Eighteen years old and on his way to India for a vacation, Sunjeev Sahota picked up his first novel from an airport bookshop. It was definitely not going to be his last. Today, after one successful novel and a second on the way, he finds himself included in the prestigious list of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, 2013. Of Sikh origin, Sahota is a third generation British, and his debut novel, Ours are the Streets (2011), addressed the controversial subject of suicide bombers. Excerpts from an interview:
As part of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists list, you’ve joined a long list of illustrious names: Jeanette Winterson, Martin Amis, Monica Ali, Kazuo Ishiguro. What does this mean to you?
It’s wonderful, actually. It’s such a compliment, a pat on the back that makes you go on. The whole thing feels like the world is telling you what you’re doing is great, and to carry on doing it. It feels like your work has been recognised and liked. I’m very grateful for it.
Your first novel, Ours are the Streets, tackles some very current issues like terrorism, identities and the idea of a homeland. Tell us a little about writing this book and the impulse behind it.
I consider a few things very important when it comes to writing a novel. The subject has to be long and interesting enough; it has to be meaty, keep you hooked. One reason I don’t write about my life is because, frankly, it’s not interesting enough. It’s sort of boring. In some ways though, like Imtiaz (the British-Pakistani protagonist of Ours are the Streets), I live in North London too. I was in Leeds when the July 7, 2005 bombings happened. The blasts and its aftermath sowed the seeds of the novel in my head. So I started asking myself questions about the whole incident.