Weekly Chats: Fatima Bhutto with Ortensia Visconti

In this week’s edition of ‘Weekly Chats’ we are featuring Fatima Bhutto & Ortensia Visconti. Fatima & Ortensia join The Great Big Book Club to talk about Fatima’s new book, ‘The Runaways’, a story of two teens who escape to radicalised Islamic training camps in Iraq.

This is an intelligent conversation between two women who eloquently discuss their own personal experiences & how this has impacted the stories they write & their world view. In this ‘Weekly Chat’, they dissect & reframe commonly held views on religious radicalisation, globalisation & the challenging times we are experiencing today.

What’s in this week’s chat:

  • Fatima on writing in solitude during these times of isolation. Taking time out to write, read, listen, watching television & tuning in to your feelings.
  • The force to ‘slow down’ as a result of these times, especially as people who travel.
  • Fatima & Ortensia on the divide between taking the opportunity to ‘unplug’ during lockdown, or becoming ‘hyper plugged-in’ due to the need for connection.
  • Fatima on her love of re-writing books, especially ‘The Runaways’: “All the good stuff happens in re-writing”. Fatima’s journey with the metamorphosis of the 35,000 story to a 100,000 word 400 page novel.
  • Fatima’s Pakistani heritage, Afghanistan birthplace & upbringing in Syria, saw her experience some of the most devastating violence in the 21st Century.
  • “Pretty much all of those countries were invaded, bombed, destroyed. I started to feel wounded by always being imagined in a certain way, by being reduced to a certain thing. I started feeling it at airports & the hostile treatments you get from airports if you’re from certain countries, or if your passports are certain colours. It started to scratch at me. And I guess that’s really where ‘The Runaways’ was born.”
  • Isolation, loneliness & social injustice that is ‘weaponised’ on the internet, thus forming radicalised groups of young people looking for belonging.
  • Religion isn’t the cause of radicalism, it’s the feeling of no possibility of a dignified future.
  • The discovered documents from ISIS camps that new members of the groups were given religious tests, like a ‘Religion 101’ exam, in which a large majority were not able to answer. This further reflecting the lack of ‘religion’ in radicalised groups.
  • Moments of humour in ‘The Runaways’, and Fatima’s editing that needed to ‘cut out’ a lot of the jokes.
  • The two young male protagonists Sunny & Monty with their vastly different backgrounds, class & between ‘having’ & ‘not having’.
  • “All facets of our life require some aspect of a fight” says Fatima on the world’s current political system. Writing a book should also be a fight, as they act as an opportunity to compare your situation to others, even down to the idea of “who has the right to open a door & who doesn’t”.
  • The social implications of social distancing & separating people that creates states based on fear.
  • The many dangers of the world & the realisation that’s not just terror, it’s pandemics, it’s health, it’s the question of how we will be able to inhabit this earth sustainably.
  • Our requirements as human beings to live together, help & support one another during these times.
  • Ortensia’s new book ‘Malalai’ & her experience launching the book on February 25th, just before lockdown in Italy.
  • ‘Malalai’ & its story of an Afghan girl who migrates to Italy & her unique experience as the meeting of two cultures. Malalai’s similarities between Fatima’s Anita Rose character in ‘The Runaways’.
  • What drives Fatima daily to write: “every day brings a new detail”, whether it’s a question or a new addition to a character. “Writing isn’t about one big thing that drives you, it’s millions of little, little, little things that get caught under your skin”.
  • Fatima on writing; “the more you polish it, the richer it shines”.
  • Global popular culture & the 21st Century: we are not looking towards the West for influence, we’re looking globally.
  • “Global popular culture is far richer today”, Hollywood no longer has the glamour & flavour about it anymore. People are looking towards different stories from global cultures & history.

You can buy The Runaways from your local bookseller through the link below:

USA Great Big Book Club members:

‘The Runaways’ is available to pre-order from the USA through Indiebound. You can also buy Fatima’s book ‘New Kings of the World’ via Indiebound here.

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