WOW | Women in focus

Queen of words

On February, Smadar Shir and Dorit Silverman, prominent Israeli writers visited Kathmandu as a part of their tour to South Asia. During their stay, they met, shared and inspired many young writers to explore and widen their literary visions. Excerpts from our interviews with them:

Smadar Shir

What inspired you to get into the field of literature?

I don’t remember sitting down and making a decision to write. My mum tells me when I was three years old I would come to the kitchen and dictate a long poem or story. Since I grew up in a very religious family, I was not allowed to write. In Judaism, there is a phrase in the bible that states—the daughter of the king keeps herself inside; my parents forbid me from writing and my teacher did not allow me to publish. I suffered a lot in those years. I could only write about topics that were not controversial. By the time I was 16, I chose a pen name so that no one would recognise me. I am happy that those days are over and I am free to write what I want.

Sometimes children ask me if I will keep writing when I am 80, and I tell them that maybe by the time I am 80, nobody will want to buy my books and my publisher will not want to publish, but I will keep writing for myself. Even when I am sad I write the most cheerful stories whereas when I am fine, I write about strong topics. I hope to write forever.

You have been writing since the age of 15. What changes you have observed in your style of writing over this period of time?

As I was growing up in a religious family, I tried to write what it was like to be in a normal family –live with parents and maybe have a dog or a cat – a boring life. When I became a mother, one of my first books was about divorce because there were so many divorces happening all around the world. The world is changing and I don’t feel connected to this world. But I’m sure the younger writers will write about the topics of the changing world.

Do you work on an outline or plot or do you see where an idea takes you?

When I start to write, I know what the book is going to be about. I have the names of the character in my mind. Sometimes I even know the name of the book. But I devote at least one year to think and research. I start to write when I am at least 50% sure of what I am going to write. I don’t solve all the problems and dilemma in the book before writing. I know some writers who use Excel to plan what will be in chapter 2 and chapter 22. I don’t write like that. I feel that if I write like that I will not be curious at all and maybe I won’t be able to write in a way that will keep the reader curious. I’d rather take the chance and just flow with it. It’s a risk because I write for many hours and when I read it the next morning I have to delete because it is not good.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The most important thing is to read of course. But my advice is not to read just a few authors. I think you have to try as many authors as possible. It’s like a baby who only drinks milk for six months and then the parents introduce other food. They feed him banana for a week and then apple for another week. It is important to taste all kinds of books – biographies, adventure, mystery – whatever you can think of. That way you can find which genre you like the most. When I was young I remember reading a book with a notebook next to me. I was taking notes. I copied the phrases and questions that I liked. That is a good way to study how to write.

Another thing is that if you want to publish, you have to wear an “elephant skin” because sometimes the critics will write all bad things about you and your book, even before they read the book. Sometimes it might be simply because they don’t like you or what you represent. It is very painful to cope up with negative criticism but you have to be strong and remember there is only one person you have to listen to and that is yourself.