Interview: Ravinder Randhawa + GIVEAWAY

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?
I wish
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

 

Displaying Ravi Photograph.JPG
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.
Author Links
 
Books
 
Beauty and the Beast Cover

Beauty and the Beast

‘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.
Dynamite Cover
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.


Giveaway
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:
RavinderBanner5

 

Countdown to 7th May Blog Tour: Interview with Lucy Coats + GIVEAWAY

Today on the blog I’m really excited to have Lucy Coats as part of Jim’s Countdown to 7th May Blog Tour.
Lucy has written numerous books including picture books MG and YA fiction, but today we’re talking about her new YA book being released on 7th May: Cleo.

Cleo is a fast-paced re-imagining of Cleopatra’s life before she became the Pharaoh of legends. Check here for my review.

So, without further ado, here’s what Lucy had to say when I interviewed her about about Cleo
Hi Lucy, it’s great to have you here on my blog today. Your new book for young adults, Cleo tells the unknown story of Cleopatra, before she became the legendary figure that she is today. I’m going to kick off by asking you what made you want to tell that part of Cleopatra’s story?

 

About three years ago, I was reading a book about Cleopatra, and it occured to me that we know almost nothing about her life until she walks into recorded historical events as pharaoh. Basically, her early years are a great big hole in history – and there’s no greater gift to a writer than that.

Once I’d done a bit of digging, I found out Cleopatra had described herself as a living incarnation of the goddess Isis. Being a total mythology fanatic, that was the fact which lit a spark in my brain and made it start ticking away.

Writers always ask that ‘what if’ question – so I asked myself ‘what if Cleopatra really was helped to the throne by a goddess?’ Then I wondered how it would work to mix real history with a sprinkling of paranormal to explain how she became this amazing woman that we’re still talking about over two thousand years later? Her strong character must have been formed in that early part of her life – and immediately I had that thought, I was totally driven to tell that part of her story. The beginnings of Cleo were born in that moment.
How much of Cleo’s story is research based and how much was added in there by you?

 

That hole in history I just mentioned is pretty wide and deep. We don’t know exactly what year Cleo was born (maybe 60BC). We don’t even know for sure who her mother was either (possibly a concubine, a member of the pharaoh’s court – or maybe her own sister!). What IS certain is that her father was the pharaoh Ptolemy Auletes (the Flute Player), who got chucked out of Alexandria and exiled to Rome for spending too much money – and that she had three sisters (two of whom became pharaohs in place of their father), and two brothers.

So, to answer your question, there was a historical framework within which she existed – but no actual information about her. That gave a huge amount of leeway for me to imagine events in her life as I wanted them to happen. As long as I stuck to the known facts (and I researched her family and what they were up to at the time pretty intensively) then I was free to do more or less what I wanted to in terms of the story itself.
How did you find the voice for Cleo? It’s quite a bold step to give her such a modern-sounding voice – did you specifically want it that way or is that just how she came to you?

 

Thank goodness you asked – as I know a lot of people may be a bit puzzled by the way Cleo sounds. The thing is, we have no idea how the Ancient Egyptians would have talked, and I wasn’t ever going to write the book in formal court language!

When I started out, I was writing in third person. I got to twenty thousand words, and it was obvious to me that the voice wasn’t working at all. So I junked the whole thing and started again in first person. I could hear Cleo’s voice in my head right away – she just started talking to me like that, so I went with it.

As I was writing for teenagers, and Cleo is that age herself, I very much wanted her character to be accessible, to have the same sort of internal worries and fears about love and appearance and friendships that a modern teenager would have – except tuned to an Ancient Egyptian setting, obviously. I don’t think those very human concerns are things that change very much over the centuries.

You’re right, it was a bold step to give her a modern-sounding voice, and I know that may not be how everyone thinks Cleopatra would sound – but I really hope readers can get past that and understand that there IS no one definitive version of her. This is only my interpretation, and I stand by it proudly.

 

The setting for Cleo is obviously in Ancient Egypt – have you ever been to Egypt yourself? How much research did you have to do to recreate the places Cleo visits?

 

I have been to Egypt, but only to the Red Sea part, not the part where the book is set. I very much wanted to go back and sail down the Nile to get a proper feel for it, but sadly world events got in the way, and I was told it was too dangerous to do the kind of trip I was planning.

I’ve spent a LOT of time on research, though – I’m pretty obsessive about it, if truth be told, and have piles of books and a massive cache of weblinks to obscure writings on Ancient Egyptian life. Let’s not even get started about the time I’ve spent poring over maps of Alexandria, the Royal palace, the Nile and Google Earth-mapping the general topography of Egypt.

I wanted to make the settings as authentic as possible, so I went back to original sources where I could. Sometimes I had to stop myself, though. Researching is a bit like following a treasure trail – there’s always a new Fact of Great Usefulness to stumble across. I often have to give myself a shake and tell myself to get on with writing the damn book!

The gods and goddesses feature heavily in Cleo – did you always plan to make them a main part of your story?

 

Yes – myth geek that I am, that was always an essential element. The gods and goddesses got into every part of the Ancient Egyptians’ lives (and most certainly into their deaths, given the amazing household goods found in their graves, which they believed would go with them into the afterlife). I’ve just made them visible – to Cleo, at least – and able to act through their human intermediaries.

But I don’t believe in too much deus ex machina, so Cleo has to work things out on her own. She can’t rely on her patron goddess to fix things for her. It was important (and I hope character-building) for her to struggle to achieve what she needs to – and also that there be penalties for her straying off the path that has been set out for her. Power doesn’t come without price!
Cleo ends on one hefty cliffhanger – what made you decide to end her story there (for now)?

 

I know…I know☺. The answer is, Cleo had done what she needed to do for that particular bit of the story, and it just seemed the right place to stop. I’m mean like that <evil grin>. I’ve read so many books where I’m turning pages and shouting ‘Noooo! You CAN’T finish THERE!” at the writer – and for once I wanted the reader to shout at ME! Sorry (#notsorry).
What can we expect from the next installment in Cleo’s story? And when is it coming out?!

 

Well…it’s going to be called Chosen, and it’s coming in March 2016 (so not even a year to wait). I can’t tell you much, because *spoilers* but there’s going to be a lot of tension between Cleo and Khai (hot Librarian spy boy and the current love of her life, for those of you who’d like to know), an unexpected love story for Charm (Cleo’s best friend and body servant), and a meeting with someone who will feature largely in Cleo’s later life.

The setting moves away from Alexandria, and takes in the desert, the Great Green Sea (what the Ancient Egyptians called the Mediterranean) and Rome. Of course, there’s plenty of immortal action too. I’m just putting the final touches to the manuscript now, and I have to say, even I am very excited about it – and that’s having lived with it in my head for what seems like forever.
The cover for Cleo is really quite something (and actually one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place). Did you have much say on how that turned out? Is it how you imagined it would be or did you imagine something different?

 

A good cover is a treasure – and I’m so glad you like it. When I first saw it, my jaw literally dropped and I cried at its beauty (in a good way). The Orchard designer who worked on the book, Thy Bue, has done a stellar job, and I am so grateful to her. All I did was send my editor the Pinterest page I made for the book (you can see it here), and veto any pictures of pyramids – other than that, no input at all! I absolutely wasn’t expecting how it turned out – but I love it more than I can even tell you.  Luckily, everyone I’ve spoken to seems to feel the same way. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t like it.

A lot of your other stories are picture books/for younger readers – what made you want to try writing for an older audience?

 

I write for pretty much all ages – last year I had a picture book out, this year it’s four books in my new middle-grade Beasts of Olympus series, an early reader and Cleo. I guess that’s a bit unusual, but it all helps keep my writing brain active.

I’ve written one novel before, for the 9-12 age-group, but when the idea for Cleo came along I knew at once it was for an older audience. As I read a lot of YA (especially UKYA), it seemed like the right place for my writing to go, and I felt very comfortable doing it. 85,000 words is definitely a major commitment, though, and I do need much more thinking and planning time than for the younger books!
And here are my quick fire questions to round off with:
What are you reading at the moment?

 

I’m reading the proof of Stone Rider, a debut UKYA dystopian from David Hofmeyr which is coming in June. Absolutely loving it so far. It’s kind of Hunger Games meets Star Wars podracing meets The Road!
Favourite book as a child?

 

Charles Kingsley’s The Heroes (Greek myths, of course!) and also The Secret Garden. i identified with that one because I was a quite lonely only child who spent a lot of time mooching around gardens.
Favourite writing drink and snack?

 

Either Earl Grey tea (no sugar and must be Williamson’s – I’m fussy about tea), or a pint glass of water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Snacks are strawberry shortcake or chocolate (Maranon from Peru when I can get it – but any if not. Chocolate is a writing necessity).
5 desert island books?

 

J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the RIngs; Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea quintet; Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter; Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths; Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller series. Oops. That’s six *slaps own wrist*. You may have noticed I’m also a fantasy geek.
Favourite place to read?

 

In bed, snuggled under the duvet with a hot water bottle and a dog for company.
Any hidden talents?

 

I can roll my eyes in different directions (I don’t do it often because it’s been known to make people feel a bit sick).
What fictional world would you love to live in?

 

Ooh! What a great question. This is something I think about a lot, and I can never decide. Probably somewhere like Robin McKinley’s Damar, or Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci or Dark Lord of Derkholm worlds (I mean – griffin brothers and sisters. How cool is that?). I like the idea of a magical and quasi-historical ‘world next door but one’, which is what I have on my Twitter profile as the place I live. (I’d have to be one of the magic users, though – that kind of goes without saying). I also have my very own like-to-live-in world in my head, with bits stolen from all the books I love best. If only…

 


Massive thanks to Lucy for taking part today.

You can pre-order Cleo here and visit Lucy’s website here.

And now for something even more exciting (if you think you can handle more excitement!)

Lucy is very kindly giving away a copy of Cleo and an awesome Cleo mug to one lucky entrant of this giveaway. You can enter below via some of the usual means, plus a few Egyptian themed questions to spice things up a bit.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

UKYA Extravaganza Blog Tour: Interview with Rachel Ward

The UKYA Extravaganza is a (sold out) event at Birmingham High Street Waterstones, organised by Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass. Today is my turn on the UKYA Extravanganza Blog Tour, which has been going since the start of February and will be ending next week, after the event itself.

On my blog today we have Rachel Ward, author of the Numbers trilogy and The Drowning and Water Born which we’ll talk a little about below.

So without further ado, here we go:


Hi Rachel, it’s great to have you hear on my blog today. You’re my first ever author interview and it’s even more special because it’s for the UKYA Extravaganza blog tour! I’m going to kick off by asking what you think is so important about UKYA?


Thanks so much for having me on your blog – I’m honoured to be your first author interview! When I started out ‘YA’ wasn’t really a thing, or at least it was just a thing in the USA. Over the last couple of years UKYA has definitely become a force to be reckoned with. It feels like a real community of writers, readers, bloggers, librarians and publishers and it’s a lovely thing to be part of. Writing in the UK is really strong and the UKYA label helps to promote that.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the UKYA Extravaganza event?


I’m ridiculously excited about the Extravaganza! It’s a chance to catch up with some old friends and to meet a lot of people – writers, bloggers, readers – that I’ve only ‘met’ on Twitter or Facebook. I think it’s going to be intense, fun and exhausting!

 

If you had to pick a book/series to encourage someone new to read UKYA, what would you choose and why?


Ooh, that’s so tricky. There are so many to choose from. The only YA (if that’s what it is) book I read before writing Numbers was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I’d recommend the His Dark Materials series to anyone. I’d also recommend anything by Kevin Brooks.

 

I recently read and reviewed your books The Drowning and Water Born, which both have water playing a rather sinister part in the story. What’s your relationship like with water?


Well, I used to be a keen swimmer, but I haven’t been to the local pool since I started writing Water Born! I only realised very recently that my relationship with water is probably clouded by falling backwards into a paddling pool and almost drowning when I was a tot. It’s one of my earliest memories. However I love swimming, so I should really get back to the pool …

 

There’s a big time gap between the events in The Drowning and Water Born. What made you want to write about Carl and Neisha again much later in their life, and why did you choose to do it from their daughter’s point of view?


I love writing sequels which skip to the next generation. It allows me to explore an idea from a different character’s perspective and I love finding out how life has worked out for my teenage characters as they become adults. I picked Nic for Water Born as I always have a teenager as my central character, and I was interested to see her view of her parents.

 

Is Water Born the end of Carl and Rob’s story, or can we expect to see a third book in the series?


Water Born is the end of the line for Carl and Rob.


If not can you say anything about what you’re working on at the moment?


I’m working on a detective story/thriller in space at the moment. I’m very excited about it. It’s got potential to be a really cracking story. I hope I can do it justice. I’ve done the first draft and now I’m playing with the plot and characters in a second draft.


Did you always want to be a writer or were there any other ambitions you harboured when you were younger?


Not at all. When I was younger I wanted to be a farmer or an estate agent. I only started writing in my mid-thirties on a whim really, to see if I could do it.


Do you find it easy when you’re writing a story or do you have to discipline yourself to get it all out on paper (or the screen, I guess)?


I’ve been a full-time writer for three years, and, to be honest, writing was easier when I had a day job. Although I was much more stressed and unpleasant to live with, I didn’t have any trouble settling down to write. I used to do 45 minutes every morning before waking everyone else up and going to work. Now that I’ve got more time, I have to set myself word targets e.g. 1000 words a day, in order to make progress. It’s also not easy translating the ideas in my head onto paper. The process of putting something into words is surprisingly frustrating, but fascinating.



I know you probably get this one a lot, but what advice would you give to an aspiring author?
A book takes a long time to write, so you’ve got to write about something you’re really interested in and with characters that you care about. Try and write every day. Have a notebook with you or make notes on your phone and write down descriptions of people or scenes you see when you are out and about. You never know when they’ll come in handy. Don’t be too obsessed about writing – have other things in your life too – and enjoy it!


And a few quick fire questions to round off with:

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield partly as research for my book and also because I saw him speak last year and he was awesome. Before that I read ‘Five Children on the Western Front’ by Kate Saunders which I thought was wonderful.

Favourite book as a child?

I didn’t read as a mid-late teen, but my favourite book before I stopped reading was ‘Fly-by-night’ by K.M. Peyton. As a little child, I loved the Noggin the Nog books and ‘The Land of Green Ginger’.

Favourite writing drink and snack?

Coffee (either decaf or half and half) from my lovely coffee machine in the morning. Maybe a chocolaty treat to go with. Diet Coke in the afternoon with a sneaky Popchip or two. I was vegan for January and swapped chocolate for almonds and carrot sticks. I should probably do that again.


5 desert island books?
 
This is the hardest question! Why are you torturing me like this? Okay.
1. The notebook I kept as a sort of diary when my children were little, which records cute/horrific things they did or said, plus first words, etc.
2. The Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary because I could learn new words or use random words as a starter for stories, plus one of the compilers was my sister and I’m very proud of her
3. The complete works of Shakespeare. I’ve never got on with Shakespeare, but I suspect I’m missing out. Being on a desert island might give me the time to study him and try and appreciate him more.
4. A compendium of detective stories 5. Another compendium of great UKYA!

Favourite place to read?

I read in bed before I go to sleep. I’m very good at falling asleep, although I have the annoying habit of waking super-early, so sometimes it takes me a long time to get through a book. The sign that I’m really gripped by a book is when I find time to read during the day, curled up on the sofa with my dog or tucked into bed with a microwavable owl.

Any hidden talents?

Well, it’s not very hidden because I keep telling people about it, but I started painting last year and I’m really enjoying it. I also take lots of photographs of Bath when I’m out and about with my dog, Misty, and tweet them (@RachelWardbooks).

What fictional world would you love to live in?

 

I’d be very happy to live on the island in ‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson for a while. I’m also fond (at least in theory) of cold, snowy places, so I’d like to spend time in the world of ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ or ‘The Snow Child’ although I think the reality would be pretty harsh.
Thank you so much to Rachel for being here today, and to Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass for organising the UKYA Extravaganza. I can’t wait to see everyone at the event next week!
 
If you’d like to follow the blog tour or catch up on any posts you might have missed, all the bloggers and authors can be found in the picture below.