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
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: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all