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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Leela Soma is Twice Born

Glasgow: Through the eyes of first generation Indians

Have you read a book about Glasgow seen through the eyes of first generation Indians?
Twice Born does just that. The novel follows the life of a young couple from India and their experiences in Glasgow.
Twice Born peels away the layers and presents the simmering progress of their life in Glasgow.
Straddling the two cultures, putting down their roots while not forgetting their liberal family values steeped in an ancient culture is a delicate balance for them.
The overarching themes of the novel are the universal aspects of love, identity and betrayal. An interesting aspect of the novel is that it also follows Scotland's fight for Independence as the political events parallels their lives.

Leela Soma's very first foray into publishing came when she entered two poems and raised a modest amount for a breast cancer charity. Her portfolio contains poems and a collection of short stories, some entirely in Glasgow dialect.

Leela was formerly a principal teacher of modern studies in Glasgow. She is married with one daughter. and lives  in Milngavie, Glasgow. She arrived in Scotland in the late 60s and says of the city 'This is my home. I love Glasgow as much as my birth city of Madras Chennai. I am proud to be Scottish and Indian.'

Click below for the interview:

What inspired you to write your Twice Born?
The story of an immigrant from India to Scotland was always simmering in my mind. Winning the Trophy at my writers group gave me the confidence to write this novel. An avid reader I was disappointed that there were no books at all in Scotland that showed the life of an Indian in Scotland. I also feel passionately that the next generation of young Indo- Scots should be inspired to put pen to paper and I hope ‘Twice Born’ would help them take up that challenge.

What is it about?
It is General Fiction. The novel is a contemporary story set in Scotland and Madras, India. It follows the life of a young Hindu Brahmin arriving in Glasgow and her experiences in a middle class profession. The overarching theme of the novel is love and betrayal. Universal aspects of identity, culture against the changing political scene of Scotland feature strongly in the story.

Is is suitable for young adults?
It is not unsuitable for young adults, as it has no violence or sex but I don't think it is aimed at that market at all. It is an adult fiction as the story is about a young married woman and her life.

Was there a character you struggled with?
Not really the novel just flowed and the strong character BB, the gossip-monger and the bane of the heroine Sita’s life has been identified by all who read the book. ‘I know someone just like her,’ is the usual comment.

Possible to have a snippet?
A juicy bit of gossip was always welcome after a boring sermon from the priest. Made the lunch tastier. BB chose a seat near Ram and Sita.

“What you say, Sita?” BB’s eyes were mischievous as asked her directly. “Britain too much freedom, all women do bad things. Even married, they want other man, badmash nai? Very, very bad, Kaliyug.” She rolled her eyes heavenwards, then quickly returned to scrutinise Sita’s face.
Sita just smiled, the food choked her.
“Men, women all just doing love, love, very bad.’ BB continued. “Husbands too soft. Often not know what is happening under their noses, right Ram?” She gave him a challenging look.

Ram who was enjoying the food was trying to make out if the cumin in the curry had been roasted first or put in to the sauce in raw state. He had not paid a blind bit of attention to the women’s conversation, but had vaguely heard the last bit.

“Yes I suppose so,” he nodded not wanting to disagree or start an argument. He took another mouthful and decided that the cumin was roasted that was why the taste was different.

What made you choose that cover?
I did not have book cover designer and the costs to hire one was too much so I chose from what was offered by YWO. I liked the design, but would have preferred a lighter colour, but that was not possible. BTW 'Twice Born' is also available as an e- book to download for PC's and Kindles and e-readers

Most writers hates writing the synopsis for their book. But you have gone one step further and allowed it to be posted here!
I am very proud of my synopsis and very few authors like to showcase their own. Here's mine:

SYNOPSIS


Novel Title: Twice Born                                   L. Soma
Genre: General Fiction


Although a romantic at heart, Sita consents to an arranged marriage to a medic Ram and starts her new life in Glasgow. Her feisty, confident, vivacious personality wins her friends. ‘Here comes chapatti and curry,’ laughs the big guy of the tipsy duo.' Aye and what are you, mince and tatties?’ retorts Sita, 'Learnt the patter, hen?’ smiles the big guy. It is in contrast to the introverted Ram who says little, seems obsessed with his work, politics and cooking. He is content, a pragmatist, not for him the gush of desperate love. ‘Saying I love you, is a western concept, it’s unnecessary,’ he states. Sita yearns for more. Incompatible in every way, yet, they stay together. The unplanned birth of their daughter Uma brings them closer. Though there is no love in the marriage, there is mutual respect. ‘Twice born’ peels away the layers and presents the simmering progress of their life in Glasgow. Their struggle is heightened by her family’s rosy view of ‘life abroad’.


Some elders in the Glasgow, living in a time warp resent any change in their perceived idea of Indian culture. Aunty BB, a gossipmonger and hypochondriac is the bane of Sita’s life. BB clings to her like a leech directing her bile in broken English on all, claiming to uphold the Indian culture. ‘Shameless girls, showing, showing skin, mini skirt bad, all forget everything Indian, I blame parents,’ is her rant. Straddling the two cultures, putting down her roots while not forgetting her own liberal family values steeped in an ancient culture is a delicate balance for Sita.


Glasgow in the 1970’s, the soot encrusted, blackened, smudged city creeps into Sita’s soul. As it unravels its beauty as the European City of Culture, she develops affection for it and a feeling of belonging deepens. As the family searches for its identity, Scotland’s political future parallels with its fight for its own Parliament. Ram’s interest as a SNP activist gives a unique perspective to a changing Scotland. ‘What’s the use of Indian politics? We’re living here, this is what matters. An Independent Scotland is the future.’ Ram’s challenge to Indian friends, fall on deaf ears as Indian politics interests them more.


In an unexpected twist in her life, a middle aged Sita falls in love with Neil, a new colleague at work. Her heart yearns for the life of love with Neil but the freight of family and the fear of the Indian community’s reaction leaves her in a quandary. Glasgow, an upside down world now becomes her hesitant new reality. Neil, Sita’s soulmate tries to persuade her to leave all she knows and loves, the hardest decision of her life. Could she face the life ostracised by the close- knit community that had stood by her? She is truly ‘twice born,’ entwined in two cultures enriched by the Indian womb that had nurtured her soul and the Scottish cradle that had nurtured her being, her heritage unique.


How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
Many attempts, some ending as short stories but none lurking as full novels under the bed or in a secret drawer.

How did you find your publisher?
YWO the POD publisher was recommended to me by the Vice President of my writers group Ann McLaren. She sent me an email saying that the offer of YWO to publish 5000 books before Christmas was too good miss.

I found the process stressful as I was not very tech savy but Ted Smith and Tom Chambers (now of Legend Press) were both very helpful. My nephew, an IT person helped tremendously and I got the book ready in 3 weeks to avail myself of the offer.

I would certainly recommend YWO. For £ 39.95 (now £58.99) they produced a beautiful book that has sold well. I have since known two friends who have been through self-publishers and are knee deep in copies of books that they have not sold and are out of pocket considerably. I also heard of an author who broke a contract with a small publisher then was asked to buy back 1000 unsold copies of his back from the first publisher. The mainstream publishers may look down on POD books but it is not a pretty picture in the mainstream land of publishing either.

What’s the best/worst part of being a writer?
I love being a writer. It is a career I am spending all my time on now that I have retired. I write because I want to, to tell a story that wants to be told. Now with social media like Facebook and Twitter I have met so many people, it is wonderful to network with like-minded people. Some have bought my book, given great feedback and loved it.

The worst thing is perhaps the treatment given to those who have self-published by mainstream publishers. Yet, I’ve had emails from around the world asking when my next novel is coming out.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
When I am writing a novel (not planning it) I have a strict routine of at least 4/5 hours a day preferably after a short stint at the gym and write from 11 – 4 or 6 depending on how well the writing is going. I do not work after tea time; it is family time and relaxing with a good book or TV/film.

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer
I prefer writing straight on the computer. I do the planning stages, chapter summaries scenes on paper first. It is so much easier to read over and correct when it is on the computer. I did lose 20,000 words of my new novel when I didn’t save it and I went through an awful time recovering from that incident and the rewrites never seemed quite as good as the older version!

What/who do you draw inspiration from?
The permanent ones are my parents and extended family who have worked hard in their professions and given me the work ethic. Inspiration could be from a picture, a drive in the country from a TV programme or a snippet of conversation that one heard on a bus. The second novel ‘Bombay Baby’ was inspired by a newspaper article and photograph that made me want to write the story. I asked the simple question ‘What if?’ and the novel idea was born.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
No I don’t set out goals but hope that the ideas flow. Sometimes the characters take you off at a tangent, but I enjoy the stream of consciousness writing then work on it at the editing time. Since I plan the novel in advance the writing is structured in scenes/chapters so I don’t worry about the word count.

What are you working on now that you can talk about?
I have completed my second novel ‘Bombay Baby’ and hope to have it published in 2011. It is a set in Bombay/Mumbai and Glasgow and deals with medical tourism that is a booming business emanating from the West to the East.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
That was pretty hard. I must confess for the first book I wrote to only a few and both Canongate and Hachette asked me for the first 3 chapters after reading the synopsis and the query letter. I was so excited. But they both claimed it was not ‘commercial enough.’ I know that when publishers see an Indian name they expect a Salman Rushdie, a Roy or a prize winning writer. But I maintain that the novels of middling writers are equally important. It is very frustrating but at least now we have recourse to YWO and I think the future is bright for authors who believe passionately in their work and go ahead and publish their work themselves.

Do you have a critique partner?
I do have a very close friend Frances who was an English teacher, a Head of Department, an Assistant Head Teacher and a crime story writer and we critique each other's work.


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