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Saira Shah: Straddling the East/West Divide

The Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah (Alfred A. Knopf).

The Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah (Alfred A. Knopf).

I would like now to turn again to your interest in writing, and the shift from news and documentaries to this new form. Your father, Idries Shah, seems to have played an important role in your decision to write.

He was a huge influence on my life, but obviously not a direct influence on my decision to go to Afghanistan because he tried to get me not to go!

At the same time though, my father, my aunt, and my grandfather were the three real storytellers about Afghanistan during my childhood.

Sadly, my father is no longer alive, I would love to know what he thought about the book. I think some things in the book would really annoy him but I think others he would really like. In any case, I know he would be proud of me.

In a way, it really amazes me that I had not written before. I actually grew up - and this is probably why I never wrote a book before - hearing, from the time that I was six, "You're going to be a writer when you grow up." And I remember thinking that I would not be a writer at all; in fact I would go off to dangerous places, to Afghanistan, and have adventures, and so on.

I think it probably is the thing that I should naturally do, or at least it feels as though it is. It might be wrong, but it feels right. It sort of feels like the thing I was kind of putting off all of my life really.

Who are the other influences on your work, in the different media in which you've worked?

There are loads of people on the reporting side, who are mostly British. There are lots of really good foreign correspondents whom I have had the privilege of knowing and working with. I come out of a news background (with Channel 4 News). Jon Snow, for example, was a great reporter and an anchor for the news show I worked on, and has been a friend and an influence. I think John Simpson, whom I don't know personally, is a fantastic reporter and an excellent example of a really good person.

Other names I mention people here in the US may not recognize, like Alan Little, a really fine reporter. A very good friend is Gaby Rado, whom I worked with on Channel 4 News, who sadly died in March this year in Iraq.

I was very lucky when I joined Channel 4 News, because I joined as a producer, and was able to work with some really fine reporters. I learnt how to be rigorous in reporting by seeing their work.

As far as writers go, I like loads of people, but my two favorite authors in the world are both American: JD Salinger and James Thurber. I am not sure if they have influenced me, but I really love them, I think they're both fantastic.

Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of Asia Society.