Get To Know: Fatima Telli

Hello friends! My name is Fatima Telli. 

I am a Kurdish- Canadian author, mother, wife, and pre-trial clerk.

I wanted to write a thrilling and exciting piece for Alin’s blog (I even thought about writing an Inventory of Being) but truth is I haven't climbed any mountains or fought any battles. But what I have done, is lived a life worth sharing, a story worth telling.

To sum myself up, I am very loud, I drink far too much coffee, I read too many books, I sometimes think I’m a novice photographer and I have even mastered the art of binge watching. I also happen to be your stereotypical Kurdish girl: I got married at eighteen (no I was not forced into it, and no he is not from back home), had my first born a year later and my second born in 2014. When I got engaged at seventeen, everyone told me that my life was over and that I was never going to get a post-secondary education because, as they put it, “once you get married, that’s it.” So I went ahead and moved to Kitchener and enrolled in Conestoga College that same year. When I got pregnant (which by then, I was living in Hamilton and attending Wilfrid Laurier in Brantford) they told me to forget about ever finishing my program because “once you’re a mother, that’s it.” I eventually gave birth to my daughter, and two weeks later I continued my full-time studies.  

Between being a mother, a wife, and a student I would find time, usually when my insomnia kicked in late into the night, to write. I have been writing ever since my father bought me my first journal in the fifth grade. At the age of twenty-five, I continue to keep a journal because writing has always been and always will be a form of therapy for me. By the age of twelve, I started writing short stories and poems. Although I wasn't very good at it, I enjoyed it. 

In 2010 my grade twelve Writers Craft teacher, Mrs. Gallant, encouraged us all to write a piece for the Flash Fiction contest. I thought about submitting one of my stories but the idea of someone reading the very thoughts and ideas that lingered in my mind horrified me. Then that afternoon, on the bus ride from work, while I sat quietly in back and observed a bus flooded with people, I saw an opportunity for potential characters. It was then and there that I grabbed my notebook and began to write. By the end of the night, I had ten pages filled with fictional characters. The next day, I fought whatever scared me and began to write a short story for the contest. 

I submitted “Perfect Alibi” into the contest that week and waited over five months for a response. 

In June of that year, I received news in the mail that my short story had come in second place in Ontario and thus made me the holder of a $500 dollar prize. I was thrilled, mostly about the money, until the reality of what had just happened hit me. Someone, somewhere found my writing to be good. But it didn't end there. One week later I received an email from one of the editors of the contest, advising me to expand on the story: “Your characters have potential”, he wrote. Although it tickled my insides to read such words, I was seventeen and engaged, and at the time my only focus was my wedding and the drastic changes in my life that were about to happen. 

Even after my wedding, I decided to hold on to that email. When I was married and very pregnant with my first born, was when I decided to tell my husband about my intentions of writing a book. As I waited for him to laugh or even chuckle (as so many others did), his reaction was somewhat surprising. His eyes broadened and asked, “ What is it about?” I spent the rest of that night telling him about my characters and the plot, as though they were real people. He was intrigued and even pitched in some of his own ideas. 

When my first daughter Medina was born, and my post-partum depression kicked in, my husband woke up late one night to not only the sound of her cry, but to mine as well. The next day, after he came home from work, he grabbed her from my arms and suggested that I go and work on my book. 

His support motivated me. He believed in the project more than anyone, and at times even more than I did. 

I continued to work on my manuscript on and off throughout the years, while attending writing workshops organized by Brian Henry. When I was confident enough in my finished manuscript, I took it to one of the workshops with me and asked Brian to look it over before I went ahead and got an agent. One month later, I drove to Guelph and met up with Brian and his assistant, Julia. It was then that I learned about the formatting of a book. You see, writing a book cannot just be words on a paper; there is an actual format to how your chapters must end and how many characters you are to have, all the while keeping in mind that certain controversial ideas are not allowed to be written into detail. Brian suggested that I revise my manuscript to his suggestions. So I did, and I took his comments and his professional advice and went back home that day and started revising my manuscript. 

This processes took me nearly two years. I was told to cut out most of the characters, leaving major gaps in my story. By then, I was working full time as a pre-trial clerk at a law firm in Kitchener, all the while I was a full-time mother and on the verge of moving into my new home. My motivation was simply not there. But still, I found time to revise my book.

In January of this year I completed my manuscript and got an agent. We sent the first 25 pages of my book to publishing companies all around North America. Four months later, I signed my first contract with Xlibris. 

What was once a 20-page short story called “Perfect Alibi”, turned into a 304-page manuscript called “Lola’s Whispers.” I wanted to write a story that would appeal to a number of audiences: something dark and suspenseful, but at the same time would make you grin or chuckle every now and then. Lola’s Whispers is a thriller that follows a young girl named Sylvia, who has been stripped of the truth her entire life: the truth about her health, her father’s death, the shadow she sees and her mother’s dark past. The plot escalates when the shadow, Lola, whispers something that shatters Sylvia’s world.

I put my heart and soul into this project and I could not be more proud of the final product.  

Since then, I have been working alongside a team of editors, designers and publishers to make my first release a success. My book was released on August 18th on Amazon and Barns & Noble. However, after a mistake from the production team (the mistake being that they sent the unedited version of the book to be printed) Lola’s Whispers, as of September 28th, has been placed on hold. The hold on the book should be released within the next two weeks as we continue working on my book tour and a proposal for Chapters and Indigo. 

I want to say that people's doubt’s in my ability to follow my dream, to do it all, is what pushed me through the weekly breakdowns and long nights. But the truth is, it was fear of losing sight of who I was that made me claw my way through. I didn't want to be defined as someone’s wife or mother, as so many Kurdish women are; I wanted to be something more. I wanted my success and journey to define me. 

I hope my story inspires mothers and daughters in the Kurdish community. If you are looking to get published or have any questions about the process, feel free to reach out to me through Instagram @fatima.telli.

Thank you Alin for allowing me to share my story.

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