Sabrina Ramnanan was born in Toronto to Trinidadian parents. She completed her B.A. in English and B.Ed. at the University of Toronto before entering the school’s Creative Writing Program. Sabrina is the recipient of the 2012 Marina Nemat Award for the most promising student.
Ahead of her Sept. 9 appearance at Brockton Writers Series, she took the time to talk to us about her first novel, Nothing Like Love.
BWS: First novels are often the shorter ones in a writer’s career, but Nothing Like Love tops 400 pages. What was it like to create a world so big and full on your first try?
Sabrina: Writing the big, bold world of Nothing Like Love was incredibly liberating. Every time I flip through the novel to choose a passage to read I am amazed that someone let me cram so many crazy, badly behaved characters into one story.
BWS: Do you think you overcame any roadblocks a later-career writer might not have encountered with such an ambitious novel? Or, conversely, do you think there were advantages that came with being a first-time novelist?
Sabrina: If Nothing Like Love seems ambitious it’s because I sometimes worried it would be the only novel I ever wrote, which, as it turns out, pushed me to make 1974 Trinidad as vibrant and compelling as I possibly could.There were certainly advantages to being a debut novelist. Nobody knew who I was in the literary world. I never felt weighed down by anyone else’s expectations but my own. There were no previous sales figures I needed to match or exceed. And, I had no clue that once the book was published the terrifying work of promoting would begin. Now that I’m working on my second novel I have all of these things on my mind, which sometimes gets in the way of the good stuff.
BWS: Would you dare classify your novel in a genre? A profile in U of T Magazine earlier this year called Nothing Like Love a comic novel, but it also hinges on a suspenseful story of forbidden love, like a romance, perhaps. Do you find the question of genre helpful to the way we talk about literary fiction, or the way you yourself talk about your own work?
Sabrina: I try not to classify Nothing Like Love in a genre, which sometimes makes it difficult to describe to people for the first time. But if I have to choose between comic novel and romance, I choose comic novel. I certainly didn’t set out to write a romance novel. What I wanted to do was comment on heavy topics like gender inequality, arranged marriage and the dangers of gossip with a feather-light touch. It is intentional that Vimla and Krishna are only ever physically together a few times in the entire text. But perhaps you’re right; perhaps it’s a romance and I just don’t know it.
BWS: Do you read much Trinidadian or Caribbean literature? Which writers or works (from the region, or anywhere else) do you count as influences?
Sabrina: I have been particularly influenced by Rabindranath Maharaj, Shani Mootoo and Niala Maharah who write about Trinidad and have taught me, in their own ways, how to write dialogue in the Trinidadian dialect.
BWS: You have a son who’s a toddler, and according to a recent profile in the Toronto Star, you’re still supply teaching, too. How do find the time to write?
Sabrina: I wrote Nothing Like Love before my son was born, so I had the luxury of going to yoga, crying over my laptop, and taking long strolls while I waited for the muses to speak to me. Now, instead of crafting a paragraph for an hour in my office, I scribble sentences, single words, snippets of dialogue and any other bookish ideas that pop into my head in a little blue notebook. It is messy and disorganized but I’m finding it a more effective way to brainstorm without censoring. So, while I don’t have pages and pages written, I do have some solid ideas and a few interesting characters that I think I’ll keep. It’s a big step in the process and I’m grateful I’m this far.
BWS: Can you tell us any more about the new novel you’re working on?
Sabrina: My second novel is set in Toronto but will have a very distinct Indo-Caribbean flavour. It will explore what growing up first-generation-Canadian means and tell a story that I hope all Canadians of immigrant parents can relate to.
BWS: We look forward to it, Sabrina, thanks so much.
Sabrina Ramnanan visits the Brockton Writers Series on our sixth birthday, Wednesday, September 9, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Irfan Ali, Sarah Henstra, Lana Pesch and a special guest talk by Nancy Jo Cullen, “What to Consider if You’re Considering an M.F.A.”