About Shireen

Shireen and her new book, The art of unpacking your life

Shireen Jilla was a journalist before she turned her hand to fiction.
Exiled, a dark psychodrama set in New York, was published in 2011.
The Art of Unpacking Your Life is her second novel. This time, the setting is the Kalahari. She lives with her husband and three children beside the river in west London.


Shireen – the author

Q: Do you enjoy writing?
A: When you’re tired on a grey Monday, it can be torturously slow. But I always find a difficult hour in, I’m totally absorbed. It’s an addiction, not much healthier than alcohol.

Q: Where do you write?
A: Sometimes I work at a corner table, hidden from view, in a member’s club in Chiswick and sometimes I work from my desk at home overlooking our back garden. Depending.

Q: How many words do you write a day?
A: It varies wildly. I stop when I run out time. It doesn’t bother me if I’m halfway through a scene, in fact it makes it easier to come back to it.

Q: Why did you set Unpacking in the Kalahari?
A: I tried setting it in Sardinia, where I’ve spent a lot of time. But I needed real remoteness for the characters to unpack their lives. My brother took me on an amazing trip to a private reserve in the Kalahari. And that was it.

Q: How long did it take to write?
A: The first draft literally poured out – I wrote it over six weekends and a couple of months. It took double that time to re-write.

Q: Who is your favourite character?
A: Impossible to answer. Whichever character’s point of view I was writing at the time.


Shireen – the person

Q: What is your earliest memory?
A: Going round on the local milk float. Not possible now.

Q: What do you owe your parents?
A: They taught me when the going gets tough the tough get going.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: I precociously wrote my autobiography aged 13 and stated I wanted to be a journalist.

A: What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
Q: Working in a dealing room. I used to write on my dealing sheets.

Q: When are you happiest?
A: In the sea with my family and close friends.

Q:When did you last cry?
A: I cry easily. I have a layer of skin missing.

Q: What is your favourite word?
A: My children would say obstreperous.

Q: Which book changed your life?
A: Many and many different times in my life. Recently, Chekhov’s short stories.

Q: What’s your guilty pleasure?
A: Burrata – a Puglian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.

Q: What’s your worst habit?
A: Eating and talking too fast.

Q: What do you hate about your appearance?
A: My legs. In my other life, I’m tall.

Q: What’s your most embarrassing moment?
A: Having a perm while wearing white cowboy boots.

Q: What’s your most precious possession?
A: 18,000 photos. When I’m stressed, I dream they are wiped from my laptop.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Something happening to my children.

Q: What’s the closest you have coming to death?
A: Being in an Atlantic storm off the coast of Maine in a 19ft dinghy.

Q: If you could edit your life, what would you change?
A: I’d stop being so indecisive.

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