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Interview Desmond Elliott Prize: Anjali Joseph

**UPDATE: Planet Notion would like to congratulate Anjali Joseph as she was named the winner! **

Back when the longlist for the Desmond Elliott Prize was announced Planet Notion had an intro piece on what the prize was and a little background on the man it was named after. Since that piece, the longlist has turned into a shortlist of just three authors, and the big winner will be announced on Thursday. We thought we’d bring a dose of literary interviews until the final announcement.

We have interviews with all three from the shortlist, with one running each day. For the first day we have Anjali Joseph. Originally born in India before she and her family moved to England, she then decided to move back to India, where she contributed to various publications. Her debut novel, Saraswati Park, is set in the electric city of Bombay. Surrounding three individuals in one household, there is the grieving wife, Lakshmi, that takes her leave, the young and sexually curious nephew, Ashish, and finally the frustrated writer Mohan. Joseph was kind enough to answer some questions for us about her background and writing process.

PlanetNotion: What is your background? You were born in Bombay. Where did it all go from there?

Anjali Joseph: I’m Indian but have lived in England for many years. When I was seven my family moved to Warwickshire because my father was teaching at Warwick University, and I went to school in Leamington Spa and to college in Cambridge. I worked in France for a year, and then in London. When I was twenty-five I moved back to India and worked for the Times of India in Bombay for three years.

PN: When did your passion for writing begin?

AJ: That’s hard to know. Ever since I could write, I was aware of it as something exciting to do. I began writing stories when I was a young child. Everyone in my family read a lot, and that must have been part of the reason.

PN: What was your favourite first book?

AJ: I’ve read several, and re-read many while writing. Madame Bovary is one that it’s hard to believe is a first novel, so poised and controlled is it.

PN: Are you currently working on a second novel? Can you give us a hint as to what it will be about?

AJ: I am; it’s about being in your twenties and feeling unspoken pressure to do the things you believe you’re supposed to want to.

PN: You have quite an international life and upbringing. Are you planning to continue living in the UK, or do you have a secret fantasy to discover somewhere different?

AJ: It’d be nice to spend time somewhere Francophone again… maybe a nice warm island.

PN: What influenced you to move towards fashion-based publishing at ELLE? And what drove you away from it again?

AJ: I’d met the ELLE India editor just before I came to England to do a master’s, and she and I were back in touch when I was graduating. I was still working on Saraswati Park, and ELLE was a really fun, supportive place to work while writing in my spare time. Nothing drove me away as such, just the opportunity to write full time while doing a PhD.

PN: How did the plot for ‘Saraswati Park’ come about? Were you back in Bombay whilst writing it?

AJ: The characters, especially Mohan and Ashish, came into my head first of all. I wrote a short story that was a version of the first chapter of the novel, and then just carried

PN: Is any of it influenced by experiences from your personal life?

AJ: The thing I tend to take most directly from my life is a sense of place and atmosphere. I often use places where I’ve spent time as the setting for scenes, or aspects of different places I’ve known amalgamate to form a location in the book.

PN: Who is your favourite character in the novel?

AJ: I don’t think I have a favourite. I feel close to them all, even the less apparently likeable ones.

PN: Have you read any of the other novels that were in the running for the Desmond Elliot prize? (If so, what did you think?)

AJ: I’m looking forward to reading them.


-Nina Hoogstraate

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