Today is release day for In the Key of Nira Ghani by Natasha Deen. Natasha was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing and her newest book about identity, music, and friendship.
A Guyanese girl must find the balance between her parents’ “old world” expectations and traditions while pursuing her dream of being a great trumpeter in this contemporary, coming-of-age story.
Nira Ghani has always dreamed of becoming a musician. Her Guyanese parents, however, have big plans for her to become a scientist or doctor. Nira’s grandmother and her best friend, Emily, are the only people who seem to truly understand her desire to establish an identity outside of the one imposed on Nira by her parents. When auditions for jazz band are announced, Nira realizes it’s now or never to convince her parents that she deserves a chance to pursue her passion.
As if fighting with her parents weren’t bad enough, Nira finds herself navigating a new friendship dynamic when her crush, Noah, and notorious mean-girl, McKenzie “Mac,” take a sudden interest in her and Emily, inserting themselves into the fold. So, too, does Nira’s much cooler (and very competitive) cousin Farah. Is she trying to wiggle her way into the new group to get closer to Noah? Is McKenzie trying to steal Emily’s attention away from her? As Farah and Noah grow closer and Emily begins to pull away, Nira’s trusted trumpet “George” remains her constant, offering her an escape from family and school drama.
But it isn’t until Nira takes a step back that she realizes she’s not the only one struggling to find her place in the world. As painful truths about her family are revealed, Nira learns to accept people for who they are and to open herself in ways she never thought possible.
I’ve heard there is a good amount of humor in your newest book. Who or what
makes you laugh on a regular basis?
I get a lot of feedback from readers about how much they enjoy the humour in my books, and I appreciate the time they take to share their thoughts. “Writing funny” is a tricky needle to thread, and I’m grateful when I hear I’ve accomplished it!
As for who or what makes me laugh, I’m going to say everyone and everything. I try very hard to go out in the world and find the funny in every situation. I think that mindset comes from my parents.
They taught me to look for the humour in every situation, to look for a reason to laugh. If you could find a way to laugh, then it meant whatever you were dealing with wasn’t bigger than you. If you could find a way to laugh, then it meant you could overcome that obstacle in front of you.
So, I look for joy, I look for happiness, and I look for funny. And I count myself very lucky because I’m surrounded by people and creatures who make me smile and whose way of looking at the world can bring out the giggles.
Nira Ghani dreams of being a musician. What role has music played in your life?
Gosh, everything! One of my favourite memories is my family in our first home in Canada. It was a small, one-bedroom suite with no living room, and a toilet that overflowed every day, but it was full of love and laughter and the possibilities of everything we could be and do.
Though money was tight, my mom would buy sausage links for our celebration breakfast on Saturday (we were big on celebrating the weekend) and she’d make breakfast while the radio played in the background and my dad sat at the table and shared stories. The memory of Chiliwack singing “Gone, Gone (My Girl)” while the smell of frying sausages and toast filled the air is one I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Every time I hear that song, I’m transported back in time to those moments, and how safe and loved I felt.
Our house was always full of music, from our piano lessons (and one year, trumpet), to reggae, soca, jazz to rock, it blasted from the stereo speakers in the living room (when we finally had enough money to move into a house with an actual living room), and when my parents bought their first car, music filled the car with sound. I carry the tradition of surrounding myself with music. In the mornings, I have a playlist I listen to while I drink my tea. There’s a playlist for the treadmill, and whenever I write a new book, I have a playlist for my main character. For me, music is this magical thing that uplifts and helps me transform my dreams to reality.
On your website your bio says that writing is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. What are some of the most challenging things about writing?
Wait. Are you saying there are things that are NOT challenging about writing?
Hee hee hee.
Everything is difficult for me, from creating the character (how do I make Nira real to readers?) to the plot (what is her journey?) to setting (her house versus Farah’s, what does that look like?) to sensory (how can I create funny moments between Nira and her grandma?), it’s an uphill marathon while wearing cement shoes.
BUT the chance to create a world that connects with readers, the idea that I might be part of their day, I love that. Writing is difficult for me, but the chance to connect with someone via story, keeps me in the chair, no matter how difficult the writing may be.
What’s your favorite setting for writing?
I have my office, which I love. It’s bright and sunny, with a chair for my husband to come and visit, and comfy rugs and blankets for my/our two cats and one dog to snooze and keep me company.
My favourite moment is when the only sounds as the click of my keyboard, the soft snores of the pets, and my husband’s voice down the hallway, asking if I’m ready for a break and a chat over tea.
What were some of the books that influenced you as a teen?
All books influenced me as a teen (and as an adult). Books I love give me all the feels and inspire me to be a better person and challenge myself as a writer. The books that don’t connect with me, I try to study and figure out why I couldn’t engage with it. My hands down favourite book in the whole world is The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper.
Have you read anything amazing lately?
Ha! Too many great books to name. There are so many wonderful stories out in the world, I wish I could freeze time so I could spend eternity reading all of them!