Plenty of hard work and a tiny bit of luck led to aspiring author Sabrina Ramnanan’s debut novel Nothing Like Love
All Sabrina Ramnanan ever did as a little girl was read and write. But, like so many practically minded people with creative aspirations, she packed away her dream of becoming a published author for a safer life trajectory. Yet, the 33-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario, never lost her desire to create, and so after finishing a B.A. in English and attending teacher’s college at the University of Toronto, Ramnanan entered the school’s creative-writing certificate program.
Her final project – a 75-page manuscript to be read by Ramnanan’s creative mentor, the program director, and a third industry professional – would blossom into her debut novel, Nothing Like Love (Doubleday Canada). Released in April, the book is a play on a modern-day romantic fairy tale, and its origin story is equally charmed.
Nothing Like Love is set in a fictional Trinidadian town, and based largely on a patchwork of images and characters from Ramnanan’s own childhood visits to the island, where her parents were born and raised. The novel’s unique voice caught the attention of Ramnanan’s supervisor, author Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, who arranged for Knopf Canada publishing director Lynn Henry (who, at that time, was publishing director for Doubleday Canada) to be the manuscript’s third reader.
“Sabrina is not the only student for whom I have brokered this sort of relationship,” says Kuitenbrouwer, who recalls being blown away by Ramnanan’s nimble prose. Still she wasn’t sure she could convince Henry to give it a read. Editors are busy people after all, and are regularly entreated to read the works of would-be novelists touted as the “next big thing.” But, Henry said yes.
Ramnanan remembers their May 2012 meeting well: Henry showed enthusiasm and asked encouraging questions about the aspiring author’s creative goals and plans for the future. “I was sitting in the boardroom of Doubleday across from Lynn Henry and thought, I’ll never have this opportunity again,” Ramnanan recalls. So, with a deep breath, she asked if Henry would read the novel once it was completed.
It’s not a typical acquisition story but, even upon her first read of Ramnanan’s partial manuscript, Henry saw its potential. “I was captivated by Sabrina’s natural talent for storytelling and the fact that her many different characters – even in the very early, partial draft I saw – leapt off the page,” Henry says. “I felt that with those key elements in place, she could write a lively, entertaining, and richly imagined novel. Which
I think she has.”
Completing the manuscript over the next five months required a period of intense focus for Ramnanan, who also became a mother during that time. She avoided reading fiction to prevent herself from subconsciously mimicking other writers’ voices, while still holding onto elements from works that inspired her: the imagery in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and the dialogue in Priya Parmar’s Exit the Actress, in particular.
“The most important, and possibly overlooked, part of this story, is that Sabrina worked very, very hard to complete this manuscript,” says Kuitenbrouwer. “There is the lucky aspect of various things falling into place, but there are the very non-trivial aspects of writing, revision, and hard work. Another writer might have easily squandered that opportunity. I have certainly seen that happen.”
Ramnanan is already at work on a second novel set in Toronto. “It’s going to follow a first-generation Canadian like myself,” she says. “More of a reflection of how I grew up and where I grew up.”
While she takes occasional gigs as a supply teacher, these days Ramnanan sees herself primarily as a writer. She says, “I’m constantly trying to find the perfect balance.”