Debut author Sara Nisha discusses the impact of growing up reading on her writing as an adult.
Sara Nisha Adams is a London-based writer and editor. Born in Hertfordshire to Indian and English parents, her debut novel, The Reading List, is partly inspired by her grandfather, who lived in Wembley and immediately found a connection with his granddaughter through books.
In this post, Sara discusses how she wanted to capture the impact of growing up reading, how her relationship with her own grandfather helped shape the characters’ relationships, and more!
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Name: Sara Nisha Adams
Literary agent: Hayley Steed at Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency
Title: The Reading List
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
Release date: August 3, 2021
Genre: Fiction / Diverse Voices
Elevator pitch for the book:An unforgettable and heartwarming debut about how a chance encounter with a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
What prompted you to write this book?
Like so many writers and readers, stories played a huge part in my childhood. I think, as an only child, I depended on books for amusement and company more than I realized at the time. I used to carry a book with me wherever I went. It became, in some ways, a bit of a comfort blanket—a way to excuse myself from having to speak to family or new people (I was a really shy child for a while). But I remember vividly that my Dada, my maternal grandfather, often used to ask me what book I was reading whenever I visited, and I see now that he used it as an opportunity to help me open up and talk. This is the inspiration behind The Reading List’s protagonist Mukesh, and his relationship with his bookish granddaughter Priya. Mukesh doesn’t read very much at first, his late wife was the reader in their house – but he realizes that books might be the perfect way to help Priya talk to him more and open up. And, of course, books spark an even bigger journey for Mukesh too, helping him find friendship at his local library.
So, while books have always felt like secret escapes for me, places to hide when I need them, they’ve also been amazing ways to connect to others—and for me, libraries capture this duality perfectly. The library is more than a place to read and borrow books; the library is community, connection; and books, libraries and bookshops help bring people together and make us feel at home. I wanted to write a book that captured that and celebrated it.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I think I’ve had elements of this idea in my mind for a very long time—lots of my half-formed novels have had multigenerational friendships in, like Mukesh and Aleisha’s, and I think that stems from the importance of the friendships I have with my own grandparents and my parents. But I thought of the precise concept of The Reading List back in 2018, and wrote it fairly quickly after that, but it went through many different drafts to get to this point and each draft really moved the story on. While the idea itself didn’t change, lots did change, like the breadth, the driving force of the narrative became clearer, and the characters became fully formed on the page, whereas before, I think they existed more clearly in my head alone.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I think the biggest surprises for me have been seeing people reading and reacting to the book because this story has lived with me for so long. It’s been a joy hearing people meet my characters for the first time. I think both Mukesh and Aleisha, and indeed all the characters in the book, are based on me or people I love in varying degrees—so it is really heartwarming and lovely when people enjoy getting to know them. It sort of feels like when someone meets your parents or your family and comments on how great they are—and you think to yourself, ‘Yeah, they are great … I take that for granted sometimes, and I shouldn’t.’
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
The biggest surprises for me were how much more I could get out of the book through the editing process. The writing of the first (very rough!) draft was quick, but the editing was slow, and sometimes felt like pulling teeth. There were so many moments when I felt like I’d got all I could from the book, and I’d done all I could to express what I needed to, but my editor was excellent in spurring me on to look at some things again, to try things in new ways—and now I look back, I see how much each draft helped the story develop, even if I couldn’t see it at the time.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers will enjoy the bookishness of the book, and its celebration of reading. But most of all, I hope it’ll remind us all to be kind to people, because we never know what’s going on behind closed doors, and I hope it’ll remind us of the importance of connection in all its forms—from a stranger’s generous smile on a bus, to a long letter from an old friend.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
I’d say try, as hard as you can, to turn off your inner critic when writing and aim to write for yourself, rather than anyone else. That’s where the satisfaction and joy comes from, for me anyway. Writing a story you would want to read.