Kamila Shamsie

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Pakistan | 2003, 2005, 2011, 2015, 2016

Kamila Shamsie was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1973, and is the author of six novels, including Burnt Shadows, which has been translated into more than 20 languages and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and A God in Every Stone, which was shortlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. Three of her other novels (In the City by the Sea, Cartography, Broken Verses) have received awards from the Pakistan Academy of Letters. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists. She returned to Santa Maddalena in 2005, 2011 and 2016.


Report 2016

The magic never fails. Thirteen years after the first time I came to Santa Maddalena it is still a place where I can find the concentration and sense of well-being and some ineffable other quality that allows me to write as I write nowhere else. My last four novels have all been written in part at Grisha’s desk, and I’m well past the point where I approach the studio tentatively, thinking, perhaps this time I won’t write more quickly, more clearly. Now I walk in, sit down, and simply accept that the thoughts will untangle and the words will come.

In the years that I’ve been coming and going - sometimes as a fellow, sometimes as friend - I’ve come to think of Santa Maddalena as a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) home. The writing - as sustained and intensive as it is - is only one of the joys of visiting Donnini. A selection of the other joys: Beatrice’s company; walks in the countryside; the company of the most enchanting assortment of canines each with their distinct charms (yes, even Carlotta); the aesthetic pleasure of everything that Beatrice surrounds herself with; the trips to Arezzo; the reunions with friends (and their dogs - ciao Dumbo!) you’ve known from previous visits and the new friends who you make every single time you’re there. There’s a whole sub-set of people who I love to spend time with who have come to me through Beatrice. Her belief that there is no reason ever for life to be boring becomes a lived reality at Santa Maddalena. I miss it already.

Report 2011

The geography of my life is embedded within each novel I’ve written. Moving round, as I do, every few month in a path between Karachi, London and the East Coast of America means that each of my novels is a tri-continental production, and there are certain sentences which I have only to look at to recall the sloping floors of a Massachusetts apartment or the sound of rain outside a London flat or the deep breathing of a sleeping dog at my feet in Karachi. And yet, despite or because of this, I’ve always maintained that location really doesn’t matter to my writing process. If you give me a place to put my computer and a certain degree of silence, surroundings become inconsequential. This is what I believed before Santa Maddalena. But just before I sat down to write this report, I found myself looking at a picture I had taken of Grisha’s studio and – though I’ve never been a writer who relies on ritual – it was with a sense of ritual that I found myself re-imagining that vast desk, the extraordinary view of hills and trees and sky, and the sense of calm – and promise – I felt each morning when I stepped into that room. It wasn’t merely that I knew I could work there uninterrupted, without worrying about the daily business of living (phone calls, grocery shopping, bills, newspapers etc), though certainly that was important. There was something else about the place which just made it seem criminal to write a lazy sentence. Was it the view, or the peace, or the sense that so many other writers had written incredible sentences sitting where I was sitting? I don’t know, but whatever it was I’m grateful for it. I went to Santa Maddalena with a novel which, despite having gone through 3 drafts, still needed serious re-working and re-thinking. Six weeks later, I found I had a novel which surprised and excited (and slightly terrified) me with the directions in which it had leapt. There is, of course, that other side to life at Santa Maddalena. The side which is not about sitting alone in your studio, writing. Midnight swims in the pool, fireflies in the bamboo-groves, the orchestra of mating roe-deer, croaking frogs and barking Giuditta, the restaurants of the area (green apple sorbet near Fiesole, octopus salad in Reggello, surprisingly wonderful green bean pate in Pelago, meat cooked on river stones in Figline), baby boar dancing in the car’s headlights on the dirt track, and yes, the Armani outlet. But above all this, each night there was the company of Beatrice (von Rezzori) and Andrew (Miller) and Rupert (Thompson) and (half the week) Alessandra (Gnecchi Ruscone) – and a host of other wonderful dining companions who would regularly appear; the friendship and intimacy which sprung up almost instantly between people who knew each other for only a short space of time says much about the generosity of spirit at Santa Maddalena, which is, of course, Beatrice’s generosity of spirit (and Grisha’s, too – he remains a palpable presence.) This other side of Santa Maddalena is not unconnected to the writing side. I am convinced I worked better for knowing that at the end of the working day there would be canine and human company of the best sort. During my first week at Santa Maddalena, I had one of those moments of ‘breakthrough’ with my novel which writers so cherish. I came down for lunch with my mind still half-attached to the fictional world I had been writing about and Beatrice immediately said, ‘Have you done some good writing today?’ I asked how she knew and she said, ‘You have that dreamy look.’ I realized she must know it well – that dreamy look of a writer well-contented. I feel it settle on my features even now as I think of Santa Maddalena.

Report 2005

The geography of my life is embedded within each novel I’ve written. Moving round, as I do, every few month in a path between Karachi, London and the East Coast of America means that each of my novels is a tri-continental production, and there are certain sentences which I have only to look at to recall the sloping floors of a Massachusetts apartment or the sound of rain outside a London flat or the deep breathing of a sleeping dog at my feet in Karachi. And yet, despite or because of this, I’ve always maintained that location really doesn’t matter to my writing process. If you give me a place to put my computer and a certain degree of silence, surroundings become inconsequential. This is what I believed before Santa Maddalena. But just before I sat down to write this report, I found myself looking at a picture I had taken of Grisha’s studio and – though I’ve never been a writer who relies on ritual – it was with a sense of ritual that I found myself re-imagining that vast desk, the extraordinary view of hills and trees and sky, and the sense of calm – and promise – I felt each morning when I stepped into that room. It wasn’t merely that I knew I could work there uninterrupted, without worrying about the daily business of living (phone calls, grocery shopping, bills, newspapers etc), though certainly that was important. There was something else about the place which just made it seem criminal to write a lazy sentence. Was it the view, or the peace, or the sense that so many other writers had written incredible sentences sitting where I was sitting? I don’t know, but whatever it was I’m grateful for it. I went to Santa Maddalena with a novel which, despite having gone through 3 drafts, still needed serious re-working and re-thinking. Six weeks later, I found I had a novel which surprised and excited (and slightly terrified) me with the directions in which it had leapt. There is, of course, that other side to life at Santa Maddalena. The side which is not about sitting alone in your studio, writing. Midnight swims in the pool, fireflies in the bamboo-groves, the orchestra of mating roe-deer, croaking frogs and barking Giuditta, the restaurants of the area (green apple sorbet near Fiesole, octopus salad in Reggello, surprisingly wonderful green bean pate in Pelago, meat cooked on river stones in Figline), baby boar dancing in the car’s headlights on the dirt track, and yes, the Armani outlet. But above all this, each night there was the company of Beatrice (von Rezzori) and Andrew (Miller) and Rupert (Thompson) and (half the week) Alessandra (Gnecchi Ruscone) – and a host of other wonderful dining companions who would regularly appear; the friendship and intimacy which sprung up almost instantly between people who knew each other for only a short space of time says much about the generosity of spirit at Santa Maddalena, which is, of course, Beatrice’s generosity of spirit (and Grisha’s, too – he remains a palpable presence.) This other side of Santa Maddalena is not unconnected to the writing side. I am convinced I worked better for knowing that at the end of the working day there would be canine and human company of the best sort. During my first week at Santa Maddalena, I had one of those moments of ‘breakthrough’ with my novel which writers so cherish. I came down for lunch with my mind still half-attached to the fictional world I had been writing about and Beatrice immediately said, ‘Have you done some good writing today?’ I asked how she knew and she said, ‘You have that dreamy look.’ I realized she must know it well – that dreamy look of a writer well-contented. I feel it settle on my features even now as I think of Santa Maddalena. Kamila Shamsie