Faerie came about while I was taking a break from my filmmaking work. As I was waiting on grants, and for my film projects to move forward, I kept myself sane by keeping busy with some creative writing that was more simple and what I would call "in parentheses" - meaning that it wasn't for any specific purpose other than to keep writing. I just started the story of this young girl.
I didn't really think it would end up being a book - it was just something that I was driven to do, and derived a lot of pleasure from it. At one point I said, 'Oh my god, I think this is a book, and I could see to the end of the story.' It was so different from filmmaking that I just fell into it and felt a really strong drive to keep writing.
I draw from my own experience in this novel. I was hospitalized for anorexia myself at 17, and I followed up with a psychiatrist at the hospital, like Lila does. So that part of the story is familiar to me. That world is something that I remember. Anorexia has been considered a white girl disease, and I often wondered how I fit into that as a South Asian woman.
Anorexia and body image is a theme that I've addressed in my film work. I just seem to mine it and come at it from different ways. My film The Incredible Shrinking Woman looks at anorexia from a cultural perspective. I also made an NFB film called Desperately Seeking Helen that talks about race and how that contributes to anorexia. Faerie is a lot more direct, in that you are really witnessing a girl going through the worst part of the illness.
Showing the physical effects of Lila's illness was especially difficult for me. There's a scene where a nurse caring for Lila gets physically ill when she sees Lila's emaciated body for the first time. And I wanted to portray the complexity of this scene. The nurse's reaction really provokes a mixed reaction in Lila - on the one hand, she has a reality check, but on the other, she has a victory, because she's made herself so skinny that she looks hideous. I had moments where I was crying at my computer while writing this novel. I found it very cathartic.
I don't write well at home. There is too much internet there, too many distractions, and when I physically take myself out of my home environment and I've brought myself somewhere with the purpose of writing, I find I connect better with my writing. I am very particular about where I go - I do have certain places where I like to sit and write. They're not these trendy places where I'm surrounded by tons of other filmmakers with their laptops. I don't want to run into anyone I know.
I wrote Faerie largely in one Montreal mall in particular, called La Cité - more specifically, in the grungy little food court hole of La Cité, before it was renovated. There was a definite irony in writing a book about anorexia in a food court. There was this long, empty hall and I would sit there because there was a plug for my laptop. These people would pause and look at me and then move on - this one old man in particular who practically lives there, who would just shuffle along. Even though to other people it might seem horribly depressing and lonely, I just like those people. It just worked for me. It's full of lost souls - they're not creepy in any way. I have an affection for those people, maybe from my own experience in the psych ward. I felt like these were my people.