If you’re anything like me, your reality has grown significantly smaller over the past two years. Despite the availability of Zoom and Facebook, connection between individuals–even close friends–has changed. But now, as it seems we’re getting a bit of a break from COVID here in the US (fingers crossed), I’m hoping to reconnect with the world. And what better way to do that than by discussing books and writing? So I’m hoping to interview at least one writer a week here on my blog, and anyone who wants to listen in or join the conversation is welcome. Please pull up a chair!
This week, I’m thrilled to be speaking with with Nillu Nasser. I met Nillu online years ago when I saw a link to one of her poems on Twitter and was so moved that I immediately followed her blog. I’ll cut to the chase and say that Nillu is an incredibly talented and versatile writer. She’s also kind and generous, and it’s an honor to call her a friend.
Finally, the first book in Nillu’s Druid Heir Series (Midlife Dawn) is free on Amazon Friday, March 18th. So grab your copy and enjoy!
Mary: When did you first know you were a writer?
Nillu: I’ve always known on some level. Even back when I was just writing in my journal for myself or writing to a pen friend. Spoken words I sometimes find tiring; written words are for me a source of energy and understanding. I can take the time to weave intricate sentences or get the nuance just right without worrying that it is already someone else’s turn to speak or that I have bored my listener. I can examine a thought carefully, tangibly, without it slipping through the fog of my brain like a wandering child at a funfair.
I think the aha moment came at a time I was unhappy in my job and the opportunity had come for my husband and I to move to Switzerland. I’d just given birth to our second child, and time felt like it was slipping through my fingers. I suddenly felt an urgency to make my dreams happen. I’d written short stories by then, was an active member in Twitter’s flash fiction community and had started my first novel. But I hadn’t finished it. So, we decided to just go for it. We’d move to Switzerland and I’d try my hand at making a living with fiction. I’m so glad I took that step. I don’t think I’d really claimed my true identity until then.
So I continue to write now. It comforts me, just like it did when I was a child. The physical act of writing, the tap of the keyboard, the soreness of my fingers after a long day’s work, the crease of the page and the glare of the screen that blurs my vision are satisfying. They mean I have done an honest day’s work. Fiction may be a lie, but writing is truth. It’s a tool for self-insight and healing. It’s the closest I’ve come to magic.
Mary: I love those last few sentences, Nillu, and totally agree about the healing–possibly magical–power of writing.
Mary: What genres do you write?
Nillu: I write Literary Fiction under Nillu Nasser and Paranormal Women’s Fiction under N. Z. Nasser. Initially, I made the step to PWF during the pandemic, when the world seemed dark. I wanted to write something light and magical, with a cast of characters who could rely on each other.
PWF was a revelation. It’s feminist and fun, with a big splash of mystery, adventure and humour. Plus, I get to write about characters in their midlife. Central to PWF is an older woman saving the world. Older women are some of the wisest, most fun, courageous people I know. Too often fiction is about 20-somethings and it feels good to redress that.
Both my literary fiction and my PWF feature diverse casts and strong women. I love the balance that the two strands bring to my work. Literary fiction is often about surviving the world. It’s poetic, deep and oh so human. Urban fantasy is about saving the world. It’s atmospheric, magical and escapist, and a whole heap of fun to write. PWF is what I am concentrating on right now while I complete the Druid Heir series.
Mary: Which of your books would you recommend to someone who’s just discovering your work for the first time?
All the Tomorrows has my heart. It was my first published novel and I’m so proud of it still. Akash and Jaya’s love against the backdrop of the Indian heat and under the weight of cultural expectations will stay with me. Some day I might return to that world.
My personal favourite of my books is Hidden Colours. That story helped me understand what it must have been like for my grandparents to flee Idi Amin’s Uganda, during the 1972 exodus of East African Asians. In Hidden Colours, one of the main characters is a Syrian acrobat. So I got to play with scenes in the circus. It is set in Berlin, where my husband is from and where we once lived together. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
But I digressed! If you want magic, adventure, laugh-out-loud fun, a slow-burn romantic sub-plot, with karaoke-loving leopards, hot teleporting werewolf-wizards and a druid heroine in her midlife, whose family have been keeping their magical past a secret, then try my Druid Heir series. These books allowed me to write a character who discovers she is more powerful than she realised. Once Alisha knows who she is, there’s no stopping her. I’m a London girl and that’s where the books are based. Magic pops up in unexpected places: in a tea shop, in a park and at a gym. It’s my first series, and it’s been a blast weaving this complex world together, exploring new storylines, deepening the characterization, the friendships and enmities. There are four books out (the fourth Midlife Drift releases on 15 March) with three more to come.
If you want a taster of my voice in either genres, then there’s a free short story for newsletter subscribers in both genres. Or for the PWF, you could join my reader group Nasser’s Book Nymphs for teasers.
Mary: Of all the scenes you’ve created in your writing, which are you most proud of?
Nillu: For me, it’s often the scenes between women that I am most proud of. Initially, when I started writing, I made sure I did the Bechdel test, to make sure I had scenes in which women took centre stage, where they weren’t talking about men. But then I realized, I do that naturally. I’ve always found comfort, honesty and sisterhood in female friendships and my characters do too.
It might be sisters, or best friends, a mother-daughter relationship, or an older mentor figure advising a younger woman, but I love those scenes. There’s a bra-buying scene in Druid Heir that I love. In Hidden Colours, there’s a kindly old German woman who’s a guardian at the circus residences. She steals all the scenes she’s in. But I also come back to this extract from All the Tomorrows:
It always lifted Jaya’s spirits to spend time with Ruhi. She did not have to pretend in their relationship. There was immediate intimacy; it was liberating to disengage from the polite dances of social need. Here, there were no storms to weather, just acceptance, and she loved Ruhi fiercely for it.
She liked to think that even if she and Akash had survived, their heterosexual marriage would have come secondary to this sisterly bond, that somehow, her relationship with Ruhi would remain pure, beyond corruption. It struck her as infinitely sad when women erased their common history over a perceived slight or out of sync expectations. It gladdened Jaya that she and Ruhi had been strong enough to withstand petty jealousies, that they had created room in their relationship for differing points of view and personalities. Over the years she had determined that she and Ruhi shared a profound love story of their own, one that orbited above the drama and betrayal of romantic relationships.
So yes, it’s my scenes with women. But then, I think that reflects my preferences, not necessarily reader ones. For example, according to my readers, Orpheus the vampire is a scene stealer!
Mary: I read All the Tomorrows a couple of years ago and loved it. When I finished it, I immediately gave it to my mom, who loved it as well. The relationship between Jaya and Ruhi is incredibly beautiful.
Mary: Who are your favorite authors?
Nillu: I love reading too much to be loyal to one or a few authors. Maybe my tastes are too broad or maybe I have a fickle heart. More likely, perhaps, that I fall in love with authors and their worlds easily, and often find that books come to me for a reason or they speak to me during certain phases of my life.
In fiction, I fell head over heels for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jonathan Safran Foer, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, Daphne Du Maurier, Erin Morgenstern, George R. R. Martin, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Kamila Shamsie, Cormac McCarthy, Kevin Herne, Patricia Briggs, Radclyffe Hall, Susan Cooper and NK Jemisin. In poetry for Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Audre Lorde, John Keats, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And there’s non-fiction favourites like Robert McFarlane, Bill Bryson and Barry Lopez. But ask me again tomorrow and I may well come up with another list…
Thanks for having me, Mary. It was such a treat to talk writing and books with you.
Me: Thank you so much for being here, Nillu! I hope someday we can meet in person!
More about Nillu
N. Z. Nasser is a writer of Literary Fiction and Paranormal Women’s Fiction. Her stories are about women who change the world, often filled with magic and always rooted in friendship. A lover of barefoot walks along the beach, she is glad to have left behind her career in the civil service and to never wear heels again. Whether she is writing in her garden office or wrangling laundry, she is happiest with a cup of tea at her side. She lives in London with her husband, three children, two cats and a fox-mad dog.
Where to buy Nillu Z. Nasser’s books:
Paranormal Women’s Fiction
Druid Heir Series (for fans of magic-wielding heroines over 40)
All the Tomorrows (a story of love and self-discovery in Mumbai)
Hidden Colours (an immigrant circus story in Berlin)
Where to follow Nillu Z. Nasser: