Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Zee Monodee, an author, editor, smitten wife, in-over-her-head mum to a teen boy, best-buddy stepmum to a young adult lad, bookaholic, lover of all things fluffy & pink, chronic shoeholic, and incompetent housewife desperate to channel Nigella Lawson (and who’ll prolly always fail at making domestic goddess status)…
Zee hails from the multicultural, rainbow-nation island of Mauritius, in the southern Indian Ocean, where she grew up on the figurative fence—one side had her ancestors’ Indian and Muslim culture; the other had modernity and the global village. When one day she realised she could dip her toes into both sides without losing her integrity, she found her identity. Read the interview below!
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: Actively, I would say 11 years now going on 12. Around the time I picked up the pen (or should I say the keyboard…?), I had just been diagnosed with aggressive malignant breast cancer, and I had just turned 22. I was on hiatus from my corporate job as an after-sales departmental coordinator given how I’d had a baby twenty months earlier and I wanted to be home with him until he’d enter preschool at 3. But ever since I was in school, I dreamed of being a writer. For my language essays, I would write stories that resembled synopses to romance novels. So met with death staring right at me, and the wake-up call of my own mortality, I knew something would have to give. I knew ‘one day’ I would write, but how about if we made ‘one day’ now, as my husband told me back then? I thus started writing, finding my footing, my voice, my genre, my calling in a way, and I fumbled around for close to 6 years afterwards, still writing, but just not confidently enough. For example, I was ‘hiding’ behind pen names when I could very easily have used my own name; the people in my life were pushing me to write sexy and nothing but… But I reckoned that wasn’t me – I’m a pink floss and fluff kinda gal, and I like this touch of lightness in my stories. Plus I wanted something to make my stories ‘mine’, and for me, that became my setting, for which I utilized my native island, Mauritius.
At the end of these 6 years, I was glad to have found myself through my writing, and I came away from the pen names and established my brand as Zee Monodee. Haven’t looked back ever since! J
Q: What inspires your writing? Do you have a muse?
A: No muse – they’re fickle biatches, most of the time, innit? LOL. No, I just rely on imagination. Like, I grew up watching soapies with my mother. Dynasty, Dallas, Coronation Street, Eastenders, The Bold and the Beautiful, The Young and the Restless – you name it, and we’ve most probably watched it. And I was always imagining side stories for the characters – as in, what if he/she had met this person or that person at that point in their lives? How would the narrative be different? I still do this to TV shows today, I’ll admit, adding ‘new’ characters of my own making complete with a full backstory and everything to the tale inside my head.
Basically, I use this ‘what if’ propensity of mine to come up with stories. Something sparks an idea, and the rest develops from there. For example, I have an ongoing series titled The Daimsbury Chronicles. It is set in the eponymous fictional village of Daimsbury in Surrey. I never started this as a series. I wanted to tell a story of a cancer patient and the rich and totally unlikely man to fall for her, and I needed a setting – so why not a small village in Surrey? I was all set to write their story and be done with it, but in developing their tale, I ‘met’ other people in this location, and of course, the ‘what if’ kicked in…so much so that the series has 12 books lined up in it, and I’m still not sure more might not be coming to this list. I just meet ‘people’ and feel I need to tell their story, and I roll with that.
Q: Tell me about your novel, Walking The Edge. What was the original idea behind it?
A: It started with an impression of déjà vu. I was sick with a horrible flu one winter, and the meds made me so totally woozy. I would wake up and speak with my husband then not remember that I did so. Or else, I would experience this weird feeling a little while later where I felt I had discussed something with him, but it was hazy and I wasn’t sure I had imagined that or if it had really happened. It felt like I was remembering things, but I couldn’t be sure. It made me think of amnesia, of memory returning – how do you trust what the truth really is, then?
And this was the starting point for the character of Amelia. What if there is someone with her feeding her information, which are actually lies? Hence, her husband, Peter, came into the picture. Now why would Peter be hiding things from her? And what to make of the memories that seem to be coming to the fore? Are they real? Figments from her sub-conscious? Total fictional constructs?
I built it from there, and the story took a life of its own as I wrote and, along with Amelia, I discovered what her amnesia really hid through the first draft of the story. It is a tale that totally took me by surprise, because I didn’t know I was capable of coming up with such concepts and, to be honest, such darkness. Because it wasn’t light and fluffy with a pink glow at all, though there was a happy ending. I don’t think I could ever write anything that doesn’t have a happy ending.
Q: What would you do if you found yourself in Amelia’s shoes? Would you make the same choices she does?
A: To be honest, I really don’t know… As I have grown up and matured, I have reached the point where I now know to trust what my gut and heart are telling me. But this is because I have a certain particular frame of reference in my mind; I know how my past has shaped me into the being I am today.
But what if I am left without this frame of reference? What then? I think this is the fundamental question in this – who do you trust, when you’re not sure you can still trust yourself?
I know I would’ve gotten out of that bad marriage to a man like Peter, though – because no woman should have to tolerate such treatment, whether she has amnesia or not.
Q: What writing projects are you working on now?
A: The series I mentioned above – The Daimsbury Chronicles. These are shorter, quick tales of heart-felt romance that flow a lot like a soap opera. I am focusing on this right now, because it is quick bites I can write and put out more regularly for my readers. Currently, I am penning Book 3 in the lineup, that original cancer patient’s tale. I know – it all started with her, but she is only now getting her story. I’m hoping that book can come out sometime by August this year *touch wood*
I am also very much involved in the process of translating my books for the French market. I am a native French speaker; in fact, I only learned English through school, while I spoke French from my earliest days. So it’s a labour of love to balance new writing with translating a backlist, when translation, I have found, is pretty much writing a whole story from scratch but with the advantage that you have the original and won’t run into stumbling blocks or even full walls like with original writing in whatever language.
Q: What is something you want the world to know?
A: That culture and peace and religion can co-exist, if we give them the chance. For example, I am a Muslim woman, yet I write romance, I cry at sappy movies (and books!), I love shopping and anything pink and fluffy, I’m a total shoe addict, I’m of Indian origin so consider myself also a Desi Girl. My best friend is a Catholic from Malta, and I’d give my life for her and vice versa. I have good friends from all walks of life – Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Arabs, European, American, Black, White, Asian, straight, lesbian, gay. All this doesn’t mean I’m a cop out on any front, be it being a Muslim or being a decent human being. We can live in peace and harmony – get to know the person, and don’t judge on generalities. Nobody is cut from the same cloth, not even identical twins with the same genome! We are all individuals, so please, address and get to know the individual, and through him/her, the world.
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