5 Quick Questions with Brannavan Gnanalingam

BrannavanWriter and lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam answers our latest 5 Quick Questions. Brannavan will be teaching a workshop on character among other things at the upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. You’ve got 5 novels under your belt now. Would you like to be able to chuck in the day job and exclusively write or is the mix what fuels your creativity?

I like the mix between the paid work and the writing. While it would obviously be great to have more time to write, I think I benefit from having a routine, not having to worry about where my next paycheck comes from, having a job that doesn’t suck up all of my creativity, and a sense of knowing that I have a limited amount of time means I put that time to better use. One advantage of being a lawyer too is that I encounter new people and new narratives all of the time, and I’m forced to consider different viewpoints on a daily basis. It’s great training for writing novels.

2. From reading your work anyone can see that you care deeply about the state of the world and the inequity that exists between different individuals and groups in society. What made you choose fiction as your primary means of engaging with these issues, rather than non-fiction, journalism or legal work?

2. I’m not sure why I ended up in fiction. My first love was film, and I harboured grand ambitions of becoming a filmmaker (I studied and taught film at Victoria University). I realised in my early twenties though that I loved writing more than the making of film, and I shifted that way. I also did my masters in cultural studies essentially (via film and media studies) and I think fiction was helpful in working through these ideas of representation and discourse theory that I was fascinated in. I did think about journalism too – and I did a lot of reviewing and feature writing on music and film – but I was probably too impatient I think. That said, I think my writing is definitely influenced by journalism, social realism, and satire, so it’s probably all interrelated. As for why I focus on these sorts of stories, I don’t think I could write any other way. Writers are more than welcome to write about anything they want, but for me, I don’t think I’d be satisfied if I wasn’t writing about the world around me. It’s also hard not to be political when you have constantly felt the consequences of other peoples’ political actions.

3. Can you tell us about two or three books or authors that have had a significant impact on your work?

There are too many to mention, and in particular, the sheer number of amazing NZ writers who have been hugely inspirational in terms of their storytelling and shifting of narratives particularly from a POC perspective (for starters, Tina Makereti, Greg Kan, Chris Tse, Courtney Sina Meredith, Patricia Grace, Rajorshi Chakraborti, Anahera Gildea, Victor Rodger, Tayi Tibble, essa may ranapiri amongst many more). Balzac’s The Human Comedy has been a big influence (though I’ve only read 1/2 of it). He has such great characterisation and control of narrative, and I love how the interrelated nature of the various novels / novellas creates a particularly vivid account of early 19th Century France.  And there are a couple of films that have been a huge influence: Jean Eustache’s La Maman et la Putain showed me when I was 19 that you can make interesting fiction from everyday stories and Kira Muratova’s Melody for a Street Organ essentially became a template for how I write, with its sudden tonal shifts and use of anger to sustain narratives.

4. What do you think makes a great character in a novel? 

It does depend on the purpose they’re serving in the narrative, but overall, they need to feel real. Humans are wonderfully contradictory and behaviourally unstable – those are the characters that I try to write. I think people respond to complexity in characterisation too. Another thing I’m also very conscious of is making sure that I don’t forget that characters (and everybody else) live within discursive frameworks that shape and effect how that person moves about in society. Getting an understanding of those frameworks also helps with adding that complexity and making that character more real.

5. Can you tell us a little about what participants should expect from your workshop?

My workshop is connected to the above. It won’t be giving a carte blanche to then go off and write how you feel (that requires a lot of subsequent work by the writer themselves!), but I’ll be working through some strategies for how a writer can prepare and research issues of representation, discourse, power and social relations. I’ll be working through some theoretical frameworks and seeing how this applies to our own writing. I definitely will be focusing on making the sessions interaction and collaborative, and hopefully fun!

Posted in 5 Quick Questions, Conferences, Oceania | Comments Off on 5 Quick Questions with Brannavan Gnanalingam

Work on Your Novel in the Desert

A week of writing. Seven spaces taken; five spaces remain available.

tahiti village nightDates: July 28-August 3, 2019
Faculty: Megan Kruse
Registration (Tuition and private condo):
Contact: writing@kahini.org.

The workshop takes place at Tahiti Village in Las Vegas. In order for each participant to receive maximum attention, registration is limited to twelve.

Live and write in the beauty of the Mojave Desert, near the pulse and energy of Las Vegas. Our desert writing retreats are where Kahini began, in 2014, and after six consecutive sold-out retreats, we’ve decided to add another one: the Desert Writers’ Conference in the Novel is all about craft instruction, community, inspiration–and results in your work.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 10.58.17 AM
A half-hour drive from our lodging, Red Rock Canyon is one of the most beautiful areas in the American west
Kahini writing retreats put master teachers together with ardent students in a week of full immersion in writing and the writing life

Since our inception in 2014, Kahini participants have published over three thousand individual times in literary magazines; released over one hundred books; been featured in the Best American Essays, Best American Poetry, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Science & Nature Writing anthologies; been short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing; and received full university professorships in creative writing.

The Desert Writers’ Conference in the Novel is designed to get you to one new (or revised), completed chapter in your novel, whether chapter one, the ending chapter, or anything in-between.

“A novel is really like a symphony,” Katherine Anne Porter once said, “where instrument after instrument has to come in at its own time, and no other.”

Whether you’re working on literary, experimental, or genre fiction, your novel is shaped by the instruments you choose: the scenes you select and extend, the voices in which you describe them, and your treatment of narrative time.

At the Conference, we’ll discuss both the artistic vision and the craft technique that inspire long works of fiction.

tahiti 3
Soak into the writing life

We’ll discuss the forms of fiction and how to adapt them to a novel.

We’ll explore techniques like scene, character, dialogue and scene-by-scene construction–the building blocks of all novels.

In addition, we’ll discuss larger, structural issues, as well as sensory detail, setting, character & point of view, plot, structure, & pacing, tone, style, visual presentation, thought/theme, and the titling of your novel.

You’ll leave the Conference with a completed piece ready for advanced revision, with new connections and community as a writer, and with great memories and friendships to last a lifetime.


Sunday, July 28
Check-in and registration: any time after 5 pm
7-9 pm: welcome gathering at 17 Degrees South
Monday, July 29
10 am-1 pm: morning workshop
7-8 pm: evening craft lecture
Tuesday, July 30
10 am-1 pm: morning workshop
7-8 pm: evening craft lecture
Wednesday, July 31
Writing day
Thursday, August 1
10 am-1 pm: morning workshop
Friday, August 2
10 am-1 pm: morning workshop
7 pm-9 pm: celebratory final gathering at 17 Degrees South
Saturday, August 3

In our resort setting just south of Las Vegas, you’ll find both solitude and community celebration–whatever you’re looking for. You can draw inspiration from the silence of the open spaces of the Mojave Desert, or the hum and energy of the city, available only twenty minutes to the north. The blend of both options creates the perfect recipe: quiet, solitary writing retreat and/or energetic city inspiration, as you choose.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 11.02.11 AM
Accomodations are a private, two-room condo to yourself, complete with bedroom bathroom, living room, and kitchenette.

Yes, it will be hot. The rooms are air-conditioned and delightful. The desert, though, is sixteen thousand degrees, roughly equivalent to the temperature of a bhut jolokia pepper buttered with extra capasaicin and eaten on the adobe roof of the sun. Bring sunscreen. Read by the pool under the palm trees. Hike at sunset 🙂 .

Workshop sessions happen from 10 am until 1 pm. Pick up coffee or your morning bagel, and come to class: our workshops are intensive and inspiring–you’ll leave full of ideas and ready to write!

In one of the most beautiful and inspirational desert locations on earth, spend your afternoons and evenings enjoying the best of what the area has to offer, including Red Rock Canyon, the Strip; or simply reading, writing, and enjoying the sun. Some evenings feature craft lectures, and on Friday night we have a celebratory final gathering and farewell.


mkMegan Kruse studied creative writing at Oberlin College and earned her MFA at the University of Montana. Her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies; her debut novel, “Call Me Home,” was released from Hawthorne Books in March 2015, with an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Kruse teaches fiction at Eastern Oregon University’s Low-Residency MFA program, was the recipient of a 2016 Pacific Northwest Book Award, and was one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 for 2015. She currently lives in Olympia, Washington, with her twin baby boys, Harry and Julian.

Class Description:

“It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself. This is hard to do alone.” ~Zadie Smith

In this novel workshop, we’ll begin to demystify the magic that makes a novel successful. We’ll identify the elements that drive a novel, as well as the specific craft techniques that novelists use to marry compelling plots to deep emotion. We’ll be generating new writing every day, reading texts that illuminate the lecture and our discussion, and supporting each other through the workshop process. 

In the first half of the conference, we’ll focus on characters, conflict, and desire. What do your characters want, and how will those desires intersect with the other characters and the setting? In the second half of the conference, we’ll examine the global structure of your novel, and how the threads of your characters’ desires will play out over the course of 300 pages. We’ll also work on developing some of the big moments of your novel–the crucial scenes that drive your story and shape your characters’ paths. By the end of the week, you’ll have a new chapter or several new scenes ready for advanced revision, and a plan for moving forward once your return home.


Because of advance reservations we need to make for this event, your tuition is refundable, less a $50 processing fee, through April 28, 2019, and non-refundable after that time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Work on Your Novel in the Desert