The Novelist Leela Soma on her Writing Life after Twice Born

Here’s to catching up with Indo-Scot novelist, Leela Soma after the publication of her first novel Twice Born.

by Susan Abraham

How has 2010 been treating you  so far?

LS: “Its been wonderful. The end of 2009 represented a downer as I had to attend a funeral of a friend on Christmas Eve. The sudden death was caused by a brain haemorrhage and it was my first Christmas without my only child who is in the USA. I missed her terribly. The icy, snowy weather didn’t help either. The free phone calls to the US and Skype helped a lot though. New technology is a real boon. I relaxed and enjoyed the break, then set myself new challenges for 2010. I registered with two new classes at Glasgow University and kept working at the next novel so keeping busy has proved the best way forward.”

How have you been spending February?

LS:  “February has been like any other month.  The writing goes well on some days and I indulge in other things when the mood takes me. All in all, it’s shaping up well. The bright sunlight in recent days has made me feel spring is just round the corner.”

What are your plans for spring?

LS:  “Good question. I am not a great planner. I go with the flow. The great thing to look forward to is my daughter’s graduation in May in New York so I ‘ll be jetting off to America.  Glasgow gets busy in March with the ‘Aye Write Festival’  that takes place from 5 th to 13th March.  A great literary Festival with a superb line up of writers.”

Do tell us how you are getting on with your second novel?

LS:   “To be honest, I wrote the rough draft in a huge ‘glued to my seat ‘ schedule.  These were hardworking months of diligent work. Now the editing bit has started I can see that a lot of work still needs to be done. But as my friend says once you have the basic work done,  you can polish it several times to get it just right.”

How far have you come with the writing of your second novel?

LS:  “As I said in the last answer,  the basic work is done but a lot of redrafting has to be done. I am good at working at a crazy pace to get the rough draft down as I must get the story in my head down on paper. Then comes the harder part of making sure everything ties up and sounds right. I can’t put a time scale on it as I want to get it just right.”

Any chance that you may divulge a little of the theme or plot for us?

LS: “A little bit maybe. The novel is set in Mumbai and Glasgow. Here is a bit. “Tina is brown her parents are white, people are puzzled that she is not adopted.” Is that intriguing enough to make you want to find out?”

Did you feel that Twice Born changed your life and if so, in what way/s? Please feel free to elaborate.

LS: “What a lovely question! I am totally bowled over by the experience of writing ‘Twice Born.’ I wouldn’t say it has changed my life as I wanted to write that book always. I often talked about the theme to my family. I never found the time to actually sit down and tackle a whole novel.”

“Novel writing when you feel passionate about the subject, becomes almost an obsession. I enjoyed the meditation of writing all the words down that were streaming in my mind. The unexpecetd bonus of ‘Twice Born’ is the kind, wonderful feedback I got and still get from readers, some of whom I have never met.

Recently a friend wrote: (do you know, it’s funny, I am back in the room with the red sofa in my mind right now-they say that if something sticks in your mind from a book then it was worth writing. The scene with auntie and all the goings on where she finds out about her daughter too is still vivid in my head!) Yes, Twice Born has enriched my life in reaching out to people I would have never known otherwise. I also hope that the next generation of Indo-Scots/ Asian/Scots would want to contribute to the mainstream literature.”

What was one of the richest blessings in life in a broad sense, that becoming a novelist has brought to you up to this present time?

LS: “Reading and writing have been constant pleasures throughout my life. My parents opened my eyes to the world of books, music and the arts. Growing up while being surrounded by books and music are life’s biggest blessings. They were and are my guiding lights still.

“I am not sure I can lay claim to being a novelist though I am taking tentative steps to be one. I still feel strange when people introduce me as a writer. I feel blessed that I am around in an age when there are computers that can let you cut and paste and edit your work so easily. Life is good that I can indulge in a passion that was dormant for years.”

Which authors are you currently influenced by? Would you like to give a few examples and tell us why?

LS: “As you know I am busy reading Indo- English fiction at the moment, so the rich heritage of writers like Rushdie, Narayan and  Adiga are some of  the authors I am re-reading with a critical eye. I don’t want to be influenced by any author when I am writing my own novel so I write with my own voice. I love poetry so dip into a varied collection, Ruth Padell being one. I must get Carol Anne Duffy’s work too. In ‘Valentine’ her words  are so powerful when you read the whole poem:

Not a red rose or a satin heart.I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love. … – Carol Anne Duffy

Would you treat the writing/publication of your second novel differently from what you did with Twice Born?

LS:  “Yes, It has been a steep learning curve. Like anything you attempt for the first time there are so many things that you are unaware of.  Regarding  the writing itself,  I need to treat it more as work and not  an indulgence. I am still to get into that frame of mind. Sometimes life gets in the way that is understandable. But I also get distracted easily and that discipline of working consistently is still something I must try harder to do.

“Regarding the publication of Twice Born, I am very happy with YouWriteOn (YWO)  my publisher of ‘Twice Born’. I am still not sure whether I would continue with them or switch to  mainstream  publishing.  With traditional methods getting even harder and self-publishing being offered by all the big publishers it is a confusing scene. I have not yet made up my mind about this aspect as Iam still in the throes of getting the book , the synopsis etc right first.”

Are you seeking to widen your audience?

LS: “I am sure every writer would like to reach more readers so I would be lying if I say no thanks to that. However as my answer to the last question tells you that it all depends on how it is published. So if you or your readers have any ideas I am open to them Susan.”

Are there any other genres you aspire currently to write on?

LS: “My next project is a very personal one that involves writing my family memoir. It will  not be slated for publication but held as a tribute to my parents and grandparents as their lives were amazing. Lots of black and white photos and anecdotes will grace the pages. I hope it will be treasured by my daughter, her cousins and perhaps some of my large extended family. So that will be a new challenge. I want it to be an interesting read and not just a chronological record of their lives.”

How has Twice Born changed your outlook on day to day life?

LS:  “An intriguing question Susan. I am not sure if it has changed my outlook on day to day life but it has certainly made me aware that more readers in Scotland are reaching out for books written by all sections of our society. Just yesterday an author was relating her Travellers/Romany ancestry to me and how this has evoked interest in her books.”

What is it about a writer’s life in a deep personal sense that fills you with excitement currently?

LS: “Being in a nine to five job before and leading a busy life as a full time career woman, mother, homemaker before had its joys and its restrictions. As an individual I have been lucky to have always had a free and liberated life from childhood onwards. But the life of a writer is a great responsibilty and joyous in its own way. As an optimist I always count my blessings and feel excited about today, the present so in a deep personal way writing fulfills a need that gives me great satisfaction.”

What is it about a writer’s life that fills you with excitement in a social sense of the word?

LS: “Its been an absolute eye opener. There is a world outside the ‘normal’ friends. Writers Groups, Festivals, readings are a vibrant part of society that is a wonderful club to belong to. I have met people from all parts of the world.”

Do you network with other writers in a social realm? How do you do this and why is social networking important to you as a novelist?

LS: “Networking is the buzz word in every walk of life. I do enjoy the time I spend with my fellow writers. Social networking has always been important from time immemorial. Whether it was at the Kings courts during the Chera, Chola Pandya Kings when poets and scholars discussed their work or the Bloomsbury set in England,  it has been important. Now with technology FB, Twitter we have even more access, sometimes too much to even get time to keep up with. Yes for any new writer this is an important fact of life now.”

Is there any specific character that you are currently passionate about in your second novel?

LS: “The main protagonist Tina is someone I feel very close to as she has been living in my head for so long now. There are two other characters who have made me laugh and rant against as they have been quite real in my mind. Like Aunty BB in the last book who many readers said that they had ‘met some one like her’, these two characters rise out of the page and ‘poke’ me.”

What books are you currently reading for pleasure and for writing courses?

LS: “I think I have covered this in question 9. Sometimes for pleasure I love browsing magazines  the more glitzy & the less intellectually challenging the better.  These are usually found in supermarkets. A friend hands them in sometimes and I have a laugh  not recognising the ‘celebrities’ but enjoying their bizarre life styles. ‘The Gita’ is something I keep reading and rereading it’s a kind of solace to go back to.”

Could you tell us more about the classes you currently attend?

LS: “I’ll be doing little justice to them with brief answers but both are fantastic because of the superb lecturers. The Indo- English Fiction is looking at authors after Post-Independence and their fascinating work. From Devasani, Mulk Raj Anand to Adiga the 2008 winner of Man Booker Prize, we also look at the earliest writers in English … a wonderful study.

“The Idea of Religion’ is a study of major religions first in their historical context (absolutely what I need ) then a discussion on how the concept of religion is continuing to the present day including fundamentalism. The classes are so good with a group of like-minded, diligent students that it is a pleasure to go to.”

If you had the good fortune to someday see your novel Twice Born being devoured by a reader in an unlikely place, where you most like this setting to be?

LS: “What a sweet question! I’d be happy wherever that is as long as they are happy to finish it and not put it on their TBR pile and never look at it again. Under a tree on a warm afternoon would be great, dreaming of an Indian summer!”

Have you already had a similiar experience before?

LS: “Reading ‘Celestine Prophecy’ on a train trip in India. No James Redfield did not jump onto the train but it is a book I remember reading and swaying to the rhythym of the train.”

Did you in an ironical way, feel reborn yourself after the publication of Twice Born?

LS: “Great question. You’ve made me think now. Yes is the short answer at least in the new career as a writer because to hold the first book in your hand and feel that you have achieved a goal is good.”

Are you still passionate or affectionate about your past characters in your first novel? Do they still live with you or have they melted into the distance?

LS: I think there will always be a space for them from Twice Born. No they’ll not melt away. I felt the anguish of Sita as I was writing the awful scenes of BB attacking her or the choices that she had to make. Ram was always endearing in so many ways and his dad is a powerful character who dominated the page during his brief appearances.”

Currently, how do you spend your writing days with your second novel? Are you writing it very much with the routine you employed for the first one?

LS: “I think my routine is simple. I get up and go to the gym or the class whichever is on. I need to get out first thing in the morning. I may have scribbled thoughts on a piece of paper the night before but that’s for later. Come home and have lunch,  catch the news,  then sit at the computer from 2 till 4.30 or 5. Sometimes if the work flows I go with it. If   I am not able to do so I don’t beat myself about it. Lunches or days out are important too.  So no , I have not changed my writing methods but I hope to spend a lot more time redrafting this novel and take my time with  this second novel as the plot is more complex than the last one.”

Further Reading:
An interview with Asians in Media magazine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: