First Comes Love then Comes Baby then Comes...A Book!: Raidah Shah Idil
We make plans and the Supreme Universal Being laughs
Doesn't just laugh but like falls on the floor, rolls around, convulsed, and descends right back on up to laugh-in-your-face- celestial kingdom
And you're left to figure out this thing called life.
We all have hoped and dreams
But there are no guarantees
So we push and push
And sometimes we're pushed back
We fall, we stumble, we rise--but not always
Sometimes we have to sit and wait
Adapt and bend, dream new dreams
Until luck takes a turn again
You get a wish, a desire, a want, more than needs
And what do you see?
A future full of your tucked-away wishes
Because if nothing else
Raidah Shah Idil still dares to dream (and succeed)
1. Welp, the first question is the one I’m sure you’ve answered many times but
everyone loves to know. Please tell us all about your writing journey!
My mother taught me to read and I was reading from very young – three, if I remember
correctly. I was writing for as long as I could figure out how to hold a pencil! All
throughout my primary school years in Singapore, English was my favourite subject. I
loved writing stories about girls going on magical adventures, which seems to still be my
brand. By the time I got to high school though, as a first-generation migrant to Sydney,
Australia, I knew I had to make my dad proud and get into medical school.
Writing was still something I kept doing throughout high school. I cannot tell you how
many angst-filled unfinished novels I wrote throughout my teens. Despite graduating as
high school valedictorian/dux, I didn’t do well enough for medical school, so I ended up
very unhappy in a medical science degree. One semester of soul-destroying organic
chemistry solidified my love for the arts. I could understand poetry and prose so
intuitively, and decided to lean all the way in.
I’m so glad I did my research and transferred to a double degree majoring in English
and Psychology. I loved my English degree and had a wonderful lecturer who loved my
poetry and encouraged me to submit to literary journals. I did so well in my degrees,
aced the medical school interview, and actually made it to medical school in the end. I
went through a lot of turmoil and burnout in medical school though, including my
parents’ divorce and the ending of my first marriage, and writing was part of the therapy
that saved me. I left medical school and went to Jordan, and successfully supported
myself for almost two years by being a marketing copywriter. That was the first time I
experienced for myself that I could support myself through writing! For the worried Asian
immigrant parents out there, please know that writing does pay the rent.
I flew back to Sydney because I missed my family, especially my mother, then worked
part-time. That’s when I started pitching and writing opinion articles. I didn’t know it at
the time, but my husband read my opinion articles and instantly liked what I had to say.
We met through my brother and mutual friends and got married a few months after we
met. We’ve been married for ten years now, and he remains a staunch supporter of my
We moved to Malaysia two years after we got married, and with the ups and downs of
juggling full-time work, then part-time work and pregnancy, then full-time motherhood, it
didn’t occur to me to actually finish any of the many books I had started – until I was
pregnant for the third time! I knew that having a third baby alongside a toddler and
preschooler would leave very little time to write. That gave me a solid deadline, so I
finally picked the manuscript I was most excited about and finished it. That was Hanna
Alkaf’s best advice to me – “Finish your first draft! There’s where your story is.” That
was the novel I finished before my son was born in September 2019, queried in January
2020, revised, queried some more, until I finally got my single, incredible offer in
October 2020. It was fitting, because my son was a one-year-old by then, and he was in
wrapped snug in his baby carrier when I had that wonderful first call with my agent.
2. You have literally resided all over the globe. How much of that has influenced
your writing? In what ways do you think authors can draw on lived experiences
without everything they write turning into a biographical piece?
My globe-trotting days have absolutely influenced my writing. I look back in awe at the
bravery of my younger self! I got to experience so many things, both joyful and painful,
and can draw on a deep well of experience when I write my stories. I am a returned
diaspora child so topics of identity, belonging and all those intersections deeply
resonate with me.
Authors can look at the places they lived, the people they met, and the struggle and joy of
travel, and reflect on all how all the above evokes inner growth. It doesn’t have to be
biographical, but on a sensory level, lived experience helps to deepen that layer of
authenticity. I read that for research purposes for her incredible Broken Earth trilogy,
N.K. Jemisin took a helicopter ride near a volcano!
3. The U.S. traditional publishing market stands as having the most reach and
resources. As an international author, what advice would you give to non- U.S.
residents in doing research about agents, publishers, audiences, etc if they
choose to pursue publication in this market?
This is a topic I’m so passionate about! I think the most important thing is to believe that
our stories matter. Because they do. For too long, only one kind of narrative has
dominated the US traditional publishing market – the cishet white saviour narrative.
That, thankfully, is changing. It is so exciting to see so many different types of
underrepresented voices being given center stage at long last. I live in Malaysia, my
ancestral home, and I come from a long line of storytellers. The oral tradition of strong
women lives in my blood and bones, and I pass it down to my children.
Despite the fact that a lot of publishing comes down to timing and many other things out
of our control, there is still so much we can do as international authors. We can read
what kinds of books are being published in the genre we write – I can’t stress this
enough. It helps to know what kinds of books editors are acquiring. It helps to also keep
writing and improving our writing craft. I adore Cat Rambo’s writing classes, for
Another critical point is finding a community of authors you can connect with. I normally
suggest staying off Twitter because of all the toxic trolls, but it’s a great way to make
connections. Having a writing mentor (hi Meredith!) leveled up my book. I landed my
agent shortly after intense revisions with her and she remains supportive while I’m on
Some South East Asian authors I look up to are Hanna Alkaf and Jesse Sutanto.
Jesse’s journey on submission is my absolute favourite in terms of not giving up. All it
takes is one yes, even if it takes seven books. (Here’s hoping it doesn’t take that long
for me though!)
4. You have numerous pieces of shorter form writing published in a variety of
essays, anthologies, and magazines. One of which includes poetry! How do you
think these different forms can help writers practice and strengthen their craft?
Thank you for reminding me about my past writing pieces. Different forms of writing are
a really fun way to explore things like voice, conflict, characters, and world-building. Ever since I studied metafiction in university, I’ve adored the concept of mixing and matching different types of media as a way to tell stories. I think of it as cross-pollination.
5. As a sensitivity reader, would you tell us what you believe a sensitivity reader
is and isn’t? What responsibilities ultimately lie with the author?
A sensitivity reader is a guide to what can be done better in a book, according to the
sensitivity reader’s lived experience. A sensitivity reader isn’t a silver bullet to deeply
internalized racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia…especially if the book has already been written! It’s a whole lot easier for
an author to consult a sensitivity reader right at the beginning – at the concept level.
Compare that to actually rewriting huge chunks of a book with harmful representation.
Ultimately, if an author is writing outside their lived experience, the responsibility is on
them to write books that don’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Best case scenario, an
author could actually write positive representation! Imagine that. This depends a lot on
how much the author has awareness about their privilege and internalized biases,
though. An author could write a very well-written but harmful book that further
marginalizes marginalized individuals and/or communities.
On the flip-side, an author could write the complete opposite – a book that empowers and gives a positive, nuanced portrayal of marginalized communities.
6. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
I know that I’m at risk of burnout when I start snapping at my kids and husband, or when
I start feeling resentful. I have so many different forms of self-care because I’m in need
of self-care, every single day. I’m the main caregiver for my children, and they’re still so
small – 7, 4.5, and 3.
I categorise self-care according to how much time I have. When I’m with my kids and
I’m really tired, I literally just lie down and nap while they play around me. I’m recovering
from pelvic embolization surgery after almost two years of pelvic pain due to PCS
(pelvic congestion syndrome), so choosing to just rest instead of write is valid too. I
reject grind culture, especially as a neurodivergent woman healing from chronic pain.
***If you or someone you know, suffers from chronic pelvic pain, see this link:https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/voices/health/article/2022/08/17/i-trusted-my-instinct-and-refused-live-pelvic-pain ***
Resting is my form of joyful (albeit sometimes guilty) resistance!
Throughout the non-stop years of parenting little ones, I’ve always enjoyed listening to
audiobooks while putting them down for their naps. I always feel sad when they
inevitably outgrow their naps!
When I have more time and energy, self-care looks like writing at my favourite café,
while watching my favourite Netflix show and eating tasty rice noodle soup - all at once!
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
7. Your dream farmhouse writer’s nook looks like…
A gorgeous villa overlooking the beach.
I adore the ocean and the sound of waves lapping at the shore.
8. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
You don’t need an MFA to get an agent or
land a publishing deal! You definitely do not have to fork out a ridiculous amount of
money to ‘gain the attention of editors and agents. You can do that – for free, by
investing time and effort in improving your writing craft, and by writing better and better
9. The key to fighting mom-guilt while writing is…
writing anyway. Make space for mom-guilt, acknowledge it and go ahead and write anyway. A happier, more fulfilled mother means everyone wins. A grumpy, resentful mother means that nobody is happy.
I want my daughters to see me reach my own career goals, so they know it’s okay for
them to do the same. I want them to watch my husband support my writing career so
they know to expect the same. I want my son to be a hands-on dad, just like his dad is.
So as much as I can sometimes default to grumpy “fine-I’ll-just-do-it-myself!” I know
that I don’t have to. It’s still hard for me to ask for help, but I’m getting better at it.
Short bio: Raidah Shah Idil was born in Singapore, grew up in Sydney, Australia,
worked in Amman, Jordan and now lives in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia with her
husband, three children, and mother-in-law. Raidah earned her BA in English and
BSc in Psychology from the University of New South Wales. Raidah loves ginger
tea, noodle soup, and dreams of uninterrupted sleep.
● Raidah is represented by Allison Hellegers of Stimola Literary Studio .
● Website link: www.raidahshahidil.com