Author Naomi Hamill released her debut novel, How to be a Kosovan Bride, in 2017. Weaving in folktale, the novel explores stories of Kosovan experience of the war as well as the lives of modern day Kosovan women.
What’s your connection to Kosovo? Did you always intend to make it the setting for a novel?
I started visiting Kosovo around 14 years ago when a friend who was working with Manchester Aid to Kosovo organising children’s summer camps encouraged me to join. I’ve visited every year since. The book came about somewhat due to timing; the school I was teaching at closed down and I took the opportunity to do my MA in Creative Writing. The book was a result of my course. I didn’t set out to write a novel based in Kosovo, it came about organically, I suppose it was on my mind!
Can you tell us a bit about the ways you work with Manchester Aid to Kosovo?
Manchester Aid to Kosovo works on a number of projects in Kosovo from education to art to medical services. We created a Peace Park for the local community of Podujevo, and a lot of the fundraising which we do goes towards maintaining this. I previously headed up the children’s work for MaK, running summer camps for children and encouraging them to get involved in sports and arts. We also support adolescents to go overseas on sports residencies, and support Kosovan artists to exhibit their work in the UK.
Another aspect of the charity work we do is working with a women’s group on a project called Sister Stitch, which my sister is very involved in. This is a business initiative employing Kosovan women to create embroidery and textiles. The majority of this embroidery is in the form of birds, which my sister Chloe designs and creates.
You’ve mentioned before that Kosovo has become one of your great loves. What is it about the country that inspires you?
There are so many things I love about Kosovo. I love the park we created, it holds so many fond memories. I also love the capital city, Pristina itself, it has a real energy and it’s constantly developing. Mostly though I am inspired by the people I’ve met. Children who I taught in summer camps when they were young are now teenagers and help run the program. They are so ambitious and eager to learn. Despite not having certain opportunities that we take for granted, such as the ease of international travel, they are always looking forwards to the future and hopeful for new opportunities.
How would you describe How to Be a Kosovan Bride to someone who hasn’t read it?
The novel weaves three threads throughout. The first is about young women in modern Kosovo, the second short stories and anecdotes about life during the war, and the third is a tale from traditional Albanian folklore. The style of writing has been described as poetry meets fiction.
The book is rich in detail – aside from your previous experiences in Kosovo how did you research?
Once I’d decided that Kosovo was the setting of my novel, I made an additional trip there. I spent four days sitting with Kosovan families listening to their stories which was fascinating. I also took inspiration from Elvira Dones’ ‘Sworn Virgin’; the focus on women and their experiences appealed to me.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My editor once told me, “What’s not on the page is just as important as what is”. I also found Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird really helpful; in my experience setting deadlines definitely helped and this book focuses on telling stories one step at a time.
Which writers/books inspire you?
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels for their realness and honest depiction of women’s relationships. Margaret Atwood’s Into the Woods inspired me when I was younger and continues to do so; I used to write a lot of short stories and they are still a strong influence in my work.
Lastly, do you have any plans to write another novel?
I’m working on another novel at the moment. It’s about a poet based in Victorian times, so it’s a departure from my debut!