Like me, Sharon Duggal was born and raised in Birmingham. I love to meet authors from the region who celebrate the West Midlands in their writing. Sharon’s debut novel, The Handsworth Times, is published by Bluemoose Books. The story features strong female protagonists (another passion of mine) and is set in the 1980s during the race riots of Handsworth in Birmingham. It is essential reading and an important work of literature from a female British Asian author. You can buy a copy here: https://bluemoosebooks.com/books/handsworth-times. You can also find updates about Sharon’s work on her website www.sharonduggal.com and follow her on Twitter: @MsSDuggal.
Q: How did you come up with the premise for The Handworth Times?
SHARON: The Handsworth Times started as a couple of short stories. I knew I wanted to write about a time and place I was very familiar with (having grown up there) but one that was rarely reflected in anything I read or saw. I wanted to see people like me in books I was reading and as I couldn’t, I decided to write my own.
Q. How does your background/ upbringing inform your novel writing processes?
SHARON: I think all our personal experiences inform what we write in one way or another – not necessarily in terms of putting our own lives directly into the stories but by bringing our unique perspective to the page. Even when writing fantasy or science fiction, a writer’s own life experiences will feed in somehow.
Q. Do you read while writing?
SHARON: Yes, I read all the time. I wrote that book on and off over a period of four years so there will have been many writers and books I read.
Q. Who are your favourite writers and why?
SHARON: I love a very diverse range of writers from Thomas Hardy to Hanif Kureishi, from Toni Morrison to Beryl Bainbridge, from Rose Tremain to Chimamanda Ngozi Aditchie and many, many more. I like South American, French and Russian classics and read many contemporary writers too. At the moment I’ve just finish Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End and am just about to start on Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy Barton. I don’t tend to re-read books but have recently reread One Hundred Years of Solitude and still love it. The only genre I don’t really get on with is fantasy.
Q. Why your chosen protagonists?
SHARON: I have two main protagonists – Anila (a teenage girl) and Usha ( a middle aged woman). I wanted my heroes to defy stereotypes, find strength in other women and lead the change in the plot. They are both based on an amalgamation of women I grew up around including my mother, aunties and sisters. There is a little of me in both of them too.
Q. Do you have a word count limit per day?
SHARON: I do need deadlines as I am not very disciplined but if I impose word counts per day I get a bit stuck. It needs to be about the words rather than the numbers but having said that I do aim for 5000 per week.
Q. What is your experience of the pitch/ synopsis/ agent / publisher submission rounds?
SHARON: I don’t have an agent and was and continue to be rejected by loads of them – not sure why. Perhaps I don’t easily fit into a preconceived idea of what a British Asian woman should be writing about or am writing in a way they don’t think is commercial enough. Luckily I have a great publisher in Bluemoose Books. They are a small independent but are incredibly passionate about the books they publish. I had all but given up hope until they expressed an interest.
Q. What next?
SHARON: I am currently working on my second novel which should be out in early 2020. I am also about to have two short stories published in separate anthologies in the Autumn.
Thank you Sharon.