It was after a horrific accident that journalist, Radhika Sanghani turned her hand to writing fiction.
Sanghani wrote her first book, Virgin, a 21 year old’s mission to lose her virginity in a month, during her recovery from a coach crash. She was suffering from post traumatic stress and needed to do something positive. ‘I spent a lot of the time crying and was really shaken,’ she recalls, ‘I was okay, but people died.’ The near death experience made her realise that life really is too short and gave her the impetus to put pen to paper.
The act of writing was Sanghani’s therapy, pulling her out of an otherwise difficult time in her life. She spent her days in a cafe, sipping Earl Grey teas and doing her best to make herself laugh. Initially, she says, she wrote for herself – to help her deal with the aftermath – and for her friends. Once the draft was finished she sent it out to an agent and landed a publishing deal soon after. ‘It all happened very quickly.’
Virgin couldn’t be more different to Fifty Shades. It offers a true account of what it’s like to be a young woman in the 21st century. Aside from the laugh-out-loud moments there’s also some attempt at empowering young women. Sanghani cites new wave feminist literature as her influences, and happened to be reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman at the time. It’s this ‘telling it like it is’ approach that adds an authenticity to the book that has won her the favour of readers. Sanghani wants young women to find comfort in the book, knowing they aren’t alone and that ‘They have the power in their hands.’
Growing up, Sanghani says she was lucky to be surrounded by a group of friends – true confidantes that shared everything. ‘They were open and honest about their experiences’ she says. It was these conversations – about often awkward and embarrassing situations – that gave her ample inspiration for the book, and helped her find her voice.
For fans, there’s good news: Sanghani’s writing a sequel. Second time around (no pun intended), things are very different on the writing front. Sanghani’s back at her full-time job at the Telegraph, and spends her weekends writing. She commits to writing five thousand words by the end of Sunday. ‘If it’s your passion, you make time for it.’
Sanghani’s confidence and dedication to her writing is a breath of fresh air. I like that she’s not a literary snob – you know, the type to look at down at genre fiction, which I know is rife in some circles. She’s embraced romantic fiction and done well to make Virgin appeal to women under 25. At 33, some of the humour was lost on me, but I guess that’s the point. Sanghani understands her audience and gives them what they want. For a romantic novelist this is the key to success, but so is originality. I know all too well what happens when writers force themselves to write to a formula (I judged Harlequin’s passion contest two years running) – you end up with a tired, cliched piece of fiction that doesn’t resonate with readers. It doesn’t excite you. Sanghani isn’t afraid to see romantic fiction outside of its tradition – you know where the girl doesn’t end up with the boy of her dreams. The key to making it work, she says, is to be passionate about your writing, the rest will follow.