2018 was an exciting year for author Mona Dash. She was on the shortlist for the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2018, for her short story collection, Let us look elsewhere. This was the only short story collection to make the shortlist. Apart from the excitement, making the SI Leeds shortlist meant various reading and networking opportunities. The six shortlisted writers were invited to read at the Rich Mix theatre in an event curated by Roopa Farooki; at the Asian Writer festival with Words of Colour Director Joy Francis; the Southbank Centre Literature festival in an event curated by publisher, editor and critic Ellah Allfrey; and finally in the Awards ceremony at Ilkley Literature festival with author, filmmaker and journalist Bidisha.
The prize provided an excellent platform for Mona to meet other authors and editors. This is good for anyone but especially made a difference to Mona, since later in the year, Linen Press UK, the only independent women’s publisher in the UK signed on her memoir A Roll of the Dice: a story of loss, love and genetics (published on April 22 and available to order on Amazon).
With a foreword by Professor Bobby Gaspar of Great Ormond street, a pioneer in gene therapy. A Roll of the Dice has been described by Linen Press, as a ‘thrilling page turner as well as a haunting journey towards motherhood’.
Read more at Peepal Tree Press.
Viewpoint invites authors to write about anything they want, as long as it’s of interest to readers of Asian Books Blog.
Here, Mona Dash talks about leaving her native India, to save her child’s life. Her son was born with a rare, genetically inheritable disease, SCID (severe combined immuno-deficiency). After his diagnosis, she set out for London so he could be given specialist treatment. She has written about her experiences in the memoir, A Roll of the Dice: a story of loss, love and genetics.
(Update – this published on Monday, April 22 and is now available to order on Amazon).
Mona still lives in London, where she combines motherhood, and work in the technology sector with writing fiction and poetry. Her work includes the novel Untamed Heart, and two collections of poetry, Dawn-drops and A certain way. In 2016, Mona was awarded a poet of excellence award in the upper chamber of the British parliament, the House of Lords. Her work has been widely praised and anthologized. In 2018, she won a competition established to encourage and promote British Asian writers, the Asian writer short story competition, for her short story Formations.
A Roll of the Dice describes the ups-and-downs, the shocks and support, the false starts and real hopes of a mother with a sick child. Mona humanizes the complexities of genetic medicine, and writes her story of genetic roulette without self-pity. Her memoir contains valuable information for couples facing infertility and complicated pregnancies, for parents of premature babies and of children with SCID.
So, over to Mona…
My baby boy was born several years ago in Kolkata, India. He was perfect; healthy, feeding well, big for his age, and even slept all through the night. As a young, career-oriented woman, fresh out of university and armed with an MBA, my worries were simple and pragmatic: how could I get back to my busy job which involved travelling across the globe? How could I regain my pre-pregnancy weight? How could I get the best possible childcare for my baby?
Like most women, these were the practical challenges I expected to face and all I was really prepared for.
At four-and-a-half months of age, my son started becoming unwell with a high fever and an unexplained rash all over his little body. As young parents, we were not prepared for something like this. Indeed, who is? After repeated visits to our paediatrician who was clueless, we visited a string of doctors, each one more highly paid than the other, each one with longer waiting lists and a greater reputation. We ran from pillar to post, desperate to find out what could be wrong. After two whole months of playing tag with doctors, we decided to leave Kolkata and go to a specialist hospital in South India in search of a diagnosis.
Read more at Asian Books Blog.
May We Borrow Your Country is a contemporary collection of stories and poems that looks at dislocation and displacement with sympathy, tolerance and humour. It is peopled by courageous, poignant, eccentric individuals who cross borders, accommodate to new cultures and try to establish an identity in a new place. In the process, they encounter different versions of themselves, like reflections in a room of trick mirrors.
May We Borrow Your Country was launched in Waterstones Gower Street on the 26th of January 2019. More than a hundred tickets were sold, and bookings were actually stopped a couple of days before the event. Joining The Whole Kahani, on the panel were Lynn Michell, publisher, Linen Press, and Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young. Preti has written the foreword to May We Borrow Your Country and had interesting questions for the writers. Lynn had her own questions, and it was an interactive audience who listened, asked questions, and cheered us. Rosie Beaumont-Thomas, the events manager concluded the event by mentioning Waterstones Gower Street will have to try hard to match the fantastic evening and huge turnout.
Be that man
you know the one who will wake up wake me up with a bit of the night skies a slice of the moon glowing alive in his eyes
and in his arms hold slivers of yesterday and today and tomorrow tied together in iridescent pieces and whisper about the caves we have lived in the life last
the skies we have conquered together and flown past
the rivers we have swum in with dolphins and other fish coloured fish bursting against
the beaches we have walked sand trickling through toes while you run across and get a tender coconut, water dripping from our mouths as we kiss
and be that man who holds me like I am a feather light slender gorgeous like I am a sculpture heavy with love wonder experiences
and be that man who wants to fuck against the walls of the museum Monet’s lilies and Gaugin’s women watching or on the desk at home
or on the grass near a gentle gurgling stream
and that man who writes long and deep into the night of poetry of the war and peace and knows when to give and when to hold back
and be that man who knows that making love on the windowsill is the best when afternoons are full of drizzling rain in a tropical country
and if not then on the tenth floor watching Christmas lights swarm London city
and knows the best love is had when you are really angry and wanting to rage and bite through the skin and the blackness which is outside
and the way you feel trapped just trapped in your limbs and like in a box and you know despair is solid and growing like dark smoke and all the cries in the world can’t be heard
so be that man who knows how that feels how sound remains in the throat sometimes stuck like a stone lodged deep in clay
and when you speak there is nothing no voice no whisper
and be that man who knows how to rub the small of my back then speak sing and shout primal screams together to mark the day
be that man. My love, just be that man.
Dash believes that UK publishers are largely conservative about what is published and tend to stick to safer options, rather than take risks on new writing.
“It is really important for writers as well to write what they want to, and not try to work within the boundaries set for them as BAME. I have said this before in an interview, where an agent told me that since it was about India, she was expecting to see more colour – but India is a vast, complex concept, and everything about India isn’t Bollywood colour.
Read the full interview in The Asian Writer.
A recording from The National Poetry Library’s Special Edition series. Five South Asian diaspora poets celebrate the UK-India Year of Culture 2017. Featuring Mona Dash, Rishi Dastidar, Bashabi Fraser, Debjani Chatterjee and Yogesh Patel. Recorded in The National Poetry Library on Wednesday 4 October 2017.
Hear Mona read just after the 9-minute mark: