Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Aliyyah Eniath was born in Trinidad and Tobago; her ancestors hailed from Uttar Pradesh, India. She’s a director at Safari Publications, a magazine publishing house, and founder/editor-in-chief of Belle Weddings (Caribbean) magazine.
Aliyyah writes from the perspective of East Indians whose forefathers were brought to Trinidad from India through the British colonial indentureship scheme in 1845.
Here she talks to us about The Yard and more –
tgbc: What was the inspiration for The Yard?
AE:I wanted to write a story about an abandoned boy, adopted into an extended and devout family, where family members hold differing beliefs but operate as a unit — I wanted to see how he’d fear in this situation, especially when he develops a romantic bond with his guardian’s daughter.
tgbc: Trinidad is the location for the book, but it seldom makes its presence felt in the narrative. Was that deliberate?
AE: The Yard where the characters reside is a character unto itself and dominates the narrative. It houses the characters at play, and its collective influence shapes and changes the lives of the protagonists; in the end they must leave it for peace. (It’s a character like Wuthering Heights is a character unto itself with its storms, ghosts and dark corridors.)
In that respect, focusing on The Yard and not the wider society was intentional. It’s also a technique used to examine close-knit East Indian family structures in Trinidad (and elsewhere). I wanted to show the impact of family meddling on a personal level and this was an ideal way to do that.
tgbc: The central characters of Father Khalid, Maya and Behrooz are really well crafted. Were you inspired by any real life characters for them?
AE: Father Khalid is my ideal human. He has a choice to make — he has to decide whether or not to take charge of an abandoned boy despite opposition from other family members whose cultural and religious views act as a deterrent. However, Father Khalid chooses to do what he considers the humane thing or the right thing. I’m of the opinion that you must choose to do the right thing, as your heart dictates, regardless.
Maya is an exaggerated version of myself. She’s independent, has her own mind, and finds it difficult to fit in a bubble created for her, or abide by the expectations of others. Early on, she craves freedom from The Yard, but must return to it, to heal her scars though forgiveness and acceptance, and eventually leave it behind.
tgbc: Who is your favorite character in the book? And why?
AE: Maya — I love her spirit.
tgbc: I read somewhere that your characters adapted to the Trinidadian way, while still retaining some links to the Indian culture. Could you expand on that please?
AE: East Indians in Trinidad are not considered immigrants. We’ve been here for over 100 years (comprising roughly 35% of the population), as part of the builders of modern Trinidadian society. In that sense, we’re wholly Trinidadian. However, our ancestors came from India between 1845 and 1910, so there’s that ancestral link which also plays an important part in our overall cultural fabric.
Thus, Indian wear, food, music, dance etc. are still very much popular here. We peacefully co-exist with peoples of other races, ethnicities, religions residing here which makes Trinidad very unique and beautiful.
tgbc: Who are your book mentors/favorite authors?
AE: V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas showed me that setting a novel in a seemingly unimportant island in the Caribbean could be grand. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is also a great influence — Heathcliff and Catherine face similar cultural and societal challenges as my protagonists. Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations is also a favourite.
tgbc:One book that you wish you had written?
AE: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Otherwise, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
tgbc: What insights would you share with us from your experiences as a debut author?
AE: It might sound clichéd but I’d tell authors not to give up on their book.
I thought my book was going to be an immediate success, and get signed with a great literary agent right away. I didn’t realize that every new novelist thinks the same. Then, there was the sobering reality of querying agents or publishers all around the world, without feedback. However, it was different in India. Most of the agents got back, and some read the book and were pleased.
The best thing I did for the book, early on, was to find another respected novelist to give feedback. I would suggest that at least two editors preview a script before it’s submitted to agents/publishers.
tgbc: What are some of your favorite Trinidadian foods?
AE: Doubles is my favourite — a common street food in Trinidad — it’s a sandwich made with two baras or flat fried bread, filled with channa or curried chick peas, and usually topped with mango, tamarind, and pepper sauce.
tgbc: What’s next?
AE: Another book is brewing, spanning India and New York 🙂