How Indian-Origin Booker 2020 Nominee ‘Let the Writing Guide Her’ 

Avni Doshi took 7 years to write ‘Girl in White Cotton’ – the only South Asian-origin book on the Booker shortlist.

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VIDEO EDITOR: Deepthi Ramdas

“I’m often asked, when people ask me about the novel, how much of the story is true, how much is autobiographical, and how much is completely invented. And I’ve recently taken to not answering this question. Because I’ve noticed that it’s only asked mostly of writers that are women. And I don’t know why that is, but I’m assuming it has something to do with a bias or an assumption that women aren’t capable perhaps, of writing from a place of imagination, from a place of pure invention – and therefore, rely on looking at autobiography and just basically writing their lives.”
Avni Doshi, Indian-origin Booker Prize 2020 nominee to The Quint
A photograph of the author who is the only South Asian-origin writer on this year’s Booker Prize shortlist.
A photograph of the author who is the only South Asian-origin writer on this year’s Booker Prize shortlist.
(Photo Courtesy: Avni Doshi)

‘Massive Struggle to Look After Someone Who is Losing Their Memory’

Avni Doshi’s debut Girl in White Cotton is the only book by a writer of South Asian origin on Booker Prize 2020 shortlist. Here are excerpts of Doshi’s interview with The Quint:

What went behind shaping the character with Alzheimer’s? What is the kind of research you undertook?

One of the main characters in the novel has Alzheimer’s disease. And so I went into the research of this illness, looking mainly at the mainstream research, kind of what has been – what kind of studies have been done, what kind of medication do doctors use to treat this illness. And then I started looking at other things. I started looking at Ayurvedic treatments; at you know, Chinese medicine, and even functional medicine naturopathy, and homeopathy, and just to get a sense of what these different modalities offer in terms of healing. And not only that, but I looked at, um, the kind of psychological care required when looking after an Alzheimer’s patient. And not only the patient, but the caregiver. We don’t consider that the caregiver – when people are suffering from a degenerative neurological disease – that the caregivers often really suffer. And that it’s a massive struggle to look after someone who’s actually losing their memory. So that was a really interesting part of the research, and it actually really informed the way my characters ended up interacting with each other.

A photo of Avni Doshi’s writing desk at home. It took her seven years and eight drafts to complete her debut novel which is on the Booker 2020 shortlist.
A photo of Avni Doshi’s writing desk at home. It took her seven years and eight drafts to complete her debut novel which is on the Booker 2020 shortlist.
(Photo Courtesy: Avni Dosh)

‘I Let the Writing Guide Me’

What was the hardest part about writing your first novel?

Um, the hardest part of writing this book was actually the length of time that it took. I wrote this book in seven years, and there were eight drafts. And it was a gruelling, long process. And I really didn’t know when I would finish; there were many days in between when I thought, you know ‘I’m not supposed to be doing this. I should just give up.’ And it was really difficult to stay on task and to stay focused.

What would you say is your biggest takeaway from your seven-year-long writing process?

In terms of my process of writing – my process really changed during the seven years that I worked on the book. I actually think I learned how to write in that time when I started out – I thought I had to plot everything. I thought, you know, every chapter had to be, um, planned out in advance. And in the end, I learned that that’s not really the case. And I worked on this final draft that actually became the novel in the end. I worked on that draft very much sentence by sentence, really not knowing where I was going to go until the next sentence was down on the page. And I let the writing guide me rather than having a fixed idea of plot before I even began.

Watch the video above for the full interview.

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