Ravinder Randhawa is the acclaimed author of novels, short stories and non-fiction articles. She was born in India, grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in London. Randhawa agrees with the old saying from Samuel Johnson: ‘…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ She loves a really good cup of coffee and really good thrillers.
Connect with her on: www.ravinderrandhawa.com and on Twitter: @RealRavs
What inspired you to write Beauty and the Beast?
Beauty and the Beast was first commissioned by Mantra Publishers as a British-Asian teenage romance, titled Hari-jan. It was probably the first such book and was very successful as well as being chosen for the Top Twenty at the Feminist Bookfair. It’s been completely updated in terms of technology and social culture, but the characters and story itself are exactly the same. Discussion questions for schools and book groups have been added at the end as well as a short story from the collection Dynamite.
Have you always wanted to become a writer?
Yes, actually I have. I’ve always loved books and was one of those kids who smuggled a book and a torch under the quilt. However ‘being a writer’ is a life-long work; each book is different and presents different challenges and problems. Writing must also be seen as a job, where you learn and hone your craft from book to book. You have to put in the hours and be prepared to do as many drafts and revisions as necessary. Many people hate the redrafting process, but I’m crazy enough to love it, because that’s when I really get to grips with the heart of the story.
The protagonist of your book is a voice that many young British Asian girls and women can relate to. Do you think that British Asian women need more representation in literature and the arts?
Definitely, but the characters should be fully rounded, complex and interesting in themselves. They should be imaginative creations that exist anywhere along the spectrum of literature, whether they be good, bad, evil or contradictory. We don’t always have to like them but we have to be engaged with whatever it is they’re doing in the story. They can be flawed, gifted, ordinary, but they have to exist in their intensity, warts and all.
Your novel discusses the nature of ethnic identity versus national identity; do you think that this is something that British Asians will eventually overcome? If so, how?
I believe it’s happening already but unacknowledged as the dominant conversation is still about ‘otherness’ ‘back home’ ‘culture’ ‘tradition’. Words that people cling to because they think identity is something outside them, rather than inside them, static rather than evolutionary.
The ethnic identity is a safe haven. It appears to me that people often think they have to choose between one or the other. I don’t believe that a national identity precludes the ethnic identity, or vice versa. At the end of the day every person has to make a choice about their principles, beliefs and values; what lines they will and will not cross; what constitutes self-respect for them and respect for others. That’s what defines a person, that’s what makes a human being. Clothes, food, rituals are all part of life; being in one set shouldn’t mean you can’t participate in another set.
Further, it appears to me that insularity is actively inculcated in many Asian communities and restricted views of identity are promulgated.
I think it’s high time that Asian communities saw themselves as members of the mainstream and contributed to the national discourse. In no way can it lessen their ethnic identity. Equally, ‘ethnic identity’ must be seen as something that is organic and responsive, therefore always in a certain amount of flux.
As a writer, what have been some of your biggest challenges to overcome?
Don’t know if I’ve overcome any actually. It’s an on-going process. Writing is a solitary business so writers have to get used to working on their own; overcoming all those little temptations to procrastinate, have another cup of tea or just do one more tweet. Facing that moment of reckoning, which always comes, when you realise the manuscript you thought you’d finished with, done and dusted – actually isn’t as fully developed as it should be and you’ve got to dive back into it. The most important lesson is probably that the writer is like a marathon runner; writing requires endurance and stamina, you’ve got to commit to it and stick with it. It can’t be done in little bursts of inspiration. That’s the romantic idea, it’s not the reality.
For many creatives, it is notoriously difficult jobs-wise and many of us lose heart in what we do. What keeps you going?
It is incredibly difficult. But I do think that perseverance and persistence eventually create their own pathways. Like all writers, I’ve taken other jobs along the way: teaching, mentoring other writers, being an RLF fellow etc. The important thing is to keep your focus. I carry on being a writer because it’s the only work that gives me satisfaction.
What has been the best bit of advice ever given to you?
That’s a difficult one. Working with an editor on my first short story was a huge learning curve; stepping back from the work and looking at it in terms of structure, tense, character was tremendously useful. Someone mentioned recently that Hilary Mantel sits down and ‘interviews’ her characters. I tend to work intuitively, I prefer to go from draft to draft, but I was wondering if, at some stage, it would be useful to try this strategy.
Do you think that the Internet, social media and digitalisation of the written word is a help or a hindrance to writers?
It’s the dawn of a new age. The internet has made research far easier, provided writing programmes like Scrivener (though I’m still grappling with it and tearing out my hair), democratised the reviewing process via the explosion in book bloggers, as well as changing the publishing field. Someone like E L James would never have been published and set off a ’50 Shades’ genre if not for the internet and reader-power. It is a new age, no-one knows how the dust is going to settle, but it’s exciting and I think writers have to embrace it, learn it and use it.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you take?
Impossible question. If I had to choose: Shakespeare – all his works. ‘Sunlight on a Broken Column’ by Attia Hossain. ‘Corinna Lang Goodbye’ by Vivian Connell (the first book that I ever bought – and love dipping into.)
What advice would you to give to those who want to become writers?
Write, write and write some more. I don’t think you can know if you want to dedicate your life to writing till you’ve tried it, till you’ve worked at it regularly. If you still want to be a writer: good luck.