Eisha Marjara: How I wrote Faerie

In her debut novel, Faerie, Montreal filmmaker Eisha Marjara explores the notion of escape - a fertile territory for YA fiction. But rather than escaping her family, school or friends, 17-year-old Lila is desperately trying to escape her body. And she's only got 68 pounds to go.

In her own words, Eisha Marjara explains how this unflinching story of anorexia, ethnicity and girlhood came to be.

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. 



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