We’re talking today to Dilruba Z. Ara, author of the women’s fiction, A List of Offences, to find out more about her writing life and tips for getting published.
Thanks for this interview, Dilruba. I love to find out how authors got their start. Is it true you had your first story published for the first time at 8 years old? Would you like to tell us about that?
Thank you. And yes, it’s true.
When I was a child, there was a monthly magazine called “Sabuj Pata”, which was targeted at young readers. This magazine also used to hold literary gatherings for children, every second month, where well-known writers would come and encourage us. It started so easily, and I was not even aware that I was writing. And then, when my teacher encouraged me at school, I started writing stories, and I submitted one I felt comfortable with. It was about a girl who had been longing for a special frock as her Eid (the first day of celebration after Ramadan) present, but she gave it away to a beggar girl on Eid day.
When did you come up with the idea to write A List of Offences and is this your first book?
When you live inside a society, you tend to be blind to its realties. But when I moved to Sweden, and I started to look at my society with different eyes. I began to evaluate it. I also began to question myself why Bengali/Indian girls allowed themselves to be black-mailed into accepting their lot. One of my friends from Bangladesh was in love with a Hindu boy, but her family forced her to marry her cousin. Ultimately, she stood up, divorced him, and now lives in Sweden with another man. Her family has disowned her. Then Fadime, a Kurdish girl, was murdered, in Sweden by her father, and it occurred to me that the big problem is the inherited mindset of traditional families ‒ it follows you wherever you go. This perverse trend is becoming a global illness. Girls from traditional families are bullied, beaten and, in the worst cases, even murdered if they try to break with accepted family patterns, no matter where they are. But it’s worse in the developing countries, where the state is not concerned for your welfare. That welfare depends on your family, and very often families misuse their power. I wanted to highlight that, through the story of Daria.
And yes, this is my first book.
How long did it take you to complete the novel?
What did you find most challenging about writing this novel?
The hardest part was establishing a connection between the harsh realities of Daria’s life and the beauty of the country. And also to try to cast light on the plight of millions of girls through the story of one girl.
How did you publish it?
Well, I had sent the finished manuscript to a few literary agents in the USA. Within a few days, three of them called back. I chose the most passionate one, Doris Michaels. She loved the book, and sent it out to quite a few publishers in the USA, who all found it very beautiful, relevant, etc., but slow-paced. I had worked very hard with each word, so I did not want to cut it down to fit their demands. In the end, I took it to The University Press Ltd, the leading publishing house in Bangladesh, and met the publisher myself. Upon reading the letters from various US editors, he took the manuscript from me and asked me to wait outside the closed door. After about three hours, he reappeared with a contract. This is how it started. Then it was sold to Spain (Maeva) and Greece (Oceanida). In parts of South America, it even hit the top ten list, along with The Kite Runner and A Thousand Spendid Suns. Even though only a few English copies were available, the book was reviewed in different newspapers and magazines, including The Chattahoochee Review. A review of it can be read on the Law Faculty’s homepage on the Ecuador University site. I have been happy about all this attention, but at the same time I have been concerned that the English version had not been available to general readers outside Bangladesh. Hence, I decided to have my rights back. My publisher is a kind man, and understood me. Now I have published it independently. By the way, only a few weeks ago, I heard from my Spanish publisher (Maeva) that they would like to renovate the pocketbook and e-book rights of the title.
Any lessons learned along the way?
That to get published in the UK or USA, you have to choose a subject matter that is very topical, and different. And you have to be both steadfast and fast paced.
Is it available for digital download as well as print?
At the moment, it is only available in print, but within the month it will be digitally downloadable as well.
Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Trust yourself. Choose a top that you are familiar with. The harder you work, the luckier you will get.
You can visit Dilruba’s website at www.dilrubazara.com.