Menaka Raman-Wilms is a author and journalist based in Toronto. Her debut novel, The Rooftop Garden, was published this October.
The Rooftop Garden follows Nabila and her childhood friend Matthew, who played on Nabila’s rooftop garden in an imaginary world that has flooded from climate change. Nabila comes from an informed, middle-class family, while Matthew had been abandoned by his father and was often left to cope with things on his own. Their childhood experiences reveal how their lives are on different trajectories, even at an early stage.
Now each of their 20s, Matthew has disappeared from his Toronto home, and Nabila travels to Berlin to seek out him and take a look at to bring him back.
Raman-Wilms is the host of The Decibel, the day by day news podcast from the Globe and Mail. She’s also worked as a parliamentary reporter for the Globe and Mail and an associate producer at CBC Radio.
Her short story Black Coffee was shortlisted for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize. The 2023 CBC Short Story Prize is open now for submissions, and the winner will receive a writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point, a cultural hub on Toronto Island. They may also receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books. You might have until Oct. 31, 2022 to submit your original, unpublished fiction that’s as much as 2,500 words.
Raman-Wilms spoke to CBC Books about The Rooftop Garden.
Nature melding with urban spaces
“I began writing this book in 2015. I used to be living in Berlin for six months with considered one of my friends. Plenty of the inspiration got here from being there.
“Berlin is such an enchanting city. You’ve destruction from the war. You’ve destruction from the time there was literally a wall running through town. But there’s still a number of remnants of those things. Some parts were more affluent. Other parts weren’t as well off. There’s a number of park space. Trees are growing through rubble. There are old pictures of considered one of the museums that was neglected in the course of the war years and grass coming up through parts of that.
There’s a number of park space. Trees are growing through rubble. There are old pictures of considered one of the museums that was neglected in the course of the war years and grass coming up through parts of that.
“We at all times take into consideration urban spaces — once you cut down the natural world and also you herald an urban space. But in some cases, like what I’m seeing in Berlin, it’s like there was this urban space that the natural world is reclaiming. It was fascinating to me to see that type of juxtaposition.”
The Fairytale Forest
“One other big inspiration is that this amusement park that Nabila and her friend Tiernay go to, which in the ultimate version known as the Fairytale Forest.
“It was based on an actual abandoned amusement park that I visited in Berlin, which blew my mind. It is an entire amusement park, with an old Ferris wheel, old booths and rides totally overgrown by a forest. It’s almost too movie-like to be real life because you could have all these fairytale figures on this overgrown space.
“It was a really cool experience that stuck with me.”
Destruction of a joyful place
“I used to be in Berlin in the course of the Paris attacks in November of 2015. So this concept of gunmen in public places feels very real. You do not at all times have clear answers for why someone would try this — and the way they find yourself in a spot like that. These attacks were something I used to be serious about.
“I remember being at the Christmas markets in Berlin that December. There was one moment that was actually very scary. We were in a packed market and there was an enormous explosion. I remember everyone going silent. Then everyone began running and it was pure panic. It ended up not being anything; a propane tank had exploded behind a stall. However the fear was so palpable at the moment in big cities in Europe.
That is the head of learn how to hurt a society — a joyful place like a market where individuals are having fun with family and celebrating.
“The next yr, in 2016, there was an attack in one other Christmas market that I had been to. That is the head of learn how to hurt a society — a joyful place like a market where individuals are having fun with family and celebrating. To have someone attempt to wreak havoc and destruction at such a spot was just so stark.”
Different writing headspaces
“This book was written and rewritten so again and again in so many alternative places. I began writing it in Berlin. Then I used to be living in Toronto and I revamped an entire bunch of stuff. Then I used to be in Ottawa and I revamped it yet again. I used to be then on the cottage and I revamped it over again.
Any time I’m in a special place, I’m in a special writing headspace.
“Any time I’m in a special place, I’m in a special writing headspace. If I’m at a cottage, you hear the water, the wind and the trees and abruptly, I had some recent things so as to add to The Rooftop Garden because there are these different sensations that may work rather well. Once I was back in Toronto, I forgot the scale of the buildings in town and the texture of that.
“The book was written in a bunch of various places — and I feel like these places seep into the writing as an entire.”
Menaka Raman-Wilms’ comments have been edited for length and clarity.