A Chat With Co-Authors Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta
A Chat With Co-Authors Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Onjuli Datta and Mikaella Clements, co-authors from Berlin who wrote The View Was Exhausting. For Mikaella, the dream was always to be a writer. She wrote her first novel, about a girl called Taliska who meets a magical rhinoceros in the Australian bush, when she was just seven years old. By the age of 10 years old, she had graduated onto extremely derivative fantasy trilogies (think a mixture of Tamora Pierce and Isobelle Carmody). It was the same for Onjuli, but (in her own words) she was more dramatic about it. For a long time she focused on emo poetry and maudlin songwriting. It would be many more years and several more bad novels before they wrote, The View Was Exhausting together, which is described by Goodreads as, “a funny, wickedly observant modern love story set against the backdrop of exotic locales and the realities of being a woman of color in a world run by men”.
As Mik and Onj put it, “A writing career can often feel like a few steps forward, many steps back – or just months of waiting patiently on the path without moving at all, hoping you are facing the right direction. But here we are.”
Here’s more of what they had to say.
All About Reading
How many books do you read in a year?
We actually keep lists of every book we read, so this is an easy question! In 2020, Onjuli read 24 books and Mikaella read 117. Yeah, Mik is definitely the reader.
Do you prefer paperback or e-reader?
No huge preference! Paperbacks are more fun to mark up and pass around, so they make reading feel more social in that sense, but it’s also great fun to screencap page after page of a really good book and drop it in the group chat.
Let’s Get Personal
What’s on your bookshelf?
Along with many, many, many books: several cards from friends and family, a polaroid camera (currently out of film), some cat toys, and a porcelain figurine of a dragon curled around an iridescent egg, which Mikaella’s grandmother and aunt bought us for a wedding gift. The dragon’s head was knocked off in transport, which adds another eerie twist to the whole thing.
What’s your go-to meal or recipe?
We go through phases with recipes where, if we find a good one, we’ll eat it over and over until we’re sick of it. Last year it was mapo tofu with rice; more recently it’s dandan mian, which is noodles with a ton of different Sichuan seasonings, bok choy, and crispy fried tofu or pork.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Sleepy mornings with tea (for Mik) and coffee (for Onj) plus laptops, maybe an afternoon trip to the gym or the supermarket, and then either an evening home with a good book on the sofa or venturing out into the wider world. We’ve both been working from home since the pandemic, which we’re grateful for, but it can also mean that you spend a lot of time locked in the same room, so especially now that Berlin has left its latest lockdown we’re taking advantage of being able to go out for meals and drinks in the evening.
What helps you get in your flow/zone?
Exercise! There’s nothing better for writer’s block than forcing yourself outside or onto the treadmill. Something about physical activity and oxygen flow can help to drag your brain out of a rut. Exercise is a daydream space where you can let your mind wander, and that’s often where the best ideas come from.
How close is your offline life to your online life?
Not very close. We enjoy Tiktok jokes and Twitter memes and Instagram aesthetics, and we have a few friends we know mostly through social media, so it’s always nice to hang out there for a while. We like sharing the occasional picture or opinion ourselves, too, but we’re not big oversharers and we prefer to keep our conversation for the people we actually hang out with. The internet can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, so we try not to spend too much time on it, and to remember that our offline life — where we cook and write and play with the cat — is the real thing, the important thing.
In real life, face-to-face interactions are on the decline as the world becomes more and more virtual every day. What are some ways you connect with your friends/family/community? What do you do to ensure you’re having authentic face-to-face interactions regularly?
We live in Germany, away from our family in both the UK and Australia, so to be honest we rely heavily on those virtual interactions. Virtual doesn’t have to mean inauthentic; at the beginning of the pandemic, Mikaella started video calling her two sisters every morning. Sometimes we talk for five minutes, sometimes three hours; sometimes it’s a brief check-in, sometimes the highlight of the day.
We’re also lucky to have close friends in our city, who we see as often as we can. Our best friends live in our neighbourhood, which means we’re often walking over to their place or they’re walking over to ours, or sometimes we just holler up at their window.
It’s Work Time!
When you’re writing – where do you write? What is the setting?
Mostly in our flat, which has lots of plants and flat surfaces and a friendly cat to trot between us and offer comfort (or distraction!) when the words aren’t coming. We’ve also been known to write by hand in the park near our house, stretched out on the grass with kids shrieking in the fountains nearby, or to take excited notes in bars and restaurants between drinks and courses, plotting out the course of the next chapter, or on planes and trains, when the rolling landscape outside the window is blurred over with the internal landscape of your novel. Sometimes when you’re writing you have to sit down and work at it and sometimes it just arrives, and then you have to do your best to make space for it wherever you are.
Which authors inspire your work the most?
We’re very drawn to 20th century literature — some of those classics offer such a beguiling mix of excellent sentences on a literary level and deep feeling, whether that’s romantic, sexual or furious. Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, Laurie Colwin, and Thomas Mann are all big writers in our personal canon. In terms of The View Was Exhausting, though, our biggest inspiration was not another writer (though of course Jane Austen, queen of romantic drama, made her mark) but rather rom-coms from the golden age of the early 2000s, from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to 27 Dresses.
I asked what exciting projects Mikaella and Onjuli had coming up, but they didn’t spill any secrets. They said to keep an eye on this space, and you can also check out their Instagram page. But, if you’re left wanting more, grab your ticket to our upcoming event featuring The View Was Exhausting. You won’t want to miss it!
Favourite book: Purple, Green & Yellow by Robert Munsch
Favourite brunch item: waffles, fresh berries, maple syrup and, if she’s getting extra fancy, a little bit of coconut whipped cream to top it off