Author Q&A: Intan Paramaditha, The Wandering

Author Q&A: Intan Paramaditha, The Wandering

05 March 2020

Priyanka Mogul, Literature Programme Manager

The most ingenious and unusual novel you will read all year, where you choose your own story.

You’ve grown roots, you’re gathering moss. You’re desperate to escape your boring life teaching English in Jakarta, to go out and see the world. So you make a Faustian pact with a devil, who gives you a gift, and a warning. A pair of red shoes to take you wherever you want to go.

You’re forever wandering, everywhere and nowhere, but where is your home?

And where will you choose to go?

We caught up with Indonesian author Intan Paramaditha ahead of our event with her at Foyles on 31 March. Find out more and book your tickets now.

The Wandering has been receiving brilliant reviews – what inspired you to write a choose-your-own adventure novel, as opposed to a traditional novel?

I was a fan of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series when I was a child. Before I started working on The Wandering, I had always wanted to write a novel with a forking path narrative. However, because I couldn’t find a reason to do so, it felt like a gimmick rather than a strong concept. I put the idea aside until, in 2008, I thought of writing about travel. Initially I thought of a collection of stories that reflect on the idea of travel, mobility, and displacement, tied together with the red shoes as a central motif. But as I thought more about the structure, I decided to connect all the stories in a choose-your-own story format. When we travel, we always ask: What if I had chosen that path and not this path? The structure allows you to see different realities where different versions of yourself make decisions and meet different people.


The choices your readers make very drastically alter the journey that they go on. One decision could mean you end up as an undocumented migrant, or a murderer instead of a mother.  What do you hope people will take away from the experience of reading this book? 

Even though some events are fantastical, the choices in the book reflect the choices we make in our journey. In reality, it seems that we have options, but those options have been predetermined – just like options in the book were created by the author. So what does the freedom to choose mean when our options have been shaped by our socio-economic background, gender, race, nationality? Whether or not we can cross boundaries depends on a larger structure. The book raises questions around the desire to travel as well as the limits of that desire, and these are the questions that I’d like to share with the readers.


With so many different outcomes, has the book been designed to be read more than once? Or should readers stick with the outcome they get during the first reading?

If you have the time to read all the paths, 
you’d be able to draw your own map and see how characters reappear, which might be more fun than putting down the book after you finish early, on page 30. But I welcome every experimental way of reading the book. Some readers have read the book from cover to cover without following the instructions, some others decided to open the pages randomly after they got tired of choosing.


How long did it take you to write The Wandering, and which bit did you most enjoy writing?

I started The Wandering in 2008 and finished in 2017. Of course I didn’t work every day. This was the period where I moved a lot – working on my Ph.D., doing my fieldwork, and then moving from the U.S. to Australia for a university job. I must say that the choose-your-own story structure was suitable for this period of interruptions. Often, after finishing one narrative path, I had to postpone writing for a long time because I had to work on my thesis, or demanding teaching schedule, or moving to another country. I really enjoyed the process of writing and editing the book, so it’s hard for me to pick a favourite. Perhaps one of the most fun bits was the part about a train that would not stop, an interpretation of Anne Sexton’s poem.


Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as an author – when did you first start writing and how did you manage to secure your first publishing deal?

My first book was published by a small publisher in Indonesia when I was 25. I had been a writer for 13 years when my story collection, Apple and Knife, was translated into English and published in 2018. Apple and Knife started as a very modest project. Stephen Epstein, my translator, told me that he was interested in translating my stories, and our only goal at that time was to get the book published so that it could be available in English. We started looking for publishers — at that time without an agent — with a mindset that we did not care about who’d publish it or whether the book would remain obscure. We were lucky because when Stephen submitted a short story to the Australian magazine The Lifted Brow,  editor Elizabeth Bryer asked if there was a book manuscript that she could consider for Brow Books. In 2018, many things happened. Brow Books published Apple and Knife, I found an agent, and I got a two-book deal with Harvill Secker.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?

I am an Indonesian woman writer writing in a language that’s quite marginal in the map of global literature. I am lucky that some championed my work because they support women in translation and also literature by women of colour. In general, however, the space for writers from underrepresented backgrounds is limited. Of course we must not stop critiquing the system, but changes as slow and it’s better not to have high hopes. Just keep doing what you have to do. Write, write more, fight for your voice, fight for others in the margins.


The Wandering was published by Harvill Secker on 13 February 2020. Find out more and buy the book here.

Intan Paramaditha will be speaking about her new book at an Asia House and Foyles event on 31 March 2020. Book your tickets now.




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