Kamila Shamsie was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2011.
I’ve been a Fellow of the RSL since 2011. Through the RSL I’ve wandered around many parts of the world (in my imagination) while judging the RSL Ondaatje Prize, have listened to writers illuminate everything from war to Moomins at RSL events, been involved in conversations as a council member about what writers can do for other writers and other readers (the RSL so good at dispelling the notion of the writer as an always solitary being) and enjoyed the company of fellow Fellows in gatherings small and large.
I wrote A God in Every Stone as a consequence of trying to learn more about a city – Peshawar – that I only knew through headlines about violence. Of course, once you start learning about a place with a history that goes back at least 4,500 years you find yourself knee-deep in stories that you want to re-shape and fill out and people with your own characters. So that’s what happened. A novel about archaeologists and an ancient traveller and Indian soldiers in WWI and an Unarmed Army that fought colonialism resulted. It always sounds so straightforward after it’s done, though I managed to get sufficiently lost amidst all the potential stories that I had to delete ten months of work at one point. Everyone thinks that must have been an awful thing to do, but sometimes there’s nothing so liberating as erasure.
At the moment I must be reading Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion because I’m never not reading it even if I sometimes go months or more between putting it down and picking it up again; also, Susan Abulhawa’s The Blue Between Sky and Water.
Here’s a picture of me in Antarctica, sitting on an iceberg (show-off, I know).
Articles by Kamila Shamsie
Now we are (round about) sixty
Five RSL Fellows remember the books they loved as children.
Literature and political violence
Adam Foulds, Pankaj Mishra, Chris Petit and Kamila Shamsie on the relationship between literature and political violence.
The Pakistani novel today
Nadeem Aslam, Pankaj Mishra and Kamila Shamsie discuss the Pakistani novel at the Tagore Memorial Meeting.