Monday, February 22, 2021

Farzana Doctor Interview - Seven

Photo Content from Farzana Doctor 

Farzana Doctor is a writer, activist, and psychotherapist. Her ancestry is Indian, and she was born in Zambia while her family was based there for five years, before immigrating to Canada in 1971.

She became interested in community organizing as a teen (primarily environmental issues, gender violence and LGBTTTIQ rights). From 2009-18, she curated the Brockton Writers Series and has been a volunteer with The Writers’ Union of Canada and the Writers’ Trust. She currently volunteers with WeSpeakOut, a global group that is working to ban female genital cutting in her Dawoodi Bohra community.

She studied social work in the early nineties and has been a social worker ever since. She worked in a variety of community agencies and a hospital before starting part-time private practice, where she sees individuals and couples.

She has been writing all of her life but it became a more regular practice around 2000, when she began writing her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, which was published by Inanna in 2007. Her second novel, Six Metres of Pavement, won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award and was short-listed for the 2012 Toronto Book Award. In 2017 it was voted the One Book One Brampton 2017 winner. Her third novel, All Inclusive was a Kobo 2015 and National Post Best Book of the Year.

While all her books are distinct from one another, some common themes include loss, relationships, community, healing, racism, LGBT rights, diasporic identity and feminism. She seamlessly blends strong stories with social justice issues. Her genre so far has been contemporary literary fiction, but here is usually a hint of magic realism in her stories.

She's just completed a novel, Seven (August 2020, Dundurn), and a poetry collection. You Still Look the Same. She is currently at work on a YA novel. Farzana was recently named one of CBC Books’ “100 Writers in Canada You Need To Know Now". She is represented by Rachel Letofsky of CookeMcDermid.

She’s an amateur Tarot card reader and has a love of spirituality, energy psychology, hypnosis and neuroscience.

She lives with her partner and dog near the lake in Etobicoke, the traditional territory of the Haudenosauneega, Anishinabek and Huron-Wendat peoples.


Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Zambia, when my parents lived there for five years (they are from India), and I was raised in Canada. Toronto is home.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
My heart is most happy when readers contact me to tell me that my books have brought them healing or affirmation. So that’s most spiritually rewarding. But I’ll also share a recent thrill: for two days at the end of December 2020, SEVEN hit #1 on Apple Canada’s bestseller list (right above Bridgerton!). It was rewarding to see that my book was getting out to people.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I’d just gone through a bad break up and was looking for a way to fill my time. I took a hip-hop dance class, but was very bad at it. Then I took a novel-writing class (prior to that I’d written some poetry and non-fiction) and wrote the first chapter of my first novel. After the class ended, I couldn’t stop—it was almost like a compulsion to continue. It’s been like that with each of my four novels; once I’m twenty pages in, the characters and issues hook me and I have to keep writing.

Tell us your latest news.
My poetry collection, You Still Look The Same, will be released in Fall 2022 with Freehand Press. I’ve been quietly working on this collection for years, so I’m excited to see it out in the world.

Can you tell us when you started SEVEN, how that came about?
I started writing SEVEN at an emotionally intense time. I was busy with promoting my third novel, All Inclusive, was involved in activism around khatna (a form of female genital cutting—FGC—that happens in the Dawoodi Bohra community). I was also gradually coming to terms with my own trauma around the issue.

I had little bandwidth left for writing, so I set a small goal to free-write for fifteen minutes with my morning coffee. I used a pen and a notebook. Each day, a fully formed fictional scene “arrived”. By the time I had about twenty of these scenes, I realized I had the bare bones of a novel.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Firstly, I hope that readers will encounter a beautiful, compelling, page-turner! I hope they feel invested in the characters and the story. My second goal was for readers to gain a deeper understanding of the small, insular community about which I’m writing.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Sharifa?
I intentionally wrote Sharifa as kind of clueless (about her community, and especially FGC). This was so that I could reveal information in the story in a way that would be digestible for the reader. In having her ask a lot of questions, I realized just how much I, too, didn’t understand about my community! I had to do my own research to fill in my knowledge-gaps.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Such a fun question! My characters are sort of like real people who live in the same imaginary town (even though all the books’ settings are vastly different!) and could bump into one another at the grocery store! I think my protagonist, Nasreen, in my first novel, STEALING NASREEN, might enjoy hanging out with Fatema in SEVEN. I think they’d have fun talking about books and feminism.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My fear sometimes distracted me. I worried about what everyone would think. Would people in my community hate it? Would mainstream readers be disinterested in the subject material? In the end these fears were only fears.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Question the stories—the false narratives from societal institutions, family and friends—about who we are and what we can do. Once we question, we can decide what we truly believe and want for ourselves.

Best date you've ever had?
I met my partner at a dance. What started out as an awkward slow dance, turned into three hours of swaying and talking cheek-to-cheek.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Many times, but indirectly, through petitions, fundraising campaigns, and showing up at rallies. I might not know the people or issues personally, but the political is personal.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
My mother died when I was eleven, and although 39 years has passed, and I no longer think about it daily, there’s always a piece of me trying to make sense of that traumatic loss and its impact on my family. It totally changed us and how we operate in the world. *

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
A young woman came to a book signing about five years ago. She told me she’d read my first novel seven times because it spoke to her so personally. I was so touched.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
For SEVEN, I made a research trip to my family’s ancestral village, Dholka. It was my first time there, and it was the first time I experienced a visceral understanding of where I’m from, where my people originate. As a diasporic kid, I’d never felt that before, and it was mind-blowing.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
The first. And I’ve chosen it many times! And survived!

  • 1. While this is a work of fiction, its characters are based on a real community. Few people have heard of Dawoodi Bohras; we are a fairly insular sub-sect of Shia Muslims. We are known for being polite, entrepreneurial, and cooking the tastiest daal.
  • 2. Abdoolally is also fictional, but was inspired by my great-great grandfather, Hussonally Dholkawala. You can find out more about the real guy HERE.
  • 3. I was keen to intersperse the Abdoolally scenes with Sharifa’s main narrative because I believe our ancestors have a way of influencing our current reality.
  • 4. A secret tunnel linking Dholka to Ahmedabad doesn’t really exist, or at least that’s what I’ve been told to say. ;-)
  • 5. Khatna does really exist, unfortunately. To write the varied experiences of survivors, I read as much as I could, and talked to as many women as possible. I, too, am a survivor. Want to understand more about this? Check out this PODCAST.
  • 6. Sexuality is a porthole into understanding khatna, and that’s why I wanted to explore Shari’s and Murti’s sex life.
  • 7. Speaking of which, the (fairly mild) BDSM scenes were a study in consent, taking back control over the body, and sexual healing.
  • 8. There is a global movement to stop khatna, and Dawoodi Bohra feminists are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Check out this link for more info.
  • 9. Since writing SEVEN I’ve starting writing a sex and relationships advice column for FGM/C survivors, which is the most fun activism (and writing) I’ve ever done.
  • 10. The ending came last. I was going to end the book a chapter earlier, but my agent urged me to add an epilogue, and I think it was a game-changer for the novel.
Writing Behind the Scenes
I would love to chat about:
-my writing routine and how it’s evolved over time and where I would love to have it further evolve
-the travel research I did for SEVEN (gathering details about Mumbai, Dholka and Goa)
-how complicated it feels to choose names for characters from a small community and not wanting to offend my family! 

A rich, soulfully written novel about inheritance and resistance that tests the balance between modern and traditional customs.

When Sharifa accompanies her husband on a marriage-saving trip to India, she thinks that she's going to research her great-great-grandfather, a wealthy business leader and philanthropist. What captures her imagination is not his rags-to-riches story, but the mystery of his four wives, missing from the family lore. She ends up excavating much more than she had imagined.

Sharifa's trip coincides with a time of unrest within her insular and conservative religious community, and there is no escaping its politics. A group of feminists is speaking out against khatna, an age-old ritual they insist is female genital cutting. Sharifa’s two favourite cousins are on opposite sides of the debate and she seeks a middle ground. As the issue heats up, Sharifa discovers an unexpected truth and is forced to take a position.

You can purchase Seven at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you FARZANA DOCTOR for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Seven by Farzana Doctor.


  1. "If you had one day in your life to live over, which would you choose and why?" Probably one of those days that changed everything in the most hideous way possible, and forever.