Writers’ Block: Gurjinder Basran

Award-winning novelist Gurjinder Basran – whose most recent novel Help! I’m Alive – talks to us about the vulnerability intrinsic to being a writer and the immense gratification of writing under- or unrepresented characters out into the world (and we get to meet her adorable dog, too).


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All Lit Up: What’s the toughest part of being a writer?Gurjinder Basran: The hardest part of being a writer is being honest and vulnerable on the page. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable and exposed but also remain aware that a time will come when you have to armour up against the slings and arrows of feedback and criticism. When it comes to any art form, everyone is a critic but as the artist, you have to get really smart about understanding which criticism is useful otherwise you’ll be endlessly editing to please an audience and your real intentions will be lost.ALU: Who is your favourite character?GB: Olive Kitteridge in the novel with the same title by Elizabeth Strout. Olive is an unlikeable complicated woman. She is overbearing, forthright and pragmatic but as the stories of the town she lives in unwind around her you see that she is big hearted and broken by all the ways in which her life has disappointed her and yet she continues to grow. She reminds me of a thorny vine that despite one’s best efforts to eradicate it, takes hold and takes over.

Gurjinder’s writing advice.

ALU: What was your most rewarding moment as a writer?GB: Seeing my first novel, Everything Was Good-bye reach a wide audience was really rewarding. The novel was originally published by a wonderful local press (Mother Tongue) and due to the effort of that publisher, Mona Fertig, it had a lot of support from local media, book clubs, independent book stores, and libraries. It went on to win the BC Book Prize and was then republished by Penguin Random House. Growing up, I had never read a book with a Punjabi Sikh female protagonist set in Canada, so being able to write that perspective and hear from readers who felt that their own lives were reflected in the story was gratifying and a reminder of the power of diversity and representation.ALU: What do you enjoy reading?GB: Literary fiction, poetry, essays, short stories, non-fiction- almost anything really, as long as it has depth. I like immersive experiences in stories so shy away from anything too fast or formulaic.

Gurjinder’s desk.

ALU: Why do you write?GB: To make sense, or to try and make sense of the world. Life goes by fast–writing is a way to time travel; I can pause, imagine alternate pathways, endings and see a life stretched out on a page without ever having lived it. Writing is a way to slow down, find context, and connections in things that may otherwise seem disconnected.ALU: Describe your perfect writing day.GB: My perfect writing day hinges on uninterrupted alone time, so I do best when I am alone at home or away on a retreat. Some of my most productive writing in terms of volume of pages has been done on writing retreats where all I did was write, go for walks and eat, socializing with other writers only at the end of the day.

Gurjinder’s bookcase and her dog, Xena.

ALU: Have you experienced writer’s block? What did you do about it?GB: I have writer’s block right now! I was working on a new novel (which I am really excited about) and had finished more than half of it and then got stuck and that feeling took all the energy and momentum out of the story for me. At times like this, I look at what I’m resisting in the writing, and in this case, I realized I just needed a break from it. I had written it really quickly and I think I need time for the ideas to mature beyond plot points. For me, a lot of writing is actually not writing. It’s time where I am thinking, reading other books, and allowing my brain to wander and make connections that later give me energy and purpose in my writing. So, although I feel “blocked” from the act of writing, I know I’m still engaged in the creative process.

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Gurjinder Basran is the award-winning author of two previous works of fiction. Her debut novel, Everything Was Goodbye, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and her work regularly appears on must-read lists. Basran studied at Simon Fraser Universities Writer’s Studio and lives with her family just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.


Many thanks to Gurjinder Basran for answering our Proust-style questionnaire; you can Help, I’m Alive! .