Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Shree Ghatage

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Shree Ghatage's Desk

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

Shree Ghatage's third book is Thirst, published just this week by Doubleday Canada. Thirst is set in both India and England during the Second World War.

Shree shares with Open Book about her personal workspace, her visions of Africa and the inspiration she draws from the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
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There is an enduring image of the revered author and 1982 Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez that darts into my head every now and again. He is sitting at a rough wooden table in front of an outer wall, looking down at an open notebook, pencil in hand. Further details about this photograph that grace the back cover of a book jacket — I don’t remember its title now — escape my memory because it is a very long time since I held this particular book, most likely borrowed from the library, in my hands. The thought that crossed my head when I first saw this evocative image occupies me still: All the author of the most complex and original of literary masterpieces needs are his eye glasses, a stable surface, some paper, a pen, daylight and the space between his ears.

I need electricity to boot up my computer; a spacious table to hold that computer and its most indispensible appendage, the printer; enough desk space to accommodate my scattered research notes, my hand written drafts, a tissue box, a calendar, a reading lamp, a honey-sweetened cup of tea, a small bowl for my mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.

When I am concentrating on some part of my manuscript — finding a better word, or a tighter phrase or working through the coherence and logic of a scene — I have this tendency to screw shut my eyes and drop my head. There are times however, when I gaze at the painting above my desk. It is a large four feet by five feet oil composed of several playful Tanzanian elephants of lustrous ivory tusks gamboling in the dry earth. Beyond the finely rendered swirling dust that surrounds their massive bodies are tall trees that spread and push up leafy limbs into a blue-white sky. It is a representation emblematic — at least to me — of the flora and fauna of an East African landscape. Ever since the one and only time I visited the wildly gorgeous game parks around Mount Kilimanjaro and stood in a friend’s garden in the town of Arusha at the foot of Mount Meru underneath a flowering tree that rained white blossoms on us as we stood there chatting, the utterly fantastic and magical feeling that I experienced that late July in equatorial Africa is what I recall when I gaze into the eyes of the ancient looking elephants on my wall.

To my right, a largish window frames a neighbor’s back garden flooded with sunshine and crowded with evergreen firs and deciduous trees and bushes that send forth candle-like buds every May. In 1983, after arriving in St. John’s, Newfoundland and residing there for the next thirteen years and waking up each foggy, cloudy morning to a sky which, to my born and brought up in Mumbai sensibilities, seemed at times claustrophobically gloomy and low, the blue and open prairie skies of my subsequent residence Calgary, consecrated with comparatively milder sunnier days of spring, summer, autumn and winter feel even today like a blessing earned.

A black lacquer upright piano graces the south wall of my writing space. Once played enchantingly by the children when they were taking music lessons, today I put the instrument to efficient use while preparing short three-minute songs in an amateur choir of which I am one of its newest members. Then there are book shelves filled with textbooks, papers, files, encyclopedias, dictionaries, novels, poetry, how-to books on bridge, tennis, chess, cookery; CDs of all kinds; a jumbled cornucopia used by one and all in the family, sole usage of the study granted me only when everyone is at work and at school which is just as well since I need perfect solitude and peace and quiet to think.

The study is not my sole creative workspace. I cannot type without looking down at the keyboard and that too not with any great speed and I have discovered over the years that when I write away from the computer the time interval between what is inside my head and what gets written on the paper is the shortest and thus more immediate and authentic to the inner thought and its penned expression. Consequently, the cleared dining table in the kitchen or a family room sofa or my bed, all have equal propensity to become uncluttered spaces of choice when the area of focus is just my pencil, my notebook, a once-blank page and the space between my ears.

— Shree Ghatage

Shree Ghatage is the author of the short story collection Awake When All the World is Asleep, which won the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and was nominated for several other awards. Ghatage and her family came to Canada in the early 1980s and after spending fifteen years in the Maritimes, recently moved to Calgary.

For more information about Thirst please visit the Doubleday Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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