Dazzling Debuts at Henley Literary Festival

Image: Emma Hooper

Rachael Ball, Emma Hooper & Vaseem Khan in conversation with Joe Haddow: three novelists came together to talk about their debut publications.

Vaseem Khan's ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’ the first of a four part series of novels, sees Ashwin Chopra retired from the Mumbai police force - one of the most corrupt police forces in the world - diverted by the mysterious drowning of a young boy and a baby elephant.

Buy at Amazon UK The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra: Baby Ganesh Agency Book 1

Vaseem said that he wanted to take the reader on a journey to India in ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’ he wanted it to be authentic and for readers to experience all the sights and smells of Mumbai. In the novel Inspector Chopra befriends a baby elephant who becomes his detective sidekick; elephants have complex emotions and relationships.

Vaseem said he was influenced by Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. There are extremities between rich and poor in Mumbai , one family live in a 40 storey tower block for themselves and their 300 servants not far from slum dwellings.

Emma Hooper is a Canadian-born musician and lecturer whose ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ centres on 83 year-old Etta setting off on a 3,232 kilometre trek with a rifle, some chocolate and her best boots, to fulfill her wish to see the ocean for the first time and leaving her unaware husband Otto behind.

Buy at Amazon UK Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Emma’s characters Etta and Otto are loosely based on her maternal grandparents. Her grandfather lived in a landlocked rural farm in Canada and went to Europe to fight in the war aged 17 - the shock of it turned his hair white. Emma had a feminist realisation at the University she lectures in. A female student who rides a motorbike had a mechanical problem and asked male students to help her. Emma thought the student was the most competent, knowledgeable person about bikes to fix the problem herself. And changed her protagonist to a woman, Etta.

Emma writes about home because she’s not there anymore. Eleven years of living in the UK means she has the objectivity to write about Saskatchewan and her home country.

Emma is also a musician, rhythm is an important part of writing and it affects our experience when reading. In her novel there are some really short chapters, and she uses white space, because in music, silence is as important as the notes.

Rachael Ball’s ‘The Inflatable Woman’ is a graphic novel which tells the story of Iris, a zookeeper looking for love when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Rachael studied art, worked as an artist and is now an art teacher. She used to work for a comic called Deadline, then the Radio Times and computing magazines.

Buy at Amazon UK The Inflatable Woman

Rachael talked about how graphic novels have become more popular for children, such as The Phoenix comics.

In ‘The Inflatable Woman’ sometimes there are pictures with no words so the reader can use their imagination about what is happening. The protagonist Iris is a zoo keeper who calls herself ‘ballet girl’ and is online dating ‘sailor boy’. She has fantasies to help her with the trauma of breast cancer which the novelist Rachael herself had. She said she found some chapters upsetting to write and draw as she relived those experiences.

Joe Haddow asked each author about their writing process and their journey to being published. Vaseem has a full time job at UCL for the Department of Security and Crime Science. He is an insomniac and writes in the early morning. He listens to the Beatles or cricket commentary when writing. Over a twenty –three year period he wrote six books and gave up on being published. Now he has a four book deal.

Emma has a beautiful writing space but doesn’t use it. She has short bursts of writing in-between lecturing and playing viola. ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ is her first published novel - picked up by Penguin Canada, she has written two others. The first as a teenager and the second got her an agent and each book has a soundtrack. She listens to two or three albums for each novel and it takes about two years of listening to the same ‘writing music’ to complete them.

Rachael has a desk in the corner of her lounge. She wrote ‘The Inflatable Woman’ as a blog, which meant she stuck at it. Rachael said that blogs are great because you’re self-publishing and making progress. She can’t listen to anything when writing to avoid external influences. Rachael previously wrote a kid’s picture book over eight years, she likes lots of the paintings but didn’t feel it had enough of a narrative. ‘The Inflatable Woman’ was story boarded.

Rachael said that networking helped on her journey, she joined ‘Ladies Do Comics’ in London and through this group she got an agent and through the agent she got a book deal with Bloomsbury.

These writers showed through perseverance and their unique approaches they have all achieved their dream. The journey to being published takes stamina and you may not be able to give up your day job, but listening to the ‘dazzling debuts’ would have inspired and encouraged anyone plugging away at a creative project.

(c) Wendy Thomson 2015 @topgirls

12.30pm Town Hall, 30th September 2015
Henley Literary Festival

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