Monica Ali

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Bangladesh/UK | 2018

Monica Ali is an award-winning, bestselling writer whose novels include the Booker-shortlisted Brick Lane, In the Kitchen and Untold Story. She was chosen as one of Granta’s 2003 Best of Young British Novelists. Her work has been translated into 26 languages, and she has judged a number of literary prizes including as Chair of the Asian Man Booker. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including The Guardian, the Times, The New Yorker, and the New York Times, for which she is a literary reviewer. Monica has been a guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and has presented several editions of the Radio 4 show, A Point of View. She is a Fellow of the RSA and of the Orwell Prize. She has taught creative writing at Columbia University, New York, where she was a visiting Professor, and she is currently Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Surrey.


Santa Maddalena

After six weeks you have enough material to write another book, one based on Santa Maddalena. Here you banquet on the history of the buildings, the lineage of the furniture (the ottoman sofa in the bathroom is particularly distinguished), the beauty of the artworks, and the glory of the views. Add in the rotating cast of characters – Fellows, staff, varied and splendid visitors, a multiplicity of compelling dogs – and you begin to wonder if you should abandon the book you came here to work on. An outline of a new project suggests itself. What writer could spend time here and ignore such rich material?

Speaking of time, you noticed straightaway how much of it there is at Santa Maddalena. Time is the most luxurious of gifts, the greatest luxury, the most treasured of all the treasures of this place. Who knew that a day could contain so many writing hours? Certainly not you. Not before you came here and revelled in the days that stretch so beautifully long and clear like your favourite lake in the world. Each morning you take the bracing plunge into your work and you swim across the day until maybe you see the horizon turn pink and orange and indigo. And there is still enough time, when you reach the far shore, for a stroll, for conversation, for lingering over Rasika’s delicious food round the table that elegantly accommodates as many guests as turn up.

At dinner Beatrice tells you so many extraordinary stories about her life that you again begin to think you should abandon your work-in-progress, and write a novel based on your hostess. But you go back, past the black and silver olive trees, to your room at the top of the tower and you dive back into your work, a skinny dip at the witching hour. This is what you came for: to immerse yourself so deeply in what you are doing that it becomes pleasurable, when you surface intermittently, to dream of what else you might write about.

When you leave you are grateful for the exceptional hospitality, the gorgeous setting, the incomparable magic of the tower. You no longer have daydreams of writing its many stories, but Santa Maddalena remains not only in your memory and imagination. It has found its way into your heart.

Monica Ali

Autumn 2018