The prize-winning writer on prophecy, political pessimism and her love of London
When Kamila Shamsie started her novel Home Fire in 2015, Sadiq Khan had yet to launch his campaign to become London’s mayor and the idea of a Muslim home secretary would have been dismissed as a futuristic fantasy. As she stepped up to get, the Women’s award for fiction this week, both had come to pass, along with several more chilling scenarios in her updating of the classical tragedy Antigone to multicultural Britain today.
After the banker-turned-Conservative MP Sajid Javid was promoted to the Home Office, a supporter went so far as to create a twitter hashtag, #nostrashamsie. But to those who tell her that the vibrancy of the novel has grown exponentially since it was published last year, Shamsie briskly responds: “I’m not a soothsayer – these things were in the water.”
The Pakistani-born daughter of a businessman and a leading critic and literary historian, Shamsie has lived in London since the mid-noughties. Two years before starting work on the novel, she became a British citizen, “so I was very aware of what was going on around citizenship and how easy it was to fall between the cracks. Until then, each time I signed a form for residency renovation I was incredibly tense: what would have happened if I had ticked one box wrongly?”