Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Where are the Asian novelists and poets? By Leela Soma

Salman Rushdie is the winner of the Best of Booker Prize for his Midnight’s Children. But how many Asian writers are recognised, encouraged in the UK? How many parents or young people see it as a career choice? Drama, dance, music, and the other arts have made great strides in being inclusive and Asians contribute and participate in these categories as they rightfully should. When it comes to writing, there seems to be a dearth of books by Asians especially in novels and poetry. Not even Asian magazines feature any articles on writing as a career for Asians. Why is this?

We can’t blame the publishing industry alone. Though one of the reasons given by many is that Asian books are not ‘commercial enough’ to invest in! There is a need to get many writers to participate in every town and city that they live in. Whenever I go to book launches, book festivals I see very few Asians participating in it. Literature is an important aspect of society that we cannot ignore. It is our stories and poems that make our culture rich, and a heritage to be proud of. My own reasons for becoming a writer were because of this void.

Like all first generation Asians, I was busy pursuing my career and raising a family since I arrived in 1969. As an avid reader I was a regular visitor to major bookshops. There were few books written by British Asians in the 1970’s. Hanif Kureshi was one of the few who had a body of work that was accessible to all. I had to order books or get books sent from India if I needed to read anything written by Asians. I always liked reading and writing so I took it upon myself to fill that void, but found time only after I retired from full time teaching as a Principal Teacher of Modern Studies. I attended some courses in creative writing at Glasgow University and joined my local Strathkelvin Writers group, where I won the Margaret Thompson Trophy for new writing. It was that support from the fellow writers at Strathkelvin Writers group that helped me finish my first novel Twice Born and get it published in 2008.

While writing novel one, the idea for Bombay Baby had already formed in my mind. It was a photo in the Times newspaper of an Indian baby born to a Yorkshire couple by embryo transfer in India. The story flowed easily and the novel was published by Dahlia Publishers in 2011.

My short story collection Boxed In followed soon, published by The Pot Hole Press in e reader format.

Writing and getting published is not easy, but if you have the passion and determination, it can be done. There is a lot of awareness now for the need for diversity in publication. Small independent publishers are taking up the challenge and are reaching out and seeking writers. I hope this inspires new Asian writers to pick up their pens and get writing. Our voices need to be heard, we need to contribute to the mainstream literature of this country. We must leave a legacy for the next generations, something that tells them the stories of Asians in UK. I also hope that a new award for Asian writers is introduced. If there is a MOBO for music, book prizes for women writers like the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, it is high time there is a National Award for the best Asian novelist or poet in Britain. Participation by Asian midlist writers’ not just big prize winners in all aspects of writing is the key to diversity in literature published in UK.

Get writing now.

btw: I am also thrilled to hear that I have made it to the most prestigious British Indian Awards 2015 in the category of Arts and Culture awareness.

I was born in Madras, India and now live in Glasgow. My poems and short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and publications, including The Scotsman, and Gutter magazine. My two novels and a short story collection are all available on Amazon UK, US and on Kobo, Nook, Smashwords and other platforms worldwide.

www.leelasoma.com




8 comments:

JO said...

If you glance at the Grant young novelists or comparable lists you can see a few writers of colour - so they are there, in the wings. But where are they at the festivals - which seem to be dominated by older, white writers. I wish the festival organisers would be more inclusive - surely readers and writers should relfect the diversity if the culture we all live in.

Chris Longmuir said...

I agree with Jo, and I found your post both interesting and thought provoking, Leela. It's nice to see you here. I hope we see more of you.

Leela Soma said...

Thank you Jo, you are right that Granta publishes new writers of colour and a few others like Wasafiri. Like you say it is in the book festivals and book launches that the lack of people of colour in the audience is quite striking. I know for a fact that there are lot of readers and book buyers of colour. Perhaps both the publishers and book sellers need to take note to encourage participation by all. The diverse community needs to feel at ease and do the same.

Leela Soma said...

Thank you Chris for your comment. I certainly look forward to contributing to this interesting and informative website. As a new writer I find the blog posts are really helpful, and I look forward to reading them every day.

Mari Biella said...

A very thought-provoking post, Leela - thank you. One of the great things about writing and reading is that they allow us to get inside other people's heads - and, therefore, inside places, cultures and experiences that we may not know first-hand. Every group and every individual writer has a significant contribution to make. I hope we'll see more diversity in the future, and I think that the internet and digital technology will make this easier.

Leela Soma said...

Thank you Mari Biella. I would really like the younger generation of writers of colour to feel it is important to share our experiences. I love reading world literature, and as you say, it transports one to another country and one gets a glimpse of their culture. I just finished reading Anne Tyler's 'Digging to America' a novel dealing with two American families who have adopted Korean babies. One of the families is Iranian in origin, the cultural nuances are fascinating. Like you say, the internet and ebooks will make the access to such work easier.

Lydia Bennet said...

Thank you for a most interesting post and welcome to Authors Electric from me (Valerie Laws) too! I suppose Monica Ali springs to mind as a massively successful novelist and Daljit Nagra as a poet who is very highly thought of and successful. But as publishers already tend to ignore the fact that so many book buyers are older women, not just 30somethings from London, they are unlikely to give proper consideration to ethnic or other groups of buyers without continual pressure or at least nudging!

Leela Soma said...

Thank you Lydia for your comment. The subject of Diverse Books and publishers was trending on twitter since this thought provoking article was published by Kerry Hudson. I thought it might be of interest to your readers. Here is the link.http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/nationalconversationloststoriesunheardvoicesdiversityinliterature.aspx#.VZ_bztSMrQw.twitter