How I made a difference: a conversation with Trinidadian-British writer, Dr Lakshmi Persaud

Dr Lakshmi Persaud

Dr Lakshmi Persaud

Each of us has been given gifts by God which we must use to build the common good. Dr Laskhmi Persaud is one person who is using her talents well. Her novels are studied in literature courses at Universities in the USA, Canada, UK, and UWI. Extracts from her novels have been used in English exams in the Caribbean. CCSJ seeks to promote authentic human development. Access to high quality literature is one way of promoting human development. We share this interview with you to raise awareness of how you too can use your talents wisely.

Dr. Lakshmi Persaud is the author of 5 works of fiction: Butterfly in the Wind (1990), Sastra (1993), For the Love of my Name (2000), Raise the Lanterns High (2004), and Daughters of Empire (2012).

Dr. Persaud, who resides in London, England, will be coming to Trinidad to launch her 5th novel, Daughters of Empire, at the Eric Williams, Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope, on Thursday 3 May at 6:00 p.m. She will also be reading extracts from her latest novel and will share her views on “The Art of the Novel” with fifth and sixth form students from several schools.

Leela Ramdeen interviewed Dr. Persaud and it is her pleasure to share with you below the words of this esteemed author. As Dr. Persaud says, her novels explore gender, race, power and politics, using a combination of drama, romance and humour. Her novels are studied in literature courses at Universities in the USA, Canada, UK, and UWI. Extracts from her novels have been used in English exams in the Caribbean. Further information about Dr. Persaud and her work can be accessed on her website: www.lakshmipersaud.com .

Leela:  Lakshmi, please tell readers a little about yourself.

Lakshmi: I grew up in an agricultural village which was called Streatham Lodge. It was situated, between Tunapuna railway line to the north and the Churchill Roosevelt Highway to the South. Streatham was a very difficult word to spell when you’re five. At five, we had to write our address on our exercise books. The village was later called Pasea village.

My first novel, Butterfly in the Wind, is psychologically wholly true about myself but literally true only half the time, you’ll find me there far more fully than I can possibly describe here.

Both my mother and father were in the retail business. They were very progressive in their thinking for their time. They believed that Girls should be given the same opportunity as boys. Considering their own conservative background, they were remarkable people. My father would assist girls financially who were going abroad to study if their circumstance of need was brought to his attention. I was privately educated at Queens University, Belfast, in the late 50’s early 6os. Taking into account the exchange rate, it would have cost my parents quite a sum. I am married and have 2 sons and a daughter.

 

Leela: When did you first realise that you wanted to be a writer and what influenced you to write fiction?

Lakshmi:  I never wanted to be a writer; I wanted to be a missionary doctor, then a pilot, then, I wanted to climb Mt Everest, then an eye surgeon. However, the schools I went to in Trinidad did not offer science at the time. I enjoy teaching and I know that I’m good at it, because I prepare very well, I explain with care and I test later to make sure what was taught is understood. If understanding is not complete I look critically at my method and try harder next time. I teach my grandchildren today and enjoy it immensely.

I came to writing fiction in a somewhat round about way. To be precise it was through writing down my nightmares and later by a kind and thoughtful husband, who, unknown to me, took what I had written (I saw it as a personal thing: the beginning of a sort of diary, a memoir, something intimate, not for publication) to Peepal Tree Press. Jeremy Poynting, having read it, said: “This should be published” and that he would like to publish it. This is how it began. To begin writing fiction via one’s nightmares is not common.

 

Leela: Can you describe your typical day as a writer?

Lakshmi: I write in a very small cosy room. I like getting up early to write with a piping hot cup of coffee besides me. I used to write long hand but now I write directly on the computer. I write until I am tired. I do not have goals as to the amount I write or how long I write. If I am tired, I stop and turn my attention to the thousand and one things that need doing in the house, later, I go out for a brisk walk. On my walks I meet all sorts of people. I say hello to everyone I meet and have a little chat too if that is what they’d like. I have made friends with a little boy and girl who always knock their window when I am passing by to draw my attention. I have a little chat with them too, before I move on. These two children have the most delightful, contagious smiles I have ever seen.

 

Leela: Do you get an idea and then conduct research before you write?

Lakshmi: I usually start with an idea and like a silk worm I begin to wrap a cocoon round the idea. I mean I add other supportive ideas that are connected either directly or indirectly to the initial one. I am amazed to find that once I have got an idea in my head, I find articles in the newspaper and programmes on the radio and TV on something closely akin to it. Research is always needed and one must do the ground work thoroughly.

Leela: What is your most valuable resource in conducting research and do you know what the end of the novel would be or does it evolve?

Lakshmi: A valuable resource is the British library and firsthand experience told to you about something that interests you. No, I do not know how the novel will end nor all its twists and turns. The novel takes on a life of its own and I really follow it. The characters can at times be very fussy too. On one occasion one of them just jumped out of the page and said. ‘Just wait a minute that is not how I speak.’ Well fancy that. She was a loud mouth. Her language could not be described as civil. Well, I just had to write down as she dictated. They can be very trying at times.

 

Leela: What influence did your family and your country of origin (Trinidad and Tobago) have on your writing career and on your characters?

Lakshmi: My parents had an invaluable influence on me. They were kind, modest, and thoughtful people. They tried to do the right thing always. If what they did, later proved not to have been the right thing, it was because of lack of knowledge, it would not have been their intent. The culture of Trinidad, my brothers and sisters, the schools I attended, and later my husband, my in-laws and London have all helped to make me who I am. They form the subterranean flow of my novels.

 

Leela: How do you create ‘believable ‘characters? 

Lakshmi: Believable characters? You can choose yourself to start with, your friends or anyone you know really well. You can take a bit off from one person and add it to another and so on; you have to be able to do surgery.

 

Leela: How many drafts do you produce before you think that your novel is ready to be published?

Lakshmi: With my first four novels, there were not more than three or four drafts. With this most recent novel, Daughters of Empire, there were about 5 or 6.

 

Leela: You have now had 5 novels published. Is there any goal you feel you have yet to attain as a writer? What is the best thing about being an author? What are you working on now?

Lakshmi: I do not have goals as a writer; in fact my main goal is to teach my grandchildren all that is good that I know which may assist them when I am no longer around. The best thing about being an author is you can keep sane in a world that can be puzzling, difficult to make sense of. Writing forces you to make sense of it. I am at present working on a lecture on how to assist students to prepare themselves to offer their best in the field of writing fiction.

 

Leela: Who is your favourite author?

Lakshmi: I do not have a favourite author. I like Russian authors.

Leela: What, if anything, would you do differently, if you were starting as a writer today?

Lakshmi: I would travel more; expose myself to a way of life and thinking that is very different from what I now know.

 

Leela: What challenges do writers face today?

Lakshmi: It is far easier to be a writer today. Imagine using an old fashioned typewriter today to write a novel, compared with using a computer? The internet provides answers to many things. The libraries, the art galleries, the museums are all there for you. The world is a more accommodating place. On the other hand the competition to be recognised as a writer is far greater, and so more difficult, in addition all art has become big business. It is therefore easy to forget what writing fiction was initially about and should be about – the aesthetics of form, structure and content.

 

Leela: What do you do in your ‘spare time’? What are your other inspirations?

Lakshmi: I enjoy cooking and preparing delicious meals, but my sheer indulgence is once a week to have a glass of excellent Merlot, with a small bowl of mixed nuts, my feet on a quality leather foot stool, and I am looking at a gripping detective story on the BBC. Sheer bliss.

 

Leela: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be –What are your tips for writing more confidently?

Lakshmi: Try and understand yourself truly and honestly, try and know as much as possible before you come to a decision on anything. Be as rational as you can be. Be skeptical about what you hear, even from eye witnesses. Keep an open mind. Enjoy life it is a miracle to be alive.

Leela: Thank you, Lakshmi, for sharing your nuggets of wisdom with readers. Best wishes to you and yours for the future.

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