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Roopa Farooki
What was the inspiration for HALF LIFE?
HALF LIFE wasn’t planned like my other novels – the idea came to me suddenly, and then the story just poured out - the experience of writing it was like being highjacked in a storm.

The moment of inspiration was when I was travelling home late one night after promoting CORNER SHOP (my second novel) at a literary festival. The train home had taken several hours, and it was long past midnight and pouring with rain as I finally arrived at the station, and walked back to my house through an autumnal sludge of puddles, concrete, leaves and mud. I felt curiously disconnected and alone, as though I didn't have a family sleeping soundly in a warm house after all, and I wondered what it would be like to be a grown-up woman who was running away from home, rather than trudging back; I wondered who this woman was, and where she would be running to. The next day I wrote the opening scene to HALF LIFE, where Aruna walks out of her London flat and out on her marriage, and gets a plane to Singapore. I had no idea where the story would lead, but once I had started, I just couldn't stop
Do you plan your novels beforehand or do you find the characters take control?
I usually plan my novels in detail, so HALF LIFE was an exception. With HALF LIFE I found that the characters were so strong, that I could allow them to lead the story, and carry me with them, as they each shared their particular journeys. I had a strong sense of who the characters were, as although the idea for HALF LIFE came suddenly, I had actually been thinking about the Aruna and Hassan characters for some time, initially envisaging separate novels for them, as they seemed to belong to quite different worlds and eras in time. I had imagined that Aruna would have a lover whom she had abandoned, and that Hassan would have a son who had abandoned him, and as soon as I started writing, I realised that this lover and son could be the same character, that in fact he possibly always had been the same character, which is how Jazz came about.
The ending of HALF LIFE is terribly sad. Was it inevitable?
I think that it was – I couldn’t envisage any other ending for Aruna and Jazz. Despite their attempts to move on from each other, in other relationships and in pursuing their careers, when they are together again, they create their own world, just as they did when they were children. In one scene, Aruna watches him sleep, "in the increasingly crowded, raucous train carriage, it feels as though they are alone together in a room, and that nothing else exists beyond the ribbons of breath between them." They are both redeemed by the love that they have for each other, that grew from their childhood friendship. But in their star-crossed situation, the intense exclusivity of their love doesn't bring them happiness, but rather necessitates self-sacrifice on both their parts.
To what extent did Pakistan’s tragic recent past cause Aruna to feel insecure?
Aruna is Singaporean, albeit of Bengali origin, and like many second generation immigrants, I don’t think that she has much of a sense of how her origins affect her life, or of how her family’s past might affect her future. It only becomes clear towards the end of the novel, when the family secret that Hassan has been keeping is finally revealed to her and Jazz.
Your novels often seem to be concerned with moral conflicts resulting from the clash between Eastern and Western values. Do you feel the cultural and religious differences are irreconcilable?
I like to express both Eastern and Western values in my novels, and make use of multicultural characters and locations, but I usually steer clear of cultural clash as a driving force for the story. My characters are driven and divided by complicated emotions, rather than by cultural or religious difference. I have never felt that cultural or religious differences are irreconcilable – I come from a big multicultural family that includes Muslims, Christians and Jews from China, India, Europe and the States!
Is it true you speak several languages? Which is your favourite language for poetry?
In fact, I only speak English and French, and just a smattering of other European languages. I speak hardly any Bengali or Punjabi at all, as my parents were from Bangladesh and Pakistan, and so they spoke English as a common language! With regards to poetry, I love it in both English and French, but am a reader of poetry rather than a writer.
Who are your literary influences?
I’m most influenced by the novels from my childhood, as those are the books that made me love to read, and want to be a writer. My favourite books are still THE LORD OF THE RINGS, by Tolkien, and the WINNIE THE POOH novels and poems, which I now read to my own children. Novelists that I have always loved to read are Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Anita Desai, for the beauty of their writing.
Finally, HALF LIFE is your fourth novel in quick succession. Can we expect a fifth soon and, if so, please can you tell us a bit about it?
I’m working on my fifth novel at the moment – I had twin girls at the beginning of last year, so the writing process has been rather more complicated and slower than usual! (I also have two little boys, aged 5 and 4.) My next novel will come out next Spring – the story moves from 1930s Pakistan to modern-day Europe, detailing the re-invention of an immigrant as he moves from country to country.
Roopa Farooki

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