Tuesday, 6 October 2015

In Conversation with Bali Rai

Today on the blog, as part of the UKYA Extravaganza, I'm in conversation with Bali Rai, award winning author of the Shrophsire Teen Book Award for 2015 for Web of Darkness, as well as of the Barrington Stoke series of books.

For anyone who hasn't come across your books before, can you give my readers a brief synopsis of some of your stories?
No problem – I tend to write social realism on the whole, so my first novel, (un)arranged marriage is about Leicester teen whose Sikh parents want him to marry a village girl from India, something he fights against.

Rani & Sukh, which was a GCSE set text until Mr Gove got his hands on the English curriculum, is a Romeo & Juliet inspired love story, also set in Leicester, which incorporates elements of age-old star-crossed lover’s stories from India and other places, alongside a very modern story about teenagers in love, and blood feuds which spiral into violence.

Web of Darkness is a story about two Year 11 girls who find their lives turned upside down when their use of social media brings evil into their lives. It’s a fast-paced thriller that explores the use of social media and the dangers inherent in that. It’s not a story for those with weak hearts!

Killing Honour is probably my most “adult” YA offering. It’s a very, very dark story that explores honour-based violence through the eyes of a 17 yr old lad whose adult sister has gone missing. It also follows an adult female whose life is falling apart due to the extreme violence her husband subjects her to.

City of Ghosts is my only historical novel to date. It’s set around the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, in colonial India – an event Winston Churchill described as “monstrous”. It also takes in the Great War, Brighton in 1915, and is sort of magical realism. A wounded Sikh soldier falls in love with his nurse in Brighton, 1915, and tries to evade an order to be sent “home” to India once recovered. When he fails, the India he returns to is in anti-colonial turmoil, and he becomes the central figure in a web of five stories, all of which climax during the horrific scenes of the massacre. I’m hoping to add a sequel at some point soon!

Finally, my only fantasy offering is Fire City. It’s demons and dystopia – a world in which the richest 1% have gained total control with help of inter-dimensional beings (demons), enslaving or killing the rest of the world’s population. It also reworks Western-inspired “Man With No Name” stories. A dark, amoral stranger with strange powers appears in a town ruled by a vicious and violent Mayor, and despite himself, he stays on to help a small group of rebels fight back. The Mayor’s stepdaughter, a feisty teenager called Martha, intrigues the stranger, and together they set in motion a series of events that lead to tragedy and death, and perhaps a semblance of hope for humankind. The sequel is already planned but I’ve yet to start it!

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
The biggest inspiration is real life. I’ve always felt that ordinary, everyday people are terribly under-represented British fiction, and that goes double for those from non-white, British backgrounds. So, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve – namely stories about the people who live in multicultural communities such as the one I grew up in, and still live in. Stories that weren’t seen as niche or for any particular community or other – just great characters and plots about people whose voices are ordinarily missing.

Then, of course, there are all the books I’ve read in my life, and those I’ve yet to read. The same is true of film and music, too. I’m inspired by other people’s stories, their thoughts and their emotions.

What are you working on next?
My new YA offering is nearly finished. I call it a state-of-the-nation novel – set amongst the growing underclass in modern Britain, whose lives are blighted by ever-deepening poverty and vicious media and public stereotypes of “undeserving” poor people, “scrounging” from the State. Within that context, I have a teenage girl, Siren, whose mother dies from a heroin overdose, leaving her and her three-year old sister to fend for themselves. Caught in dire poverty, and with a well-founded distrust of the social services and authorities, Siren resolves to make sure that she and her sister aren’t separated. With the help of her mother’s best friend, Siren goes on the run, hoping to find the grandfather she has never met and change her life for the better. However, before leaving she takes fifty thousand pounds from a local criminal called Smithy. With both the police and Smithy searching for her, she faces a long, hard road to safety. It’s extremely gritty and pulls no punches in describing the harsh nature of street life in Tory Britain. I have a working title of ‘Siren’s Cry’ but that may well change!

Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
The advice is always the same, and as honest as I can make it. Being an author is NOT an easy thing. There’s the ideas themselves (the easy-ish bit), getting a workable plot from those initial sparks, working out characters and their motivation, editing, thinking about publication, and on and on… The key is to write – like, actually write, rather than talk about it.

You must also make sure to read as much as you can within the market you want to be published. So, if you’re writing sci-fi, for example, read other, established writers and see what is being published and by whom. Knowing as much about the industry as possible BEFORE you approach an agent etc… is very important in my opinion.

You must be hard headed too. Understand that you’ll probably get rejections, that you’ll feel unsure about your work, have moments when you’re unable to string a sentence together etc…. This is natural and shouldn’t make you quit. The writers that make it as published authors (as in mainstream published rather than self-published) are the ones who work through all of the hurdles, the doubts, fears etc…

Finally – just go for it! If you’ve got an idea, and you’ve got the writing bug, get writing!

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
I’d be stuck because I have so many vinyl records and books that I’d want to save in their entirety. I think I’d probably just grab my Macbook and run. Actually, I’d probably be burnt to a crisp deliberating over exactly which reggae record and which book are my absolute favourites!

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
Ah – I’ve never been asked this before! Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Sue Townsend and James Lee Burke. And, yes, that did take ages to answer! Can’t I have ten????

Bali will be appearing at Waterstone's Nottingham on Saturday 10th October between 1 and 4pm for the UKYA Extravaganza, and so will I (along with my reading, blogging buddy Maia from Maia and A Little Moore). 

And as a little extra (yes I know not to start a sentence with 'and' but this is important), Bali has five signed books to give away to those of you who either leave a comment here on my blog, or retweet the link I'll be putting up on Twitter.  The competition will close at midnight on Monday, UK followers only (sorry) and we'll draw the winners afterwards, so good luck!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

1 comment:

  1. I've only read (un)arranged Marriage and Rani & Sukh and way back when Rani & Sukh was up for NETBA and I was a student judge, both absolutely amazing.
    Great interview, I really can't wait to read about Siren.


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