I had the great pleasure recently of interviewing award-winning Australian writer and my dear friend Sulari Gentill for the Creative Lives series.
Creative Lives: The Interview Series is an initiative of the South Asian Diaspora International Researchers’ Network (SADIRN), a global network hosted by Monash University. The series aims to shed light on the ‘magical space’ that is the creative mind of the South Asian diasporic writer, where characters lurk, plots unwind, and critical thinking shimmers.
Sri Lankan born Australian novelist Sulari Gentill is the author of the award-winning Rowland Sinclair series of historical crime fiction, the first of which, A Few Right Thinking Men, published in 2010, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. The ninth book in the series, All The Tears in China, will be released in January 2019. As SD Gentill, Sulari has also published The Hero Trilogy, a YA fantasy series based on a retelling of ancient Greek myths. In August 2018, she won the Australian Crime Writers Association’s Ned Kelly Award for her standalone novel, Crossing the Lines. I interviewed Sulari the day after the awards night [read her account of the night here]. In this interview, Sulari talks about ‘the deliciousness of writing’, reflecting on her creative choices, the relationship between authors and their characters, and the disturbing parallels between Australia in the 1930s and today.
Angela Savage: Sulari, congratulations on winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel. By my calculations, you are only the third woman, and the first woman of colour to win in this category since the awards began in 1995. For some time, you were the only South Asian diasporic writer working in the crime genre in Australia, and you’re still one of only two that we know of. How do you account for this?
Sulari Gentill: Well, I don’t account for it, to be honest, I’m not sure that I can. I did have a discussion with Malla Nunn, who’s another writer of colour who writes in this genre, about this some time ago and we were talking tongue in cheek about the fact that quite often writers of colour, particularly writers of South Asian origin, are too snobby to write anything but literature.
Angela: Well, I did wonder if it reflects a lack of prestige accorded to genre fiction over literary fiction in South Asian diasporic communities.
Sulari: Perhaps, but I don’t know whether people necessarily think in those terms. It did not occur to me, when I started writing that I was choosing to write genre fiction. I was just writing. I can’t imagine people sitting down and thinking, ‘I want to write. What am I going to write? I’m going to write something worthy.’ It seems to me a very artificial construct.
I do wonder whether it’s a feeling of where you will be welcomed. I know we had this discussion recently about the concept of “the other” and I do think that literature, and high literature in particular, whilst it is viewed as worthy, and award worthy, and grant worthy, and something to be aspired to, is also considered as the “other”. It’s not something you necessarily read when you’re tired or in need of comfort. You don’t necessarily read it to feel at home, indeed, quite often it’s the opposite—you read it when you want to be extended, or challenged or made to learn.
When you’re tired and you need comfort or a good laugh you turn to genre, and genre is family. So, perhaps it is that writers of colour in the Western context are more easily accepted into a writing form that is other, that is expected to be exotic and unfamiliar, rather than a writing form that is “family”.
Read the rest of the interview here.