As the new school term gets underway, TAWP caught up with a writer who’ll be spending most of his year in schools. Bali Rai has a real commitment to get children to read. For Bali, the greatest thing about being a writer is for a young reader to say ‘your book made me want to read more books’. He enjoys the honest feedback from readers he meets during his school visits and indeed, some of the more eccentric ones may find themselves turning up as characters in his next book…
What’s it like primarily writing for teenagers?
It’s great. I love telling stories from a teen point of view. I love being able to think back to my own teens and draw from my experiences. And I love meeting my readers too although there are lots of adults who read my stuff. To be honest when I write I don’t sit there thinking that i’m writing for any particular age group. I just write novels which happen to have teen protagonists.
Could you tell us more about your experiences in schools?
My school visits are a major part of what i do. I love being able to confront people with the issues that i raise and to get their opinions on
them. they also help me keep in touch with my primary audience and are always great fun – even the slightly strange ones. I couldn’t do my job without doing the visits too as they are a brilliant way of testing new ideas and writing.
What do you hope to achieve through your writing and school visits?
I started out wanting to encourage more young people to read. I wanted to write about experiences and people that were being neglected by mainstream literature and i wanted to write the kind of books I would have loved as a teen. I wanted to make reading about multicultural themes seem normal rather than for it to be, as it still is in my opinion, some kind of token gesture. And mostly i wanted to tell stories. Nothing has changed.
What have you got planned over the next academic year?
Schools, schools and more schools! I seem to get so many requests and between myself and my agent, Penny, we try to fit them all in. I’m also going to be doing a lot of writing, some of which I hope to try out with pupils. I’m hoping for a fun year and I know it will be.
What do you remember about being a teenager?
Just read the books! I remember friends and emotions and first loves and all the other stuff that comes with hormones. I remember the hopes and dreams I had, not only for myself but for my friends and family and the wider world. I remember being inquisitive and political and wanting to learn new things all the time and i haven’t changed one bit. I just have less hair on my head.
What’s been your most embarrassing moment as a writer?
I haven’t really had one. There are odd moments – like forgetting someone’s name or spelling someone’s name wrong when i’m signing. I also hate getting asked questions about grammar as the school I went to never taught it to us so sometimes my lack of knowledge about terms rather than specifics tends to embarrass me. But it’s all part of the fun. I also called Jacqueline Wilson ‘old’ once, on a panel event, and she was sitting next to me. She’s so lovely though. She just told me she’d get me later.
What advice would you give to wannabe authors?
My advice is simple. Read lots of books and practice your writing everyday if you can. Try and develop your own voice and never be afraid to write what you want to. And do it for the right reasons. Don’t go into it thinking that you want to be the next JK Rowling. Just be the next you. And if you meet any actual authors bug the hell out of them. The nice ones won’t mind at all.
Bali Rai was born in Leicester in 1971. His debut novel Unarranged Marriage received fantastic reviews and has since been shortlisted for nine regional book prizes. Bali Rai is a full time writer and has just released his sixth novel, The Angel Collector. For more information about Bali Rai you can visit his website at http://www.balirai.co.uk