A thirty-something academic, Leila is an advisor to international donors and governments. When not on a plane, or at a UN conference, she is visiting war-torn countries, refugee settlements and remote communities. Her only time for reflection is either 33,000 feet above the earth, or in an airport lounge.
Her nomadic life is held together by her regular taxi driver, Sali. During the forty-minute drive from her home in Melbourne to the airport and back, their relationship develops to become an unlikely friendship. Their stories of grief and loss, and their mutual passion for poetry, especially haiku, are the glue that binds them together.
The world Leila and Sali create in the taxi is their one constant and once you enter you will not want to leave.
Leila is a novel about love, loss and the journeys along the way.
Let's talk about it
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
As a fairly private person, I suspect there is a lot. Perhaps I’ll go with the fact that I’m over 60, have come to writing late and look forward to decades of it ahead of me.
Why did you choose these themes in your book and were you aware of them from the outset?
The idea of writing about the conversations in a taxi between an international consultant and her regular driver came first. What was happening to them in between those taxi rides took longer. Their experiences arrived as they started talking in my head or rather as they sat on my shoulders and never shut up. I heard their conversations, got to know them, and the story themes came from there. It helped that I have met a great many taxi drivers and have visited 30+ countries for work. My observations over that time are never far away.
How difficult was it for you to write this book? Did you face any obstacles?
Because of the style, I knew the novel would not be very long, but it was still hard to know when to stop. The beginning and the end were largely set however the middle could have gone on forever. There was a time when I had no idea about one of the main characters’ back story – the novel was workable, but unbalanced without it, and I needed to take a break for it to appear. The book also turned out sadder than I thought it would be. My personality is upbeat, and I needed to not interfere.
Do you always write in this genre or do you like to break out of the box?
This is my first novel but written in a vignette style with lots of haiku, so I am not sure it is a genre per se. Hardly literary in the hi-brow sense, but definitely not commercial in the embossed letters on the cover sense. Yes, I am not good with staying in boxes.
What are your writing habits or idiosyncrasies?
Habit: Any spare moment I can be found writing. Scribbles on the edges of paper – which I invariably lose – and there are many unfinished word documents sitting in interesting sounding folders on my desktop.
Idiosyncrasy: Writing is the only thing I stay up for. I can see 1am tick by and I am not tired, whereas normally I would be tucked in by 9pm!
What would you do differently next time?
Not sure – perhaps not enough time has gone past. But there is one phrase in the novel that bugs me – I wish I’d gone with my intuition and worked on it harder as it does not seem to fit my main character. Following my intuition as I write will be a skill I need to finetune.
With hindsight, what would you say to yourself as a fledgling writer?
A million edits? Don’t worry about it. Why do you think you can be Ernest Hemingway on the first draft? Do it your way. Forget character and plot, go with personalities and their stories every time.
If you worked with a professional editor, what was the experience like?
Wonderful. She has sublime skill and diplomacy. I always loved it when she said, ‘but it’s your book’ which made me worry and concentrate on that bit a lot more. I was often too close to the story and couldn’t see where the structure needed up-ending so her professional viewpoint was definitely a plus. I am also useless with commas.
What’s next for your writing?
A crime series to follow my working life in 30+ countries. And there are three non-fiction books in different stages – all unique ideas however I am not sure I can pull them off. For someone who loves vignettes, writing the number of words they will need will not be easy.
Dimity Fifer knows a great deal about travel and her career has taken her to more than thirty countries across five continents. She understands the world of international development and the political intrigues behind the scene. Having met thousands of people and heard innumerable stories she also knows a thing or two about love, loss, and the journeys along the way.