Donna Dias Manuel grew up in Mumbai, in an estrogen-dominated family. She has a degree in Geology from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai and an MBA from Deakin University, Melbourne. After working in media, advertising, and finance in Mumbai, she moved to Bangkok and began her writing journey. Her debut novel, Love is Never Easy, was published in 2017. Presently, she lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter. ‘What Makes Us Alike?’ is her second novel.
TBE: Tell us a little about your story and the story world you’ve created in ‘What Makes Us Alike?’
Donna Dias Manuel: My first novel, Love is Never Easy was published in 2017. Back then I lived in Thailand and was fortunate to interact with mums from all over the world. It was interesting to see how similar we were despite our cultural differences. I’ve said this before, motherhood allows for great storytelling.
I began making a mental note of things I saw or heard and would like to include in my next novel. From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to write on motherhood. Becoming a mum changed my world, and I know it does for most women. I wanted to tell a story that would make my readers stop and think about their relationship with their mothers. I hope I was able to do so with my novel What Makes Us Alike?
TBE: What made you want to write a novel, particularly on the subject of mother-daughter relationship? What is the inspiration for your book?
Donna Dias Manuel: It was the summer of 2017. I was on vacation in the US and happened to accompany my sister to John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, for her annual eye checkup. I was having a particularly challenging day with my two-year-old that day and feeling a bit sorry for myself. As I waited for my sister in the hospital cafeteria, I doubted my decision to stay back with my family. The thought of a twenty-three-hour flight back home to Thailand gave me the jitters.
And as I dissolved in self-pity, a pregnant woman in her late teens across the hall caught my attention. She was by herself, and I couldn’t help wondering if someone was going to join her. No one came. A few minutes later, she sat herself down and cradled what looked like a six-month pregnant belly with her free hand.
I imagined several scenarios – it left me wondering if she was a single mother in her teens! I was embarrassed by my earlier discomfort of simply having to travel on my own, while there was a good chance this young girl had her whole life ahead as a single parent. My thoughts flitted around; my inspiration was right there.
I felt compelled to write a story that challenged societal expectations of mothers; one that was inclusive of women who chose the road less travelled in their motherhood journey Mothers were not born perfect; then why the burden of the expectation? And that is how my second novel, What Makes Us Alike? came to life.
TBE: Any significant discoveries you made as you wrote about mother/daughter relationships?
Donna Dias Manuel: A mother is usually a child’s first best friend. When little, daughters idolize their mothers. That may change over time when a burden of unrealistic expectations is thrust over the relationship. To have a healthy mother-daughter relationship, it is important to treat each other as individuals. Relationships when transparent have a better chance of survival in times of turbulence.
TBE: What was most difficult in the writing of ‘What Makes Us Alike?’ . . . (and/or the most joyful part)?
Donna Dias Manuel: As a mother to a little girl, I know first-hand how much parents sacrifice to see that their children have the best no matter what their situation. But I’m also aware teenage years are challenging. Zasha’s was not a regular situation. Writing scenes between Eira and Zasha always got me very emotionally exhausted. I had to find that balance and ensure I didn’t bring my parenting style to the story.
TBE: Eira is a very resilient and strong woman. Did you model her after anyone specific? Tell us a little about what makes her tick.
Donna Dias Manuel: Eira’s character is pure fiction; although some of the scenes are inspired by people I have interacted with on a personal level.
TBE: In many ways ‘What Makes Us Alike?’ is an uplifting story that inspires hope, but it also highlights a social system with negative qualities. What do you hope is the main message that readers come away with after reading this book?
Donna Dias Manuel: Live and let live. Do unto people what you would like them to do unto you. You have one chance to live your best life; let people live it on their own terms.
TBE: What resources do you use to research your book? Was the research difficult to find material for the story? How long did it take to finish the novel?
Donna Dias Manuel: The internet is king for secondary research. For location-based details, my sister, who lives in Washington D.C., was my go-to person. It took me close to 6 months to put together my manuscript.
TBE: How was your publishing experience with Leadstart?
Donna Dias Manuel: It was a pleasant experience. The team was hands-on; I had a vision, and Leadstart helped bring it to life with ease; for that, I am thankful.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Donna Dias Manuel: I want to write short stories…I have a few ideas. Hoping to start writing them soon.