Monica Ali: Best-selling Author Welcomed back to Wadham

Date Published: 29.04.2022

Hosted in the Warden's lodging on a sunny Spring evening, Monica answered questions about her life, career, and writing.

“I had a blast here.”

Monica Ali, author of Brick Lane and now Love Marriage studied PPE at Wadham. Hailing from a poor family, she first arrived at Wadham’s gates in a garish orange camper van. A proud feminist drawn to the progressive politics of the college, she recalls spending time in Wadham’s Women’s Room sewing banners for marches.

“There were a lot of rent strikes” she adds.

“There still are,” a student chuckles.

Current students fill the room, most of them on English courses, some of them aspiring authors. Chaired by the Warden, Robert Hannigan, and Professor of English and World Literature, Ankhi Mukherjee, Monica answers questions about her life, career, and writing.

“An impending wedding day can be a useful lens on a society,” she says in admiration of Jane Austen, whose influence shows in Love Marriage. Monica’s answers are direct, and she shies away from suggestions about the sophistication of her storytelling. Even if the novel is a spirited translation of culture and language, for her it all flows from a focus on character.

“An impending wedding day can be a useful lens on a society.”

Her British and Bangladeshi heritage does influence the themes of cultural dislocation she explores, but Monica resists over-simplifying it. It was her mother – a white, British woman – who uprooted to be with her father. So for her, “translation goes in all directions.”

Questions fly in about writing retreats, what to make of "women's literature" as a label, and how she got started as a novelist. An undergraduate asks, “how do you become a serious student of psychology and character?”

“Read,” Monica answers. “To write seriously, you need to read seriously.” She also stressed visualisation: “If you can’t picture the scene you’re writing, how will your reader?”

Love Marriage comes nearly 10 years after her last novel and Monica shares openly about the loss of self-confidence that contributed to the gap. In her slump, she watched a lot of TV. But that led to her wanting to write TV. And writing scripts led her back to the novel.

The visit to Wadham affords Monica the chance to reunite with her old English Tutor, and to see her portrait, which hangs in the great Hall.

Monica shares that the book that began with watching TV has led her back to the small screen. Monica is adapting Love Marriage for TV and the series is in development with the BBC.

Love Marriage is available now at all good book stores.

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