In the latest episode of the English LingQ Podcast Elle chats with best selling novelist Nazanine Hozar about her debut novel Aria, her writing process and the new book she’s working on.
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This Week, I have a treat for you listeners.
I am joined by Canadian.
novelist Nazanine Hozar.
Naz, How’s it going?
How are you?
Yeah, I’m good.
Thank you so much for coming on.
So your debut novel…
I just want to tell you, first off I loved, loved, loved, loved.
Um, I read it when it first came out and I could not put it down.
It was one of those books where I was like, looking forward to going to bed.
Cause I read before I go to sleep.
Um, and yeah, I would just be like so excited to read Aria.
And I remember that the, uh, I had quite a few pages left until I finished it one
night and I had, I just had to finish it.
So you made me probably late for work one day.
So thank you.
Um, so Aria is a coming of age story.
The protagonist Aria, um, follows her life in, in Iran, primarily in Tehran.
And, um, she is kind of mothered by three flawed women.
Aren’t we all…
I just want to read actually part of the review, one of the reviews you
got from Margaret Atwood no less.
Another amazing, amazing Canadian novelist.
So she said about Aria: a sweeping saga about the Iranian revolution
is as it explodes told from the ground level and the center of
chaos, a Doctor Zhivago of Iran.
That must have felt pretty nice!
It still hasn’t hit me.
I still haven’t absorbed, absorbed that.
I don’t think I ever will.
Congratulations first off, I want to say.
And, um, yeah, so my first question to you is I always want to know
if, especially when a novelist…
about a novelist’s first novel is the story of Aria something that was kind of
in you waiting to burst out or did you decide to write a novel and then think,
okay, well, what story do I want to tell?
And it kind of came from there.
Oh, that’s such a…
you know, nobody’s ever asked me that question before.
People have asked Like, is it based on you?
Or, um, or, you know, what inspired it?
But no one’s ever sort of broken it up into that, those two kinds of
categories, because what basically happened was there were parts of it that
were inside me from a very young age.
And then when I then came to realize that I had to write a novel about it, I started
writing those, those feelings out that I had had since maybe I was five years
old, but then I realized that a novel can’t just be somebody sort of feelings
and emotions worked out through the page.
There has to be structure.
There has to be sort of plotting, there has to be motivation, there has to be
some kind of form and shape that, that, that is a much more of a practical
thing and a tangible thing, instead of just, you know, whatever feelings
you sort of had about life since a certain age, since a very young age.
So then I had to sit and go, okay, well, I have these…
this sort of concept, this character, these various people.
And, you know, I know that it has to end up here in some way, end up where the
ending is and sort of follow their lives.
But now I have to really come up with ideas of how to, in a way novelize it and
turn it into a structural thing, a form.
And so then I had to really, I guess, put on the real creative hat of, of, of
thinking, okay, I know these themes are the things I want to explore now, how do
I create stories around it to do that?
So it’s a combination of both, you know?
So yeah, that’s very interesting.
Actually, it’s the first time I even thought about it in
that way that you just asked.
So you mentioned there the process of writing and the form.
That always fascinates me.
One that someone can write something, a novel, period, but your novel Aria
is an epic, uh, complex tale that expands the early 1950s to the ’80s?
The early ’80s, yeah.
I like, how do you even…
do you even go about, like you, did you do tons of research?
Were they like a million different drafts that you had to write and
different input from different people?
Like what was the process?
Yeah, I did.
I did a ton of research, um, especially for about a year, year
and a half-two period timeline there in the, in the middle of writing.
Um, and I basically at the Vancouver public library, I would go there every
day before work, when, when you and I used to work together, I would hide
myself in the, sort of in the, the, in the bowels of like, you know, old newspaper
clippings and like time magazine and New Yorker, New York Times, and various
like La Monde, you know, Parisian, you know, French newspapers of what
was going on politically at the time.
And then kind of what you have to do with, with research, because you don’t want the
novel to kind of turn into a textbook, you know, like a historical text, you
want it to become a real living thing.
And so what you have to do is you have to forget all that research.
So you have to…
oh, I see.
At least for me, I don’t know how other people write these types of things.
And then I had to sort of like push it out of my mind, kind of hope
that through some kind of osmosis I had absorbed all of that stuff.
And then when I had to particularly write the scenes that had to take
place later on in the novel, then I had to kind of go, I never did that…
I don’t know…
that’s just, you know, and it just have to sort of come through and then…
And I’m really interested in informant structure as well.
Like, and, and how sort of, you know, I, I kind of wanted this, like basically
there is a main character and then these three mother figures, but there’s
as you know, several other characters.
And so how do you…
you’re sort of telling this world is sort of unfolding, according to the
point of view of all these different people with her at the center, you know,
this person is like the nucleus of…
Aria is the nucleus of this, all of that, all of that is taking place.
And so the research was there and then you have to forget the research then,
um, when you ask about like, how do you write something like epic like that?
I don’t know if I’ll ever write a, a novel that’s that big.
I might, I mean, the novel I’m writing right now, I think will
be much smaller, but you know, at least a hundred pages or so less.
Um, but the only way that I can explain that, because you say, you know, you
don’t know how people write novels.
If you break it down and simplify it, it, it is possible.
And all you really have to do, and this may sound strange, but you just
write one word after another word after another word without like having huge
expectations or thinking, looking at it as this kind of Goliath of a task right?
The obstacle is the way.
And so you write one word and you write another word write another
word and you count those words.
I mean, that’s what I do.
I sit and I say to myself, I’m going to write, you know, if, if it’s
a really good day, I’m like, I’m going to try for a thousand words.
And then you’ll sort of see in my, uh, cause I usually hand write before
I transfer to, to the computer.
Um, not always, but you know, when I was writing Aria, sometimes I had to do it on
my phone, on the bus to work or to class.
So I’m like take texting it on my phone, emailing it to myself.
But, um, right now I have a bit more freedom.
So, um, Uh, you’ll see that in my notebook I’ve handwritten.
And then you’ll see, like on top of the words you’ll see numbers.
So I, then I just count it, like, did I reach a thousand?
Did I make a thousand?
And, and so, and I don’t know if I’m going to keep those thousand words, probably
out of every thousand words I write, I probably will only keep like 200 or if
I’m lucky 300, but that’s, you just have to, you know, approach it in that way.
And then eventually something arises.
Did you ever doubt yourself, um, through the process, like scrap
this and start a different novel?
Uh, I never, I never doubted the idea, that it should be a different novel.
I doubted whether I could ever get it done.
If you could do it?
Yeah, and not get it done.
I knew that I could like finish the story, but then what I doubted
was that it would be any good.
First of all, it’d be terrible.
No one would want to read it.
I think I wrote, before I even showed it to anyone to read, to give me feedback,
like close friends that I had chosen.
I had chosen a couple of close friends that I thought were really good readers
who are writers and creative people.
Before I even submitted it to them, like the full draft I think I had
written it, I had written seven or eight drafts by that point.
And then, and then, yeah.
And then when I finally were…
sold it and I worked with my editor, I don’t know how many more
drafts we did, maybe two or three.
Yeah, I did at least 10 drafts and that’s on the low side.
Like there are people who do like 20 drafts of a novel,
like I think I’m on the low…
I think that Aria was on the, um, the lower end of draft rewrites.
Yeah, you have to, but like, you know, when you say, when you use
that number, it’s like, okay.
Out of that, 10, four were huge rewrites.