My journey towards being a Novelist has been a long one—Saman Shad

We’re back with our Behind the Book segment with the amazing Saman Shad for her highly anticipated debut book- The Matchmaker!

Saman Shad is a writer, editor, journalist and teller of stories. Much of her work is inspired by her experiences as a third culture kid, growing up and living in Pakistan, the Middle East, the UK and Australia. She is a regular writer for several publications, including the GuardianSydney Morning Herald and SBS. She is currently working as a screenwriter on several upcoming projects.

When did you first think of writing The Matchmaker?

Saman- I first had the idea a number of years ago when a family member who’d just come out of a long-term relationship asked their parents to set them up in an arranged marriage. I thought the idea that someone who grew up in Australia would want an arranged marriage was so curious, and then I thought about how they would even go about finding a partner, and that’s when the concept of a matchmaker came to me.

The book deals with South Asian migrant parents and their ideologies around marriage for their kids. Because I also come from a similar background, I can relate to the theme. How hard/easy was it for you to form a story?

Saman- I’m fascinated by the idea of matchmaking and how arranged marriages work (especially in our South Asian culture), but also I knew there were a lot of misconceptions around such marriages in the West. So I wanted to write something that delved into this as well as removed some of the biases and stereotypes people had around arranged marriages. In terms of The Matchmaker, once I decided I wanted to make it a romance novel, the characters came to me fairly quickly. I knew I had to have two single people looking for love (or not looking for it in many ways) and that I needed to find ways to bring them together as well as throw a number of obstacles in their path to prevent them from doing so. The fact that both these characters were desi was important to me so I could explore their backgrounds and bring many of our cultural realities to life to readers who may not know much about what it means to be desi.

Do real-life characters inspire Saima-Kal? How did you get them so right? 

Saman- No – I don’t know any Saima’s or Kals in real life. They are figments of my imagination, but also perhaps, they are an amalgamation of a number of people I’ve come across. Having lived experience of my culture and the people within it has probably been what’s helped make the characters seem so real.

How much of Saima are you in reality?

Saman- Not very much at all! I’m probably more Kal than Saima haha!

Did you have to go through some initial rejections while getting your book published?

Saman- Yes, a lot of rejection – not specifically with this book, but my journey towards being a novelist has been a long one. I moved to London and wrote three novels (that went unpublished). I kept going, however, and I’m so glad I can say I’m a published author now. The journey of a writer is not an easy one and for most, it’s one filled with rejection but you have to keep going till you reach your goal. 

What do you hope people take away with them after reading your debut novel?

Saman- I hope that it’s a fun, happy distraction for people from their day to day lives. Our news is filled with so much darkness – I wanted to provide an antidote to that with my book.

What has been your biggest takeaway from writing The Matchmaker?

Saman- To not explain yourself to readers. I use a bit of Urdu in the book, but I don’t provide translations for these words. I also go into a lot of specifics of culture which I think helped set my book apart. I thought it would perhaps alienate readers, but ultimately readers want to know about different cultures and settings in an intimate way.

Did you always wish to be a writer?

Saman- Yes! From the moment I won a poetry competition at the age of eight and saw my words printed in a magazine, I was hooked.

How does it feel to see the labour of your love at the bookstores?

Saman- Absolutely amazing and thrilling! I was shocked by the Dymocks Sydney window of my novel – you can see the reaction here.

If the book gets adapted into a Netflix movie, who do you think would make for the great main characters, Saima and Kal?

Saman- I want Dev Patel to play Kal. I’ve always wanted Dev Patel to play this character because you know that would make the best running joke (you have to read the book to understand why). Dev, I hope you read this! I’m totally open to who plays the character of Saima. It’s such a great character for a female lead, and I think a number of actresses would be interested in playing the role.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, especially South-Asian origin, who might want to publish a novel but have been struggling to find a voice in a new country? 

Saman- Just keep writing. That’s it. Writing is a craft like any craft. So if you think of a carpenter – their hundredth table will be very different from the first one they created. Just like that, with writing, you get better the more you apply yourself. So keep writing, and don’t be afraid to go into your experiences and what you know about your community. Readers are interested in that detail.

So, what’s next?

Saman- I’m working on a couple of screen projects, and hopefully, I can get signed up to write another book!

The Matchmaker was published on 31 January 2023 by Penguin Books Australia. You can purchase the book here.