Today on the blog we have Ravinder Randhawa, talking about her book Beauty and the Beast, diversity and writing YA.
There are so many diverse characters in Beauty and the Beast – how important do you think diversity is in fiction, particularly for young adults?
Fiction is this amazing human creation, which exists and yet doesn’t exist, which fabricates stories and yet tells the truth, which creates other worlds and yet illuminates ours. Therefore, whatever the story is, in whatever genre, time or universe, it’s ultimately rooted in our world and derives from our human experience. We’re not only the products of human experience but creators of it, therefore we have a responsibility to others and to the future to depict the world with honesty but also to depict a world which is capable of change and recognising our common humanity.
All my work is peopled by diverse characters because I find such a mix to be invigorating, stimulating and creative. I believe that diversity in fiction is crucial for young adults because they are our future, the future world-makers. Young adults are at the stage not only of ‘discovering’ the world but of an age to examine, ask significant questions about values, truth, morality and everyday human existence. Diversity adds to the richness of their world and contributes to the richness of their response to it. If we don’t give them diversity, they won’t know diversity.
Beauty and the Beast has a lot of characters conflicting with their upbringing or religion – do you feel it’s important to show these kinds of struggles to a young adult audience?
Yes, very important because it’s the pathway to developing an ethical conscience and ethical free-will, both of which are necessary to lead a fruitful and self-determining life. A life which is conscious of the rights and dignity of others, the value of culture and society.
I believe it’s crucial for young people to be able to doubt, ask questions, examine, and reject if necessary. Over hundreds of years societies have developed many ideas that are unjust, unfair and sometimes downright cruel. Young people should be the breath of fresh air, the ones who put such ideas under a microscope and decide for themselves whether they’re right or wrong.
Hari-Jan is such a chatty, open narrator – how did you find the voice for her?
She’s a bit crazy isn’t she? I do love her. How did the voice come? Honestly, I don’t know. It could just be that I see women as strong and intelligent, with a sense of fun and curiosity. In fact Punjabi women are known for their outspoken and feisty natures, and those are the kind of women I was surrounded by as I growing up. Perhaps she’s an amalgam of them, with her very own dash of recklessness and habit of putting her foot in it.
Do you see yourself in Hari-Jan’s character at all, or draw on any of your own experiences for her story?
That’s so difficult. Because there must be a great deal of me in there, but not in any way that’s planned or conscious. I wouldn’t have a main protagonist I didn’t like or wasn’t interested in. That’s not to say, they can’t have flaws, weaknesses, blind spots, etc, but intrinsically, they must be characters who’re dynamic, engage with the world and who evolve through the story. Characters that speak for me. Perhaps that’s the essence of it? A writer’s main character ‘says’ what the writer wants to say to the world about life, love or oranges.
Hari-Jan often charges into situations without really thinking of the consequences – do you think part of her friendship with Ghazala is that she balances her out/makes her think a little more?
Yes indeed. Ghazala, just by who she is, provides a different way of dealing with the world. What’s really important is that their friendship is one of equals; Ghazala is very much her own person and she’s not afraid to speak her mind to Hari-jan, or tell her off when necessary.
Ghazala’s attitudes and actions throughout the book were inspiring, especially the ways she dealt with the racist views of others. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation, and how did you deal with it?
Racism is often there, under the surface of things, but equally a lot of work has been done to combat it. If I experience racism, I have to make a judgment about the person and the situation. Often, it comes out of people’s own unhappiness or difficulties in life, they want to have someone to blame. My response has to depend on who it is and what it is.
Beauty and the Beast has a really authentic feel due to its mix of Indian words in with the English. Do you feel like this could be a barrier to an only English speaking reader?
I don’t think it should be a barrier. Many reviewers found they could easily understand what the word meant from the context but some reviewers said it affected their enjoyment of the story. It was natural and important to use Indian words because that’s how it happens in real life, there’s a mixing and mingling of languages. I was at pains to ensure the context provided the meaning. As a reader, I too like to be able to understand everything. There’s also a glossary at the back, so if a reader is really stuck as to what a word might mean, they just have to flip to the back.
You’ve previously written for novels for adults – was it very challenging or different to write for a young adult audience?
I had written short stories for teenagers. In fact my first published piece of work was a short story in the anthology ‘There’s More to Life Than Mr Right.’ I might have started overthinking it, and wondering how far I could go, in terms of exploring themes and issues but I’d been given a pretty specific page limit by the publishers and a deadline. So I just plunged in – which was probably the best way of doing it.
And here are my quick fire questions to round off with:
What are you reading at the moment?
The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age (rare for me to read a non-fiction book)
Favourite book as a child?
I can’t choose. I’m going to cheat: The Famous Five, Chalet School Stories, Little Women… etc etc.
Favourite writing drink and snack?
Tea and spicy nibbles
5 desert island books?
Pride and Prejudice. The Moonstone. Corinna Lang Goodbye. The Help. Shakespeare’s works (is that cheating again?)
Favourite place to read?
Curled into a corner of the sofa.
Any hidden talents?
What fictional world would you love to live in?
One where women ruled: I’m sure it’d be more peaceful and happier.
Big thank you to Ravinder for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail – the comments on diversity are too perfect for words.
About Ravinder Randhawa
Ravinder Randhawa is the acclaimed author of the novels Beauty and the Beast (YA), A Wicked Old Woman, The Tiger’s Smile and the short story collection Dynamite. She’s currently working on a trilogy: The Fire-Magician. Ravinder was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Toynbee Hall, Queen Mary’s University, the University of London, and founded the Asian Women Writer’s Collective.
Ravinder was born in India, grew up in leafy Warwickshire, now lives in London and agrees with Samuel Johnson’s saying (though of course, in a gender non-specific way) ‘…if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Loves good coffee and really good thrillers.
‘Problems? Confusions? Contradictions? I got them all and if you’ve got them, the FLAUNT them is my motto.’
Meet Harjinder (aka Hari-Jan): ‘A’ level student, supermarket worker and desperate hournalist. Feisty and impulsive, Hari-jan can’t refuse a dare and to make matters worse has fallen in love with the wrong boy. Her best friend Ghazala has taken to wearing the hijab and mentoring racists.
Can Hari-jan battle through the hurdles and win her man?
Can Ghazala work out how to do Good in her own way?
A sparkling, coming-of-age novel about life, love and friendship.
Collection of short stories: Fun, feisty, tender and wry. Full of imagination and originality, stories of innocence and experience, British-Asianess and life’s haunting complexity. From kick-ass heroines to mysterious spacecraft; the heartache of first love to the inheritance of history; the echo of distant war zones to treacherous boyfriends; riots and violent murder.
As part of the blog tour, there is a giveaway going on throughout the week, with a chance to win one of three paperback copies of Dynamite.
If you enjoyed this, you can find the other stops on Ravinder’s blog tour here: