Monica Ali: 'I wear the same smelly pyjamas again and again; it's revolting'


Before I start work on a novel I get to know the characters in my head I live with them for a while, as I did with Nazneen and Chanu in Brick Lane; hearing their voices, listening to them talk to one another.

Writers are children who never grew up Kids are naturally inventive and curious and creative, but most adults have had that beaten out of them. Writing is a form of play; you have to get rid of all those internal censors that we adults have, the things that say, "Don't go there, that's not allowed."

People always want to identify a writer with their protagonist The first time it happened with me and my Brick Lane character, I was surprised when people started asking "Is it really you?" It's as if all the best novels must be some thinly disguised autobiography, which is total rubbish, but I see where it comes from: writers are similar to their books. So whether a book has a big warm heart or if it's prickly and misanthropic, it's a reflection of the author's personality. It took a few years on the literary festival circuit before that dawned on me.

If we dwelt on the happy times as much as low points, we'd all be a lot better adjusted But it's easier to notice when you're unhappy. And in fiction, sadness is easier to write about. Someone said, "Happiness writes white; it leaves no mark on the page." I always try to create conflict and drama in my books; it's the engine of the novel.

Change starts with you People don't get involved with local charities or politics because they think it's hard to make a difference and the problem feels overwhelming. But I believe that if all I've time for this year is to write one letter to the local council, it's still worth doing.

Twitter is like sitting in a café on the edge of a town square Sometimes you look up and see someone you know or notice someone new. I've only just joined and I'm really enjoying it – sharing links to articles with fellow authors, or posting about publishing. It could prove distracting when I start writing my next book, though.

I'm lost to the world when I'm writing It's an altered state which I love experiencing; all the day-to-day things fall away. I don't hear the doorbell go, I don't notice the phone ringing and I even wear the same smelly pyjamas again and again – they're just there by the side of the bed and I put them on again when I get up each morning, which is revolting.

We still long for another Princess Diana I'm fascinated by the way people keep comparing Kate [Middleton] with her. Kate seems like a nice person, but Diana, she was a one-off, a mesmerising figure who broke the mould. To me, she was this warm-hearted, empathetic woman who, while deeply troubled, refused to be told what to do, putting two fingers up to the establishment. I'll be watching the wedding, though; what people want is a happy ending this time.

My family can drive me nuts But the older I get the more I appreciate how important they are to me. My kids get to grow up around their cousins, while grandparents bring a calmer perspective to their lives. Last year I was away teaching in New York for six months, and I wouldn't have been able to do that without the whole family helping out.

The more I practise Ashtanga Yoga, the saner I feel My mind is rarely still, so it's a chance for me to be entirely focused on just my breath and the moment, rather than the myriad other things going on in my life.

Monica Ali, 43, is an author. 'Untold Story' (Doubleday, £16.99), a novel inspired by Princess Diana, is out on 31 March and can be pre-ordered now on amazon.co.uk and waterstones.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk