Small talk: Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak is Turkey’s leading female novelist. Born in 1971, Shafak has published seven novels and two works of non-fiction and writes in both Turkish and English. Her books, which include The Mystic (1997) and The Flea Palace (2002), have been translated into 25 languages. She is married with two children and lives in Istanbul.

Who is your perfect reader?

I don’t have one. I resist the idea. I write for people from completely different backgrounds.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

I’m working on a new novel set in the 1970s, so everything I’m reading is about punk music.

What book changed your life?

I wouldn’t say it was one book; it was the process of reading. I was a very lonely child, bored with life, withdrawn. Books introduced me to a new world and they have never abandoned me.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

About age eight the need to write became vital to me. I had neither the knowledge nor the desire to become a novelist but I knew I had been drawn into storytelling.

What is your writing routine?

As long as I’m inside a story I’ll keep writing, day and night.

What do you snack on while you write?

I drink a lot of coffee and I like salty pretzels.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Several. Inside us as women we have a little harem of female voices, coexisting and competing. Jo March in Little Women has always been a favourite of mine.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Zelda Fitzgerald and Albert Einstein.

How do you relax?

For me to relax, I have to work harder. Day to day I love walking along the streets, listening to music.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My mother gave me lots of advice. She gave me my first notebook and encouraged me to write. She was a single mum – her life has inspired me more than her words.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

Something by Goya. His inner world is amazing.

What book do you wish you’d written?

I was quite jealous of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger.

Can you remember the first novel you read?

A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. I was at primary school so I don’t know how much I understood but I noticed the characters, the intensity, passion and conflict.

What does it mean to be a writer?

I never ask myself why I write. It’s so inevitable for me. You wouldn’t ask yourself, “Why do I eat, why do I breathe?” It’s my way of connecting to the universe.

Elif Shafak’s latest novel is ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ (Penguin)

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