Join Amy Waldman to talk about THE SUBMISSION, our July Book of the Month, on Tues 31 July, 9-10pm

(103 Posts)

Our July Book of the Month, THE SUBMISSION, is set in New York, in the aftermath of 9/11. A committee has come together to decide on the most fitting memorial to the city's dead. Claire, the only widow in the group, has fought for a beautiful garden that she feels will give healing to the bereaved. But when they open the winning envelope, they find the previously anonymous designer is an American Muslim... Anger, grief, fear, nationalism, Islam, politics - this book covers it all. It moves fast, it is fantastically diverse and it has a strong beating heart. Just like NYC.

The Guardian called THE SUBMISSION 'an exceptional debut novel about a changing America...pitch perfect' - you can read the full review here.

The book of the month page with more detail about THE SUBMISSION and our giveaway of 50 free copies of Amy's book will go live on Thursday 28 June at 10am. We'll close the giveaway after 24 hours and pick 50 names randomly, and we'll email you to let you know if your name was chosen within 48 hours.

And if you're not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can get your Kindle edition or your paperback here

We are delighted that Amy will be joining us to chat about THE SUBMISSION on Tuesday 31 July, 9-10pm. We'll be discussing the book throughout the month so don't forget to put your thoughts and questions up here before the chat. Hope you can join us...

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 28-Jun-12 09:55:03

Just to let you know that the book giveaway won't go live at 10am because we're having a few technical problems. blush

As soon as it's live, we'll post again here and on the book giveaways thread to let you know. Apologies for the delay.

ShadeMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 28-Jun-12 11:44:13

Thank you for your patience. The July Book of the Month page is now working. We'll keep the giveaway form live until 11.40am tomorrow. You can apply for your free book here

Devora Thu 28-Jun-12 14:22:32

I've just started reading this and am gripped so far. Great concept, tight writing. I hope the rest of the book keeps up at this level.

motherinferior Fri 29-Jun-12 17:42:07

Oi, where do I get my free book on that form? I like a freebie, moi. (Also I like books. Am quite literate and all.)

motherinferior Fri 29-Jun-12 17:42:52

Am also relieved after minor confusion with Ayelet Waldman that she isn't her, iyswim.

Devora Fri 29-Jun-12 23:29:43

motherinferior, you don't have time to be reading books. Aren't you supposed to be writing one?

Ayelet Waldman - thingy's wife - the one who wrote about preferring her husband to her children and ruffled lots of feathers?

Thingy = guy who wrote Kavalier & Clay?

motherinferior Sat 30-Jun-12 09:12:54

Yep; she went on about how fabulous his feet were.

Devora Sun 01-Jul-12 01:02:10

YOU have fabulous feet, missus. All small and dainty. I wish any part of me was dainty.

Uh-oh - must go and stop flirting with MI on open thread - I think dd is having her 6th bout of vomiting this evening.

nailak Mon 02-Jul-12 17:40:05

OMG, Im so excited!!!!

yUMMYmUMMYb Mon 02-Jul-12 17:42:39

Yipee i am getting one of The free books this month...

whensteaready Mon 02-Jul-12 18:22:58

Yes I have won a copy!
So excited I have never won anything before.
Thank you

BiscuitNibbler Mon 02-Jul-12 18:46:53

Really pleased to have won a copy of this - I can't wait to read it. Thank you!

GhouliaYelps Mon 02-Jul-12 19:14:28

this looks bloody great! thank yew!

nickname5555 Tue 03-Jul-12 02:44:29

This is the first thing I have ever won!
I'm looking forward to reading it smile

teta Tue 03-Jul-12 09:43:32

Me too!.Thanks so much.

sausagefestival Mon 09-Jul-12 17:38:39

has anyone received their book yet? I can't wait smile

nailak Mon 09-Jul-12 19:31:03

i havent, thought i missed the post and emailed mumsnet!

ProfCoxWouldGetIt Tue 10-Jul-12 09:01:51

Also not got mine yet, am in that awful space of having finished my current book, and not wanting to start another in case my book club book arrives before I finish it.

Scans kindle for short stories...

AnneOfCleavers Tue 10-Jul-12 10:17:25

Mine arrived this morning smile

teta Tue 10-Jul-12 11:28:41

Mine has also arrived today.Looks good!

Tee2072 Tue 10-Jul-12 13:38:31

Got mine today. Will try to start it later.

lasttothebar Tue 10-Jul-12 16:52:47

thank you. Mine arrived today

Belo Tue 10-Jul-12 18:57:32

Thank you! Received my book of the month. Only 40 pages to go on last months book of the month before I can start on this one. One day I will finish the book on time!!

Hope you've all received your copies by now and are getting stuck in. Feel free to put your questions up here for Amy any time, even if you're only half way through...

And if you'd like a preview taster of Amy's inspirations and writing practices, check out the speedy Q&A with Amy on The Guardian books pages

waitingforgodot Mon 16-Jul-12 09:23:34

yay! Got my book. Have just started it. Thank you Mumsnet!

ProfCoxWouldGetIt Mon 16-Jul-12 11:55:47

Book has arrived at home this morning, Thanks MumsNet smile

BiscuitNibbler Mon 16-Jul-12 13:38:23

Picked my copy up from the post office this morning. Just started it and have got into it straight away - always a good sign.

Thank you!

lilibet Tue 17-Jul-12 20:09:24

I'm feeling a bit blush, I've got a free copy and then realised I'm in France for the discussion. Sorry!

nailak Tue 17-Jul-12 20:48:23

I just got my book today!! will be getting stuck in very soon!

nailak Tue 17-Jul-12 22:07:10

Ok so I've just read chapter 2, I think it is very interesting to the portrayal of different views on Muslims and the different forms of islamaphobia and how they can manifest themselves, from people thinking they are doing Muslims a favour to outright assumptions that they are likely to be terrorists. It also shows how people can not be sure what to think and don't think what they feel is the right thing to think. It also shows how discrimination could occur in the workplace etc.

nailak Wed 18-Jul-12 13:02:28

ive finished, anyone wanna discuss?

I liked chapter 3, i can identify with it, how i never felt like an outsider until people told me I was.

nailak Wed 18-Jul-12 17:06:27

how does this work? do we wait until 31st july to discuss?

Devora Wed 18-Jul-12 23:08:41

I finished it today. Reporting for duty grin

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 19-Jul-12 09:23:17

nailak

how does this work? do we wait until 31st july to discuss?

Anything you want to say about the book while it's fresh in your mind, please post now (but if possible without spoilers). And any questions for Amy, ditto, please post. The more, the merrier.

Sorry, am late in replying, just want to add to GeraldineMumsnet's message and say everyone is free to discuss and put questions up whenever they want. And Amy will come on and reply to messages on 31st, where we continue the discussion with her.

I'm off to bed with my copy now. At least this rain is good for early nights and reading...

Devora Fri 20-Jul-12 00:04:08

OK, before I forget then, let me say I really enjoyed this book. The writing was very controlled, I really enjoyed the thoughtful characterisations - everyone not quite what they seemed, layers of ambivalence and doubt. I think she brought forward issues around identity, guilt, memory, collective responsibility, tabloid newsmaking etc very skilfully. I was hooked in very quickly and absorbed till the end.

I didn't think it was perfect. I thought the penultimate chapter ended beautifully, on a very strong visual image. She should have finished it there. Adding on the '20 years later' final chapter felt too much like tying up loose ends that were better left untied, ambiguous. It is still too early to know what the long term sequelae of 9/11 will be, and I think she shouldn't have taken a punt on that.

Which ties in to my other criticism, which was that it was a bit obvious at times. I felt she told us rather than showed us, and hammered messages home that were pretty clear and unambiguous and therefore unlikely to be missed. There were no real surprises to the characters - they were archetypes - and no real surprises in the plot. I wonder if she is imagining people like her character Sean picking up this book? Because I suppose I think the readers will all be Claires, and so can take something a bit more nuanced and ambiguous.

But I don't want that to overshadow what I thought of this book, which was that it was a really good read, well paced, richly characterised, and handling important issues with a calm thoroughness and balance that I thought worked really well and also didn't disturb the narrative or the force of the story.

nailak Fri 20-Jul-12 03:48:50

DO you think that the book gave you a better understanding of what it means to be Muslim in this time?

Is that the aim of the book? to make people evaluate their prejudices?? about illegal immigrants, about Muslims, about tabloid press? about democracy?

porridgelover Tue 24-Jul-12 15:19:43

Finished this last night. Wow...for a first book this is a zinger. I am envious of the writing talent.
Devora, I think yours is an excellent review and covered many of my observations. There were no great surprises in the plot- I anticipated many of the twists even down to the play on the double meaning of 'submission'. So, wow, clever me (I figured it out while telling my 8yo what 'submission' means grin).
But the engaging bit for me was how the writer convincingly shows how different people bring their own histories to an issue, how sometimes our guiding principles seem so clear but can be so easily manipulated, how people change their minds under pressure, how prejudice works and how we can understand all sides of it. She must be an astute observer of people.
Like Devora, I wasn't satisfied with the last chapter, and found the last line schmaltzy.

Devora Tue 24-Jul-12 20:18:27

I thought she explored Clare's feelings about her husband very well. Handling the doubt, the ambivalence, the honesty without ever slipping into disrespect or trashing the memory. (I'm talking about the relationship as if it were real, which is a sign of good writing.)

porridgelover Tue 24-Jul-12 22:28:07

Yes- and the character of Sean. Initially, not someone I'd sympathy for; but came around to see the difficulty of his situation; just as he also came around.
And the hardening of Mo's stance...
And that awful journalist....
And
And
And
The book really is terribly well done.

Devora and porridge, thank you for great messages. Have you got any specific questions re the ending/characters etc?

Just a reminder to everyone that we'll be forwarding questions to Amy on Monday, so don't forget to pop them up here...

Devora Thu 26-Jul-12 20:21:18

Ooh yes, I forgot that we could ask Amy questions. Right, here's mine (not expecting her to answer all four, obviously):

1. Can you tell us a bit about the timing of this book? Did you start wanting to write it after 9/11, or after the brouhaha about the proposed Muslim Cultural Centre near Ground Zero?

2. What have the reactions to your book been like in the US, and elsewhere? Are you reaching an audience beyond the liberal Clare types? Have you had any reaction from bereaved friends, or from Muslim readers?

3. Do you think this book could have come out earlier, or did it take till now for the US public to be ready for a fictionalisation of these issues?

4. I thought your description of the walled garden in the penultimate chapter was so beautiful and evocative. Have you visited a garden like that? Was it a deliberate plot device to keep the design obscured until nearly the end, and then let it flower in prose?

I've been thinking about the book a lot since finishing it, so thank you. And congratulations again on your achievement - I have a partner who is a writer, with a new book out, so I am fully aware (oh, and how) what a demanding and challenging process it is smile

Devora Thu 26-Jul-12 20:22:30

C'mon MNetters, surely you're not all reading 50 Shades of Kinky Malinki? grin

nailak Fri 27-Jul-12 00:15:03

"I wonder if she is imagining people like her character Sean picking up this book? Because I suppose I think the readers will all be Claires, and so can take something a bit more nuanced and ambiguous"

IMO the book is aimed at Claires, as it makes them re evaluate their preconceptions.

Mumsnet is full of CLaires, and the themes in the book occur regularly here. For instance expecting all muslims to condemn terrorist acts. Making Muslims feel seperate from the society by saying they are not integrating with the culture in the country etc

Something I found interesting is how in the end he did "go home to his own country" and his real own country, that he loved and was connected to missed out on his talent as they were prejudiced towards him. He decided to go somewhere in which he didnt have to prove himself in that manner, that only the quality of his work mattered, not his name. It made me wonder about those threads were people get offended that Muslims dont want to shake oppossite sexes hands etc, and people say they should go somewhere else if they feel like that.

Devora Fri 27-Jul-12 00:17:00

Good points, nailak.

porridgelover Sat 28-Jul-12 14:16:19

OOh Tilly...is that a wrist smack grin?
You're quite right- I was so busy showing off my observations I forgot to question Amy.

So my question is; in this book I loved how some characters initially had beliefs which changed, sometimes over the course of a conversation. The characters could easily have been shallower but still told a solid story without this element.

Where do you find your insights into motivation come from- do you people watch? So you have an interest/training in psychology? Where do you get your ability to observe and analyse people so well?

nailak Sat 28-Jul-12 15:58:17

1) my question is how much research did you do? did you live with illegal immigrants?

ha ha! not a wrist smack, porridge, although quite like the image of self as strict headmistress, stalking the thread with a giant copy of Dickens to bash everyone on the head. Might change nickname to MissTrunchbull.

Thanks for excellent questions, I am emailing them to Amy now.

And do keep them coming - the more advance questions the better, as we can get through more messages that way.

Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow, 9pm..

southlondonlady Mon 30-Jul-12 10:16:58

I read this book a while ago and I enjoyed it, I think it is more about following the characters over time rather than the messages which I agree are fairly obvious. The character of Sean was particularly interesting to me, his motivations and how he was swept up in the 'anti' campaign but then realised it had all gone too far.

My question for Amy: was there a reason for choosing an Irish American family for the 'anti' side? I don't remember any reference to this in the book but there are obviously close parallels with Mo's story, as in, Irish people have been regarded with suspicion at various points in history and sometimes expected to explicitly condemn the IRA when this should go without saying.

And a taster: Amy's Q&A with the FT

Devora Mon 30-Jul-12 21:26:44

southlondonlady, isn't it also true to say that Irish Americans occupy a particular place in American culture (quite different from the one they occupy in English culture), particularly in New York and Boston, where they have been associated with a strain of rather chauvinist, reactionary collective identity?

Don't flame me, folks, I'm not saying irish people are reactionary, but I think the cultural context for Irish heritage may be different from an American reader than an English one.

BiscuitNibbler Tue 31-Jul-12 08:00:28

Not finished yet, unfortunately, real life keeps getting in the way of reading.

I am enjoying the book so far, and think it is very thought-provoking, making me think about my reactions quite a lot - maybe this is why it is taking me longer to read.

Some of the writing about gut reactions is spot on. As a lapsed Catholic I know exactly the reaction that Mo had when someone criticised his religion despite believing himself a secularist. Can I ask if you have a lapsed faith that helped you to put yourself in his shoes so well?

My only criticism is nothing to do with the author, and more to do with the editing. Yes, this is an American book, but I think some judicious alteration for the UK market might have helped some parts of the book not to jar so much. For example the bit about the man in the suspenders creates such a totally different image in the UK brain that it lost the momentum for a while - it is hard to remain engrossed in the plot when you are sniggering inappropriately.

I think the book is very well written and it is very believable. I will definitely look out for more books by Amy. Thanks for giving me the chance to read it.

porridgelover Tue 31-Jul-12 09:19:25

Oh dear .....Tilly....forever in my head now as a Dickensian/Hogwarthian bespectacled, rule-measure wielding harridan grin grin

Windsock Tue 31-Jul-12 09:20:31

I'm reading. Liking mucho. Any othervrecs from people ? I likes rules if civility, the Blackhouse goon squad etc
Modern. No dying babies please.

noddyholder Tue 31-Jul-12 10:59:17

My book group read this I loved it! PMSL @ dying babies

nailak Tue 31-Jul-12 12:59:15

Erm I might be late for discussion as time clashes with the time I have to stuff my face break my fast and pray.

mamseul Tue 31-Jul-12 13:39:23

appreciate I'm a bit late for sending questions across, but am curious to know how Amy went about getting permission to use various celebraty names in the novel - how much context did she need to share etc?

Really enjoyed the book. Good pace and some interesting ideas explored. However, I agree with Devora about where it would have made sense to end. And Claire got on my wick a bit after a while. This is probably about me, though. I don't relate well to indecision. Always want to give Hamlet a good shake whevenever I watch it!

nailak Tue 31-Jul-12 14:12:58

What was the most enjoyable thing about writing the book?
What have you got planned for the next book?
How do you fit writing around family life?
How long did it take you to research and write the book?
What has the response to the book been in the USA? Has it been seen as provocative?

Do you think the book can change people's perceptions?

Devora Tue 31-Jul-12 14:48:39

Oh, here's another one!

Do you, the author, have a view on collective responsibility/guilt? I'm fairly sure you, like all reasonable people, would not feel Mo should have taken the sins of the 9/11 terrorists on his shoulders. But of course you tested the limits of the reader's liberalism when Mo grew more and more unbending, even to the stage that just one word from him would have eased Clare's anguish. And you do a great job of showing why Mo is so unyielding. But do you have a view on whether he should have been?

It's such an interesting issue; did you consciously think of analogous situations? For example, I'm of Jewish heritage, and get very arsey indeed if people feel they have the right to demand to know if I have the 'right' views on Israel, or if they hold me responsible for Israel's actions, or if they shake their heads about Israel while sighing, "You would think, of all people, after what the Nazis do to them..."

And yet I do think there comes a point where I have a moral responsibility to say "Not in my name" and take a stand. I found it impossible to maintain a smug silence at the time of Sabra and Shatila, for example. Do you think 9/11 was a time when more Muslims could and should have said Not in my name, and one of the tragedies of the time was that they felt too cornered to do so?

Belo Tue 31-Jul-12 15:01:19

I finished the book yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not sure how much I liked any of the characters. They were all quite arrogant I thought. Apart from Asma who considering her situation seemed quite grounded (I cried when I read about her stabbing).

Leila (the lawyer) is somebody who I thought I could have got to like. I would have liked to have known more about her.

I'm now going away to think of questions...

aristocat Tue 31-Jul-12 20:42:01

I haven't quite finished this book yet sorry but I am enjoying it very much. It is a fast read and such an interesting choice of subject.

My favourite character is Asma, so much emotion and it really gets you to think (although that is the point of the book isn't it?)

I am in awe that this is your first book ...... will definitely look out for more of your work smile

My question is did you always want to write a novel, and why not choose an easier subject material? And whats next please?

Evening everyone

I almost feel we are embarking on an episode of Newsnight – there are so many political/social/theological questions from this novel waiting to be explored. So I am delighted that Amy Waldman is here tonight to throw light on the inspiration and research behind her thought-provoking debut.

We already have many questions to get through, so without further ado...

Amy, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to join us. And many congratulations on such a successful, enjoyable book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors, and will be archived on the site):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:03:08

Thanks, Tilly! It's great to be here with all of you. I'll start with the earliest questions...

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:04:18

nailak

DO you think that the book gave you a better understanding of what it means to be Muslim in this time?

Is that the aim of the book? to make people evaluate their prejudices?? about illegal immigrants, about Muslims, about tabloid press? about democracy?

Trying to imagine your way into other people's heads - even if they don?t actually exist - should give you a better understanding of their lives if you?re doing it right. So yes, I did some hard thinking about what it would have been like to be Muslim during the past decade. But I also had to imagine what it would be like to be anti-Muslim, whether from grief or other reasons. My job was to try to understand all the characters to the best of my ability.
What I've realized since the book came out is that my novel may be the closest some readers come to encountering a Muslim. You meet people in fiction you might never meet in real life. Fiction is Not just meet - converse intimately with. Fiction is a strange beast in that sense.
I didn't have particular aims for readers because as a first-time novelist I didn't know if I would have any readers! I was interested in so many of the themes in the novel - what should America be after 9/11, what does grief change, how does a woman define herself after her husband dies, how do we read symbols, and people - and the novel was a way to explore them. I wanted to know what would happen if someone like Mo won. I wanted to think about - and I've only realized this retroactively - what I would do if I were in Mo or Claire or Sean?s shoes.

SunshinePanda Tue 31-Jul-12 21:07:47

I found The Submission an extremely thought provoking read. I was struck from the very beginning on the importance of a name and how it conveys so very much about a person. This was deliberately highlighted at both the opening and closing sentences. How important were those two sentences to you when writing the book Amy?
Also whose side were you on? Personally my decision kept changing throughout the book!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:08:08

Devora

Ooh yes, I forgot that we could ask Amy questions. Right, here's mine (not expecting her to answer all four, obviously):

1. Can you tell us a bit about the timing of this book? Did you start wanting to write it after 9/11, or after the brouhaha about the proposed Muslim Cultural Centre near Ground Zero?

I first had the idea for the book a couple of years after 9/11. I didn’t start working on it until early 2007. I had already completed a draft when the controversy around the proposed Islamic community center erupted --- needless to say, it was eerie watching my novel come to life in some sense.

2. What have the reactions to your book been like in the US, and elsewhere? Are you reaching an audience beyond the liberal Clare types? Have you had any reaction from bereaved friends, or from Muslim readers?

My sense is that the book has reached a diverse audience, including readers of all political persuasions, and people who lost someone that day. Some find it challenging, others have said they find it cathartic. A lot of people start the book certain about what they believe --- and end confused. I like that. The conversations with Muslim readers have been interesting because they almost feel like a continuation of the novel, these same questions about whether they are responsible for assuaging the fears of non-Muslims.

4. I thought your description of the walled garden in the penultimate chapter was so beautiful and evocative. Have you visited a garden like that? Was it a deliberate plot device to keep the design obscured until nearly the end, and then let it flower in prose?

I've been thinking about the book a lot since finishing it, so thank you. And congratulations again on your achievement - I have a partner who is a writer, with a new book out, so I am fully aware (oh, and how) what a demanding and challenging process it is smile

The garden Mo visits (I hope I am not spoiling anything for readers who haven’t finished!) is in Kabul. I went there often when I was reporting in Afghanistan and I watched it come back to life as it was restored in the years after 9/11. I spent a lot of time, in constructing the novel, deciding where that scene should go. Nowhere seemed quite right until I moved it to the almost-end, when it suddenly resonated in an entirely different way. As a writer it was interesting to see that --- it’s not just the content of a scene, but its placement, that can determine its emotional valence.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:09:51

porridgelover

OOh Tilly...is that a wrist smack grin?
You're quite right- I was so busy showing off my observations I forgot to question Amy.

So my question is; in this book I loved how some characters initially had beliefs which changed, sometimes over the course of a conversation. The characters could easily have been shallower but still told a solid story without this element.

Where do you find your insights into motivation come from- do you people watch? So you have an interest/training in psychology? Where do you get your ability to observe and analyse people so well?

As a writer I am really interested in how characters think, more than how they speak or look. I spend a lot of time thinking about thinking, if that makes sense! I kept wanting to go deeper into their heads, to really try to imagine how a moment would look from their perspective, and what kind of reaction that would trigger. I’ve compared it to reporting a profile --- you go back again and again to try to learn more.

Belo Tue 31-Jul-12 21:10:50

Thank you for a most enjoyable and thought provoking book Amy.

Is it too late to come in with my question?

I've been thinking more about Asma and about her husband, working illegally in the towers. Do you know how many illegal workers there were working there? Do you know if they were recognised? Asma got her money. Is this taken from any real life cases?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:10:51

nailak

1) my question is how much research did you do? did you live with illegal immigrants?

I didn't live with illegal immigrants but I've done reporting on them over the years and read what I could. I do research less to sandwich information into a novel - it seems to become deadening when I do that - then give myself more insight, in Asma's case, into what it would feel like to live in the shadows. Again, it's about imagination: can you project yourself into that person's shoes?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:12:07

southlondonlady

I read this book a while ago and I enjoyed it, I think it is more about following the characters over time rather than the messages which I agree are fairly obvious. The character of Sean was particularly interesting to me, his motivations and how he was swept up in the 'anti' campaign but then realised it had all gone too far.

My question for Amy: was there a reason for choosing an Irish American family for the 'anti' side? I don't remember any reference to this in the book but there are obviously close parallels with Mo's story, as in, Irish people have been regarded with suspicion at various points in history and sometimes expected to explicitly condemn the IRA when this should go without saying.

I did choose to make Sean Irish-American partly because of the history of the Irish in America - moving from being severely discriminated against early on to sometimes playing the same role themselves (which I had would add is a very American story, or maybe a human one - the victims becoming the victimizers.) I hadn't thought until now about the pressure to denounce the IRA but it's a great parallel.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:14:26

[quote nailak]What was the most enjoyable thing about writing the book?

Completing a novel can be torment, but writing fiction is incredibly fun. It is a form of play, and I loved discovering the freedom with language, the ability to use humor, which I had never felt as a journalist. It felt like flying, at least at first!

What have you got planned for the next book?

The next book is complicated to explain - it attempts to marry the American fascination with memoirs with the war in Afghanistan. Wish me luck!

How do you fit writing around family life?

I?m struggling with that now - my life, with two-year-old twins, is so different than when I began The Submission. I have much less time and different emotional priorities. I'm trying to get a little bit more of a routine going but it's not easy.

How long did it take you to research and write the book?

Almost four years but I had children in the middle!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:16:27

Devora

Oh, here's another one!

Do you, the author, have a view on collective responsibility/guilt? I'm fairly sure you, like all reasonable people, would not feel Mo should have taken the sins of the 9/11 terrorists on his shoulders. But of course you tested the limits of the reader's liberalism when Mo grew more and more unbending, even to the stage that just one word from him would have eased Clare's anguish. And you do a great job of showing why Mo is so unyielding. But do you have a view on whether he should have been?

It's such an interesting issue; did you consciously think of analogous situations? For example, I'm of Jewish heritage, and get very arsey indeed if people feel they have the right to demand to know if I have the 'right' views on Israel, or if they hold me responsible for Israel's actions, or if they shake their heads about Israel while sighing, "You would think, of all people, after what the Nazis do to them..."

And yet I do think there comes a point where I have a moral responsibility to say "Not in my name" and take a stand. I found it impossible to maintain a smug silence at the time of Sabra and Shatila, for example. Do you think 9/11 was a time when more Muslims could and should have said Not in my name, and one of the tragedies of the time was that they felt too cornered to do so?

I am Jewish and I definitely drew on the experience you describe - of being expected to take a position one way or another on Israel - in constructing Mo's character. Muslim readers often seem surprised to hear this, but it's true. I avoid saying what I think Mo should have done partly because I enjoy watching readers arguing with each other and themselves over that question. And I admit I take a certain pleasure in readers? frustration with his intransigence! To me these kinds of moral puzzles rather than any kind of message are the heart of the novel and one of my main interests as a writer. I do think this question of what, as individuals, are our relationship and obligations to the groups we are part of is one of the tricky parts of being human. On a personal level I might feel compelled to speak out, but because I don't like being coerced I'm unlikely to try to coerce anyone else.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:18:30

mamseul

appreciate I'm a bit late for sending questions across, but am curious to know how Amy went about getting permission to use various celebraty names in the novel - how much context did she need to share etc?

I didn't seek anyone's permission! I am assuming it works differently in Britain, but here, as long as it's fiction, you're free to appropriate any public figure in your story. Or so I'm told.smile

Really enjoyed the book. Good pace and some interesting ideas explored. However, I agree with Devora about where it would have made sense to end. And Claire got on my wick a bit after a while. This is probably about me, though. I don't relate well to indecision. Always want to give Hamlet a good shake whenever I watch it!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:20:00

aristocat

I haven't quite finished this book yet sorry but I am enjoying it very much. It is a fast read and such an interesting choice of subject.

My favourite character is Asma, so much emotion and it really gets you to think (although that is the point of the book isn't it?)

I am in awe that this is your first book ...... will definitely look out for more of your work smile

My question is did you always want to write a novel, and why not choose an easier subject material? And whats next please?

A part of me always wanted to write fiction, even if that desire was sometimes deeply sublimated. A novel seemed too daunting, so I tended to in terms of short stories (which I now find harder to write than novels, incidentally.) To me the subject of The Submission didn't seem hard because I found it so compelling. I couldn't have arbitrarily set out to write a novel, then looked for a subject; only because I found this idea so compelling was I able to write a novel. That doesn't mean that the process of crafting it was easy - it wasn't - but I never worried whether this was something I should be writing about (see above re: first novel, so no readers to worry about). It kept my interest until the last day of writing (and beyond).

I mentioned above a little about what's next - it's different in structure than The Submission, but I can see certain continuities in my preoccupations!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:27:18

SunshinePanda

I found The Submission an extremely thought provoking read. I was struck from the very beginning on the importance of a name and how it conveys so very much about a person. This was deliberately highlighted at both the opening and closing sentences. How important were those two sentences to you when writing the book Amy?
Also whose side were you on? Personally my decision kept changing throughout the book!

I must say I'm pleased you picked up on the symmetry between the beginning and the end! Those sentences were very important to me. I did feel like that first sentence contained, on some level, the whole novel - it is all about names, both Mohammad Khan's (who is a problem, at least initially, only because of his name) and also the names of the dead, which are the way we hold onto them (and why Claire is so stunned by their effacement at the end).
I never reveal whose side I was on, because I don't want to color how readers approach the book. But I also found myself changing my mind often. In a way I had to - if I couldn't see each character's side, how could a reader?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:31:44

Belo

Thank you for a most enjoyable and thought provoking book Amy.

Is it too late to come in with my question?

I've been thinking more about Asma and about her husband, working illegally in the towers. Do you know how many illegal workers there were working there? Do you know if they were recognised? Asma got her money. Is this taken from any real life cases?

I don't know the numbers of illegal aliens who worked in the towers, but Asma's situation was real - I read a newspaper story about a small group of spouses who had received compensation but were still illegal. It really stayed with me: what a strange paradoxical situation to be in. I had already begun thinking about Asma - about her as a widow outside the process, forming a pair with Claire, who is inside. I decided to weave that into her story. Congress finally did make it possible for almost all of them to stay but it took many years.

Amy - just quickly flagging that the answer to mamseul's question hasn't come through properly for some reason, would you mind reposting?

Apologies if you're already onto it...

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:36:39

Belo

I finished the book yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not sure how much I liked any of the characters. They were all quite arrogant I thought. Apart from Asma who considering her situation seemed quite grounded (I cried when I read about her stabbing).

Leila (the lawyer) is somebody who I thought I could have got to like. I would have liked to have known more about her.

I'm now going away to think of questions...

You're not alone in this reaction (not finding any of the readers likable, except maybe Asma) and it's been interesting for me as a writer to think about. Should characters in fiction be likable? What does that even mean? I liked my characters because they all interested me. And I wanted to explore what a situation like this does to people --- it may bring out the best; it seemed more likely, based on what I've observed, not to. I do think you learn a lot about yourself, some of it discomfiting, in writing a novel. Did I have too dark a view of human nature? (In real life, I actually like most people!) It's a question to ponder.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:37:55

[quote mamseul]appreciate I'm a bit late for sending questions across, but am curious to know how Amy went about getting permission to use various celebraty names in the novel - how much context did she need to share etc?

I didn't seek anyone's permission! I am assuming it works differently in Britain, but here, as long as it's fiction, you're free to appropriate any public figure in your story. Or so I'm told.smile

mamseul Tue 31-Jul-12 21:38:30

I can see it - although the diffrent colour highlighting thing didn't seem to work! Thanks, by the way. Don't know if you would need to seek permission in Britain. I just assumed but maybe I'm an over cautious Brit

I read an interesting article in the Guardian the other day about US Presidential campaign poster art, and what message each candidate used to get elected. There seemed to be common consent that 'I'll keep you safe' was repeatedly the winner of all campaign messages.

Every electorate wants to be protected, but the US seems to highlight this issue above all others. Why do you think the US has a particularly complex relationship with national security?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:41:27

TillyBookClub

.

Which childhood book most inspired you?

Of many contenders I would say Anne of Green Gables. To read, as a young girl myself, about an orphan girl who arrives to a couple wanting a boy - and then proves herself so bright and imaginative - really seized me. I wanted to be her, red hair and all.

Belo Tue 31-Jul-12 21:42:54

No, I don't think characters need to be likeable. But, I do think they need to draw an emotion from the reader. And, for me not to like them shows that there personalities are coming through. I think that makes them successful as characters.

So, by me saying I don't like the characters in your book, you can take that as a compliment smile

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:46:34

TillyBookClub

I read an interesting article in the Guardian the other day about US Presidential campaign poster art, and what message each candidate used to get elected. There seemed to be common consent that 'I'll keep you safe' was repeatedly the winner of all campaign messages.

Every electorate wants to be protected, but the US seems to highlight this issue above all others. Why do you think the US has a particularly complex relationship with national security?

It's such a profound question and a tough one to answer. Fear is a powerful emotion and motivator, and that's partly what those ads play on. And national security has become a political weapon - no one wants to be the leader who let people die on his watch. But I also think America has become a country that believes it can ward off or eliminate every kind of risk - and believing that makes you much more fearful of exposure. We go to great lengths, in every field, to avert even a single death. At one of my readings someone compared this to some Eastern cultures that are much more accepting of death as a part of life. We believe that, with all our capacities and technology, that we should be able to make ourselves invulnerable - but maybe that makes us more vulnerable psychologically.

Sorry, I should add that the campaigns were from all over history, not just post 9/11.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:49:23

TillyBookClub

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Three pieces of advice, actually. Read a lot. Find material or a subject that’s like your fingerprint: unique to your imagination and experiences. And write for yourself: because it gives you pleasure, because it’s a way to puzzle through something, not for an external goal or reward.

I crossed posts there, sorry!

That is a very interesting answer. I can see parallels in that sort of risk-aversness all through Western thinking. We do feel we should be invincible, and failure hits us so hard.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:50:47

TillyBookClub

I crossed posts there, sorry!

That is a very interesting answer. I can see parallels in that sort of risk-aversness all through Western thinking. We do feel we should be invincible, and failure hits us so hard.

Yes, invincible is the word I was looking for!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:52:45

Belo

No, I don't think characters need to be likeable. But, I do think they need to draw an emotion from the reader. And, for me not to like them shows that there personalities are coming through. I think that makes them successful as characters.

So, by me saying I don't like the characters in your book, you can take that as a compliment smile

Thank you!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:53:31

Belatedly getting some of the punctuation....strike-throughs were actually meant to be between hyphens, not strike-throughs, so apologies for that! Hope you can still read the full answers.

Devora Tue 31-Jul-12 21:54:20

Just arrived back on the thread after a protracted battle with my own 2 year old. Interesting discussion smile

One quick last question before we run out of time: which authors inspire you? Did you have anyone specific that you turned to when you were writing this book, a sort of 'how would ..... do this' ?

southlondonlady Tue 31-Jul-12 21:56:45

Thank you for answering my question - great Q&A all round.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:58:15

And just to address some of the opinions at the ending... after I moved the Kabul garden scene to the end I did weigh finishing the book there. But I was already attached to moving forward into the future, partly because I wanted to see how time changed perspectives, where Mo ended up, and I also felt there was this (literally) small chorus of children in the book who would by then be adults. But I do sometimes wonder about my choice, so it's interesting to hear your thoughts!

Devora Tue 31-Jul-12 21:59:04

Is it cheeky to ask what you're writing next, Amy? Or are you swallowed up in potty training right now?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 22:01:16

TillyBookClub

One quick last question before we run out of time: which authors inspire you? Did you have anyone specific that you turned to when you were writing this book, a sort of 'how would ..... do this' ?

I didn't have anyone specific I would turn to, only because I didn't have a particular model for The Submission. But when my writing is flat or I feel uninspired the first thing I do is go to my bookshelf and read --- everyone from Tolstoy to Emily Dickinson to Flannery O'Connor to Jonathan Franzen. It reminds me of the possibilities of language, and of why I write in the first place.

Thanks so much for having me! It's been a pleasure.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 22:04:04

Devora

Is it cheeky to ask what you're writing next, Amy? Or are you swallowed up in potty training right now?

I've addressed, vaguely, what I'm working on in a couple of questions, so please check the thread. But yes, I am also potty training now, the two of them, which is both twice as hard and twice as easy, since they motivate each other! Should we end on that note? It sums up well the strange toggle between work and life!

Devora Tue 31-Jul-12 22:04:44

Thanks for answering our questions, and best of luck with the potty training and the book smile

We'd better call it a day and let Amy get back to her tea/wine/beer (not sure what time it is for you, Amy!).

It has been a fascinating discussion, thank you to everyone for such insightful questions and interesting takes on the book.

Amy, thank you so much for giving us your time and energy and being such a star. Your answers have been extremely thoughtful and illuminating, and incredibly speedily typed, to boot...

And thanks again for a wonderful novel.

Good luck with your next project, I am looking forward to reading it immensely.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 22:07:15

Thank you Tilly and everyone who came on! It's 5 p.m. here and I'm going to make my children "hot tea," which is their favorite phrase these days. And maybe give them dinner too.

aristocat Tue 31-Jul-12 22:13:54

Thanks so much for your super replies smile good luck for the next one!

And a final message to bookclubbers: Bookclub is now on holiday until September, when Hilary Mantel will join us for an emailed Q&A on BRING UP THE BODIES. 50 copies up for grabs from tomorrow morning, around 10.30am...

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