlight this richness, diversity, and the complexities of the migrant experience. 

What was your writing process like; was there anything you found particularly difficult or easy?

I started writing the stories back in 2013, and once I had the first drafts completed, I re-wrote and edited extensively over the next few years. I think most of my stories went through at least twenty drafts before they felt complete. 

After my family, writing gives me the greatest joy in life.  But at the same time, it is a difficult and solitary task. On the days that the writing goes smoothly, and inspiration pours in, you end with a feeling of extreme satisfaction. Then there are days when you stare at a blank page for hours, and all the worries of the world consume you, like how you will pay the bills if you take too much time off from work to write, how you will write if you continue to work full-time, will you find a publisher, etc.  I would have to say that I was extremely lucky that even when I found the process challenging, I had a sense of peace because I have an extremely supportive family, I met wonderful mentors along the way, who made the process much easier for me, and consistently made me believe that I was not alone in this journey.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing the book?

How drastically the book changes by the time you finish it. I compare the final version to the first draft that I wrote, and realize how different the characters and plots have ended up being. I knew that the stories would go through various drafts, but I didn’t realize how lengthy and complicated, and often messy, yet joyful this process is. Now when I look at my stories and characters, I am overcome with a sense of awe. 

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How did your mentorship with Diaspora Dialogues help you to develop your book?

Diaspora Dialogues changed the course of my writing journey. Before DD, I felt lost, and did not know who to speak to and how to break into the world of publishing. I was lucky to complete a mentorship with Lawrence Hill, whose invaluable advice took my manuscript to a completely different level. There are so many valuable lessons both on the technical aspects of writing and on this journey of being a writer that I learned from this mentorship. Through DD, I found an editor, who eventually connected to me to my wonderful agent. It was a chain of events that all started from DD. 

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

My only hope is that readers can connect to this book through the universality of its themes. I believe that fiction is a very powerful tool to bridge gaps, and make us understand that we have more in common than we think. I hope that readers will not only appreciate the nuances of the varied experiences of specific communities, but at the same time, relate to them through our shared experiences as human beings. 

 

Silmy Abdullah is an author and lawyer. She was born in Bangladesh, spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia, and immigrated to Canada when she started high school. Home of the Floating Lily is her debut collection. She lives in Toronto.

Home of the Floating Lily is now available and can be purchased here.


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