Morning routines can be a bit noisy round at Roopa Farooki’s house, in Broadstairs, Kent. Her two sons, Jaan and Zaki, are waiting to be dropped off at school while her toddler twin girls, Zarena and Alia, are giggling in the background. “Can you call me back later? I won’t be able to hear a thing,” she asks, laughing.
She wrote the first draft of The Flying Man one month after giving birth to her twin daughters, planning writing time around feeds and naps. Ever since she first started writing seriously, taking out her laptop to write on the two-hour train journey into the advertising agency where she used to work, Farooki hasn’t looked back.
“I had always wanted to be a writer as a teenager, but I never thought it was something that I could make a career out of. And so I started off in accountancy and ended up in advertising, but writing was still all I wanted to do,” she says.
Farooki was born in Lahore in 1974, to a Pakistani father, Nasir Ahmad Farooki, and a Bangladeshi mother, Nilofar. They moved to London when Farooki was just seven months old.
Her father walked out of the family home in London when Farooki was 13, leaving her, her mother and sisters with practically no money and bills to pay, sporadically popping back into their lives whenever he felt like it.
Farooki says she “got used to it.” She has written about her father as “the black sheep” of the family: “He was a compulsive gambler, an occasional white-collar convict, a casual abandoner of wives and children, a man who was frequently as bad as his word and who cheerfully lived and died beyond his means.”
Many of these character traits are there in Maqil, the charming but also charmless protagonist of The Flying Man. Like Farooki’s father, Maqil is a flaky gambler with a chain of failed relationships who walks out on his wife and two children and reinvents himself with a new name wherever he goes, never seems to lay down his roots in one place.
But Farooki says the novel isn’t a biography of her father’s life. “It is partly his story, yes. But it is an original story too. There are elements of my father’s life, things that did happen to him in there, and parts I made up. So like Maqil, my father was a journalist, he did live in Paris and he did gamble, but unlike Maqil, he was never in Hong Kong, for instance. My father changed his identity a lot, and I took that idea as a starting point. Maqil isn’t my father: he is just a character inspired by him. They aren’t the same person.”
Despite her father’s absence from her life, Farooki doesn’t speak with resentment. “I judged my father quite severely while growing up, for having left us and for having been so careless, but now that I am a parent myself, I can understand that parenthood doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. It didn’t come naturally to him. So while he wasn’t a good father, he was still a good man.”
In The Flying Man, Maqil conspicuously avoids returning to Pakistan, where he was born; eventually he is cajoled there for his son’s wedding, but Maqil, for all his flitting between countries and nationalities, never finds somewhere where he belongs.
The last time Farooki went to Pakistan herself was when she was 16, while her mother and father were finalising their divorce. Does Pakistan hold any sway on Farooki, as the country where she was born?
“Pakistan does still matter to me,” she says. “My memories of Lahore are very nostalgic. But I don’t feel completely Pakistani, because of my mother’s roots. Where you come from is very important, but so is where you choose to be, now, in the present. As long as I’ve got my family with me, then that’s where my home is. Home isn’t just bricks and mortar, it’s peace and mind, and comfort and safety too.”