Sunday, 22 November 2020

Meet the author - Leela Soma

I recently had a great chat with author Leela Soma about her new crime novel Murder at the Mela, and I'm delighted to be able to share that here on my blog. 

Leela's novel is set in Glasgow and features the newly promoted DI, Alok Patel. He and his team are faced with solving a nasty murder when a young woman's body is found under the bushes in Kelvingrove Park. But let Leela tell us a bit more about it!

CMcK: Hi Leela. I’ve just finished reading your latest novel, Murder at the Mela, which was published by Ringwood in November 2020. I loved it and am looking forward to hearing all about it and the writing process. First of all, what’s the Mela of the title?


LS: Mela is a Sanskrit word that means ‘a gathering’ ‘ a fair’ . It could be for religious, business or to meet up for cultural reasons. This year, 2020, we are celebrating 30 years of the Mela in Glasgow. What started as a tiny ‘gathering’ of the Asian community in 1990, soon became an annual ‘fair’ for all of Glasgow and Scotland. I think the Glasgow Mela is to Glasgow what The Notting Hill Carnival is to London.


CMcK: Give us a quick summary of the plot, and the main character, DI Alok Patel – the new man in town.


LS: Alok Patel is an ambitious young police officer who has just been promoted to Detective Inspector and the novel starts with his first murder case that he has to solve. Nadia Ahmad’ s body is found at Kelvingrove Park, where the Mela was held. Was it a racist murder or an honour killing? As the story unfolds, the reader gets a glimpse of not only whodunnit, but also the life of Asians in Glasgow and their interactions with the host community.


 CMcK: The book is set in Glasgow, in 2015. Was it important to you to choose these setting details?


LS: It had to be Glasgow the city I know intimately and have lived here all my adult life. Why 2015? I have been writing this book for a few years and that year was important for also plot purposes.


CMcK: This is your first crime novel and you really keep the reader guessing till the end to find out ‘whodunnit’.  Did that complex plotting come easily to you? Did you enjoy the challenge?! 


LS: It took me years to get the craft of writing a crime novel just right! My previous two books were general fiction. This had to be well planned, the red herrings plausible and the plot tight enough to make it a real whodunnit. I enjoyed the challenge but it did take me quite a few attempts and getting expert advice from real policemen, to get it right.


CMcK:  As well as being a page-turner, Murder at the Mela features strong social commentary, conveyed very naturally through the warmth of the characters. You introduce the religious divisions in the Asian community, and you also show the plight of some disadvantaged characters in Glasgow. How important was it to you for your novel to be socially aware like this?


LS:  My earlier novels have always reflected the society in which we live. The tensions between Asians in Glasgow, who are not a homogenous group, had to be addressed. Many readers are not aware of such differences. As for the disadvantaged, they are part of our society and writing about their plight was important to me. I hope it also made the plot more interesting.


CMcK: What about influences? Who are your favourite novelists and crime novelists?


LS: That is a hard question to answer. In India the popular crime writers when I was growing up were Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle. Contemporary Scottish crime writers have been Ian Rankin, Alex Gray and Val McDermid. I must read more crime fiction, but I also love world literature so I am always lacking time to indulge in both.


CMcK: Murder at the Mela introduces us to a cast of very appealing characters. Can we look forward to a sequel?

LS: I have an outline for DI PATEL 2 but the pandemic has not been very conducive to writing. At least for me. Zoom events and promoting this novel have kept me busy. Perhaps in 2021, I will sit down to write it.

CMcK: I hope so! You’re a prolific poet and have published two other novels. Tell me a bit about them.


LS: Poetry is a completely different skill. It comes from the subconscious, I am not able to pinpoint what drives me to pen them, but I get enormous satisfaction from seeing the verses on the page once it is written and rewritten.

The other two novels were almost a mission. I am a voracious reader and looking around the bookshelves of any bookstore I found it hard (even now) to see many books by Scottish Asian writers. I felt I had to try and share our experiences too and hope that younger generations will continue to fill this void.


Leela Soma

CMcK: What made you want to become a writer?


LS:  I have always loved reading. As you can see from the answer above I wanted to write down our stories. I enrolled in classes at Glasgow University Adult Continuing Education on Creative Writing classes and found that I enjoyed writing. When I took early retirement I found that I have more time both to write and to procrastinate.


CMcK: Could you give us links to your website, and other sources where we can find your work?


LS:  My website is: 

Twitter :@Glasgowlee

Facebook and Insta : Leela Soma. 

Books are all available on Amazon, Waterstones and the new one from Ringwood Publishing.


CMcK: Thanks so much for giving us these insights into Murder at the Mela!


LS: Thank you for having me on your blog. It’s been a pleasure. And your book Incunabulum is a superb read.

CMcK: Awww, thanks!

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Incunabulum reviewed in Northwords Now


One of the things that has frustrated me most in my writing career over the last thirty years is that I can't persuade publishers to take my novels. Doesn't that just mean you're no good as a writer? I hear you say. Well, maybe. Yet I've won accolades and prizes for my short stories, the memoir I co-wrote was a best-seller, and I've been given writers' bursaries and fellowships. It's bizarre! Rejections are always along the lines of 'You write beautifully, but...' e.g. 'not what we're looking for at the moment' / 'not right for our list at the moment'. 

In 2007, The Daily Telegraph newspaper ran their 'Novel in a Year Competition', judged by author Louise Doughty. I submitted the opening chapters of a post-pandemic novel I was working on, and was thrilled when it reached the longlist and had an extract actually published on their website. (You can still read it there today, though it's behind a paywall now.) I acquired an agent, and he tried his hardest to sell it to publishers on my behalf, but it got nowhere. At that time, I was told my writing 'fell between two stools'. In other words, it was judged to be neither sufficiently literary nor sufficiently commercial. The agent recommended I cut the beginning, starting, instead, with the 'shoot-em-up' scene. Hmm.

Maybe I'm too thrawn to have my novels published in the mainstream. Too stubborn. The thing is, Incunabulum is the opposite of a 'shoot-em-up' kind of novel. While there are action scenes - fight scenes, violence - this is at heart a novel about a woman who yearns to belong: to be loved and to love in return. It's about an older woman who has been emotionally isolated for most of her life, yet when the world around her is devastated by a pandemic, she ultimately finds herself surrounded by familial love and everything that 'home' represents.  

But how to get that published? The agent and I gave up and moved on. Incunabulum lay dormant in my computer files. Until early 2020, when I decided (now aged 64) that I'd nothing to lost and might as well revive it and publish it myself. So I did, with the help of Keith at PotHole Press. We published it a week into the UK Covid-19 lockdown. Did it sell? Hardly at all. Friends and acquaintances bought it and I was overjoyed at their feedback (and reviews on Amazon!), but the literary establishment is closed to self-published or 'indie' authors. It's close to impossible to get the book stocked by the distributors from whom libraries and bookshops obtain their stock. And the newspapers and literary journalists don't take it seriously. After all, if a publisher can't see its merits, why should they?

That's why I am so thrilled today to see that the Scottish literary magazine Northwords Now has reviewed it. Most important of all, Valerie Beattie's review treated my work seriously, discussing the themes that underpin my writing with academic insight and precision. It's impossible for me to describe how valued that makes me feel. So, sales or no sales, indie publishing Incunabulum has been worth it.