Canada Reads panellist Mozhdah Jamalzadah and The Boat People author Sharon Bala get to know each other
Sharon Bala's novel The Boat People is a finalist on Canada Reads 2018. Talk show host and singer Mozhdah Jamalzadah is defending the book, which follows a group of Tamil refugees who arrive in British Columbia on a boat. After a gruelling ocean crossing, the newcomers face hardship and heartbreak as they seek asylum in Canada.
Watch Jamalzadah and Bala get to know each other a little better in a rapid-fire Q&A round.
Mozhdah Jamalzadah: "When did you know you wanted to be a writer?"
Sharon Bala: "I've always known since I was young, but knowing that you want to be something and thinking that you can be it, are two different things. So I knew when I was quite young and first started writing. I remember writing on foolscap paper with a pen. I was eight. But the moment when I thought this is an actual thing I could do and I had a book that could be published was probably at the end of 2015 when I signed with an agent. It was so exciting. We took a picture of signing the contract."
Sharon Bala: "What was it about my book that connected with you?"
Mozhdah Jamalzadah: "Your book was probably the second book that I was presented with. And right off the bat, I was like, 'This is my book. I don't need to look at any other books.' I connected with it right away. After reading the summary, I was like, 'OK, already like this book,' but when I read the first few pages, I instantly fell in love with the characters. It was based in Vancouver, I'm from Vancouver. I was aware of this situation with the boat and the refugees. I was watching it on the news. Being a refugee myself with my family fleeing a war zone and making it to Canada and the struggles that I've seen my parents go through to get here, it definitely resonated with me and I knew that I had a connection with the book. If I want to represent something, I have to be passionate about it."
Mozhdah Jamalzadah: "What is the strangest thing you've done to research a book?"
Sharon Bala: "I don't know about researching a book, but once I was writing a story where a toothbrush dropped on the floor and I don't even remember the story now, but it was an important moment. I was trying to describe the sound of the toothbrush dropping on the floor and also the way it would look. So I literally went to my bathroom and took my toothbrush and dropped it on the floor over and over again and just watched it and listened to it and then I wrote it down. Recently, I was writing a scene with two people fighting as they're trying to get out of a bathtub and I was trying to figure out the mechanics of how they would slip and fall onto the floor and so I was in the bathtub by myself trying to [act it out]."
Mozhdah Jamalzadah: "What is the best writing snack?"
Sharon Bala: "This is really disgusting. I don't know if this is the best snack, but I often do this because I often don't have anything in the kitchen and I'm hungry and I'm writing. I don't like to cook, so I take a cracker and a bit of pickle — has to be sweet pickle — and cheddar cheese. It's delicious and disgusting."
Sharon Bala: "Why did you decide to do Canada Reads?"
Mozhdah Jamalzadah: "I've been reading books since I was very little and it's the one thing that I'm really good at. When I was younger... I would actually spend my lunch money on novels. So you could imagine how much more I love books. When I got the call for Canada Reads I dropped whatever it was I was doing and said, 'I will be there,' because it's a huge honour for me to be a part of Canada Reads. To actually sit next to my favourite author and have this discussion is amazing. It's a dream come true for me."
The Canada Reads 2018 contenders
Mozhdah Jamalzadah, defending The Boat People by Sharon Bala
Tahmoh Penikett, defending American War by Omar El Akkad
Greg Johnson, defending Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson
Jeanne Beker, defending Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto
Jully Black, defending The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline