Accepting the Gift, Doing the Work: Angelita Biscotti Interviews Sara M Saleh

By and | 1 February 2022

AB: I hope I’m not overstepping here – but what IS the perfect hijab?

SMS: Not at all overstepping – semi-decent hijab, eyebrows groomed, perfect cup of coffee, memes/mix playlists in the group chat – these are priorities lol got to find some small joys and ways of being especially against (but not solely in response to) the constant, exhausting hum of the isms (capitalism/racism/settler-colonialism etc.)

Perfect hijab you ask, I have yet to experience it. Mine never sits properly or perhaps I need to stick more pins in it and stop fidgeting around so much. But my friends, their hijabs always look so immaculate and they’re pretty good at keeping them in place whatever material they use (#mashaAllah) – so I have resigned myself to the fact that this is just not my strong suit. I’ve recently taken to turbans because they are comfortable and require zero upkeep or effort on my part. Lol not your model Muslim, in more ways than one.

AB: I was a PhD candidate once – that’s how I got to Melbourne, on a postgraduate scholarship – so I do get the discipline required to chip away at that 80,000 – 100,000-word object. I’m always curious about how people make the process less tedious. I once met a Sydney scholar who wrote books while driving to university, before the pandemic. He talked to this thing called a Dictaphone, which then does a speech-to-text thing and that’s how he gets his daily 3000 words. And after a month or two of doing that every day he has a first draft. I guess you must like the sound of your voice for that to work.

SMS: That’s a really useful idea! I also started a group chat with myself (does it count as a group?) to have all my ideas in the one place rather than the sporadic emails I was sending myself each time I had a light bulb. I also record voice notes but they’re pretty short. I haven’t used them to write a whole book like the Sydney scholar.

As a visual person, I do like to plan – spreadsheets, Scrivener, notebooks, and I like to see things laid out in front of me, whether it is whiteboards or post-its of chapter summaries on the wall so I can move them around when I need to. To explore different ideas for a particular scene or storyline, I create a sort of mini-storyboard/scrapbook. I basically write every single idea out on pieces of paper – then do a test run. How it sits, how it feels, and sounds. Force myself to change it up a bit, swap the order for example, even if it’s uncomfortable or not my first preference…this is all playtime for me!

AB: I’ll have to ask you more about Scrivener someday. I love the idea of moving post-its around like a scene from every detective TV show ever. I could ask you about what kind of pens you use – are you a fountain pen person or a Bic pen person – but this conversation would then balloon into a novel-length chat and I imagine that’s not the outcome Affirm Press wants, lol. I’m impressed by how organised and disciplined you are.

SMS: Yes, hit me up for all Scrivener related questions (I promise they are not paying me to promo them).

I try to be organised and disciplined (it’s my math brain, I really love math, it was my best subject – don’t hold it against me) – but whether I achieve it is another story. As for pen … easily the blue ink Uni-ball because I am bougie like that. Growing up, oh how I used to beg my Mum to buy it for me. Given how expensive it was (like you could buy a box of ten pens for the price of one) we struck a deal, I get good marks, and in the pen is mine. The glory.

Another important part of the writing process is the archive: conversations with my parents, watching family videos, reading past writing, flicking/clicking through old photo albums.

They remind me that beautiful things can exist at the intersections, amidst the mess, and that beauty isn’t always what we expect. That even in brokenness (my broken language, our broken countries), there is something to be celebrated and that’s beautiful, too.

AB: I’m reading this on the anniversary of my father’s passing. Your words come to me as both wisdom and salve. Natalie Harkin, in a 2021 essay, wrote of archival-poetics and weaving, taking literal scraps of historical documents and turning them into baskets. Baskets. A word for thing that holds things. Also, basket case – a phrase associated with holding things in too much and coming apart from the weight of it all.

SMS: Yes, I think this is what inspired Jazz Money’s debut poetry collection title, which I have found to be so gentle and fierce and captivating – like Jazz.

I am sorry to hear about your father, it sounds like it was a very difficult time. Thank you for trusting me with it.

AB: I feel comforted by the thought of beauty in brokenness – and how the ability to be broken-hearted implicates an ability to love deeply. How can one be broken by what one doesn’t love, after all.

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