New epic fantasy by Writer’s Studio grad lands on B.C. bestsellers list
From Homer to Tolkien, to the South Asian fables of her childhood, Renée Sarojini Saklikar loves a big read. A graduate of the Writer’s Studio at SFU and current instructor in the program, she’s now written her own book for the ages. Bramah and the Beggar Boy, an epic fantasy in verse, was published by Nightwood Editions this summer and immediately landed on the B.C. bestsellers list.
Set in an alternative world ravaged by climate change, the book recounts the tale of Bramah, a “brown, brave and beautiful” time-travelling locksmith. After she adopts an orphan beggar boy, the pair team up with seed savers and other survivors, using their magic to outwit an evil consortium and battle contagion, drought and other eco catastrophes.
The book may sound like a far cry from the work that first put Saklikar on Canada’s literary map. Published in 2013, her award-winning debut poetry book children of air india explored the bombing of Air India Flight 182, a tragedy that claimed the lives of her aunt and uncle, and more than 300 others. Almost as an antidote to this traumatic subject matter, Saklikar began writing Bramah at the same time, indulging her love for imaginative, sweeping sagas.
“Every culture has its great epic,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to them, the fireside stories of the matriarch telling you about how the world is, and inside of that frame, very personal stories.”
Although Saklikar began the story 10 years ago, its central themes of global inequality and climate change seem oddly prescient today, given the alarming events of recent months.
“The role of the poet is to be a bit of a prophet, but it was eerie and surreal,” she says. “When it came time to publish the book, I was revising stories I’d already written about pandemics, climate change, terrible droughts… It’s like the outer world caught up with my imagination the last year.”
Despite these dark themes, the book is also a “rattling good read,” says Saklikar. “The poetry is serious but quite accessible. It was a lot of fun to create—there are riddles and rhymes, ballads and songs—and I’m hopeful every reader will find something in it.”
Bramah is the first book in her new fantasy series titled THOT J BAP: The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns, a phrase inspired by T.S. Eliot. Reflecting on her work, Saklikar quotes another inspiration, The Lord of the Rings, on the importance of “the great stories… the ones that really mattered.”
“I wanted to write a story that really matters,” she says. “I hope when people finish this first book, they’ll have fallen in love with these characters and want to know what happens next. To create in poetry something that moves your heart, that’s what it’s all about.”
Saklikar completed the Writer’s Studio program more than a decade ago, but she hasn’t strayed far. In addition to teaching in the program, she curates the monthly Lunch Poems readings and remains a fixture in the local writing community.
“Writing can be a very lonely occupation,” she says. “The Writer’s Studio offers a community, mentorship, opportunity. Before I joined, I didn’t really have a language to describe myself as a writer.”
In fact, before becoming an author, Saklikar had been a practising lawyer. Today she has no regrets about leaving behind her legal career to follow her true passion. “But it’s not always a bed of roses,” she admits. “It’s not always easy, especially when I’m committed to meticulously creating works of art that are innovative and interesting.
“For me, in the end it’s about staying true to the work and trusting that I’m going to make the best art that I can.”