Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie, 40, is the author of five novels, including Burnt Shadows, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

What was your earliest ambition?

I was about nine when I first declared I was going to be a writer. Earlier than that, learning how to whistle and blow bubbles with bubblegum.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Karachi Grammar School followed by university in the US: Hamilton College and then the University of Massachusetts to do my masters.

Who was your mentor?

Agha Shahid Ali. He was a fabulous poet, a wonderful human being and he’s still there in my sentences. He knew how to take his writing very seriously and himself very lightly, which is rare.

How physically fit are you?

Most days I go for a very long walk which takes me past the gym to which I belong but never enter.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

It’s application, which is related to ambition more than talent.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

When I was about five, my parents were told I should get my hearing checked as I wasn’t responding to my teachers. My hearing was fine, so I had my IQ tested and that was fine too. The child psychologist said people were probably talking to me as if I was a baby when I wanted to be treated as a grown-up.

How politically committed are you?

Deeply committed in the sense that I’m very aware and it makes its way into my writing.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I get on a lot of planes.

Do you have more than one home?

If home means property you live in, no. But the house in Karachi where my parents live, and where I grew up, is still a place I think of as home.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

If I had a lot of money I would always travel business class.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I get my newspaper delivered every morning.

In what place are you happiest?

There’s a stretch of beach in Karachi I’ve loved all my life.

What ambitions do you still have?

It’s always been the same and I hope it always will be: as a writer, to do better.

What drives you on?

The day a writer stops wanting to be a better writer is the time to stop.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

That the thing I loved doing as a child is the thing I earn a living from as an adult.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

I was 15 in Pakistan when military rule ended. Being young, I thought things would live up to their promise, so I was doomed to disappointment ever after.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

She’d be delighted that she had been published – but disappointed to find I was neither living in nor writing about Karachi any more.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I would have to find out if there was any call for people who are good at opening the lids of jars and cans – one of the few practical things I can do. I’d see if someone wanted me to teach, but I’d still try and write.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?


Do you believe in an afterlife?

I do when I’m reading a really good ghost story. Otherwise I tend not to.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

I refuse to answer that – I would sound insufferably smug.


“A God In Every Stone” by Kamila Shamsie is published by Bloomsbury, hardback £16.99, ebook £14.99.

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