11 APRIL 2021
Write On! interviews Pen to Print alumni Juneha Chowdhury.
Juneha Chowdhury is a former teacher and agented writer from east London. She won the Pen to Print Book Challenge in 2018 and is a regular contributor to the Pen to Print Magazine Write On! and Write On! Extra. She is in the process of revising her latest project, hoping to get it traditionally published.
WO: How would you describe your writing to someone new to it?
JC: My writing is raw and realistic, a real mix of laughter and tears. It’s probably because I believe that, just as there is a lot of strength in vulnerability, equally, there is a lot of vulnerability in humour. Sometimes, you can laugh at things but it’s from a dark place. So, as well as offering a bit of comic relief, humour is a great way of exploring deeper issues and more challenging subject matter.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest project?
JC: I’m still waiting to hear back from my agent on this, so can’t say too much so, I’ll have to be quite vague! It’s about a young woman whose relationship with her husband breaks down and she has to rethink her future. Extremely naïve, and not in tune with the world around her, she slowly, and with great difficulty, learns another way of living far different from the one she already knows.
I’ve been quite clever – I’ve told you the story without actually telling you the story!
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
JC: Other people’s kind words. I’ve always been told I had a way with words and that I should write something. Most of those people, apart from teachers, had not actually read any of my writing. But I think it was the way I explained things they found so powerful.
When I was teaching, I often shared passages I’d written myself with the class. The kids would crack up and say, “That’s so funny!” or, “That’s really sad!” It motivated me. I’d often scribble little passages here and there, hoping one day I’d have the courage to attempt a larger writing project, such as a novel. Eventually, their words helped crash open the half-closed doors to my creative mind and the writer in me fully emerged.
Nowadays, I’m inspired by real stories, especially those that haven’t been told, but need to be. I love exploring the internal world of my characters, the dilemmas they find themselves in and how they navigate their way out of those situations.
For me, writing is both a creative and cathartic process. It enables me to release and direct a lot of my positive and negative energy and connect better with myself. By digging deeper into the thoughts and emotions of my characters, I’m able to develop great empathy with them. In those moments, the line that differentiates the writer from the character often gets blurred and it’s hard to tell who’s invading whose privacy!
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Growth’ and how we navigate spring as the season of change. With that in mind, do you use changes in the natural world to motivate your writing?
JC: On the whole, probably yes. The change in seasons often influences my mood and therefore can shape the ambience of particular scenes I am writing at that moment. In the summer, I tend to do a lot of my writing sitting in the park and I’m inspired by the stunning scenery and natural landscape. And when the weather’s doom and gloom, I steer more towards writing darker scenes, because the atmosphere is conducive to that.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
JC: The piece of advice I find myself wrestling with all the time, the cliche: Never give up. Sometimes, this whole writing process, with its accompanying impostor syndrome, and writer’s block knocks me to the floor but, like a good sportswoman, I manage to (eventually and with a lot of hard work!) pick myself up, dust myself off and deliver my own punches. The belief that your time will come is the only way to get through the pain!
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
JC: I’m waiting to hear back from my agent about my last novel, but in the interim, I’ve started outlining a different project. It’s centred around a mother-and-daughter relationship and the rollercoaster ride that comes with the territory of parenthood. When you’re a mother, there can be big highs and even bigger lows and sometimes life can feel like one long battle. But, as in all of life’s battles, you win some, you lose some.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
JC: Not a creature but a character: a pocket-sized adaptation of Pinnochio would be great. Whereby, if somebody was telling me porkies in his presence, his nose would grow, longer or a buzzer in his head would go off to alert me! I need one of those, because I’m far too trusting for my own good at times.
© Juneha Chowdhury, 2021
First published in Write On! Pen to Print, Apr 2021
This week I am delighted to have a slice of cake with Juneha Chowdhury.
Juneha is a former teacher and agented writer from East London. She won the Pen to Print Book Challenge in 2018 and is a regular contributor to the Pen to Print Magazine Write On! and Write On! Extra. She is in the process of revising her latest project, hoping to get it traditionally published.
What kind of books do you write?
My writing is raw and realistic and usually centred around a female underdog. The stories I write could be real and are often inspired by real stories. The writing itself I’d say pulls on your heartstrings in some places and has you chuckling in others. A lot like myself - I'd say my writing is best described as humour and heart in equal measure. I think humour really connects with readers and is a great way of exploring challenging issues and storylines.
Can you describe your writing why?
Simple - I write because it gives me pleasure. There is nothing more satisfying than when a scene or a thought in my head translates and comes alive on the page and when I read it back and feel every word, I think, 'I wrote that!'
But this is obviously on a good writing day when my anxiety has taken a day off, and I'm not battling impostor syndrome or writer's block. On those days I'm completely free to delude myself! On a bad day though, the words are usually the same, but the punctuation and expression change to, 'I wrote that???' followed by a few expletives!
Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most
This paragraph is from the YA book I won the Book Challenge with. It's from a scene a lot of young British Asian Muslim girls can identify with - that dilemma of wanting to blend in and yet stand out. Being a part of a bigger crowd but yearning to have your own identity. And that stark difference between outward appearance and inner reality.
‘What are you talking about passport to live? A scarf?’ she said.
I watched her stroking it, just as she had Mina’s flawless face so many times.
‘You and Dad gave her so much more freedom, Mum. She put her scarf on. You let her go. She ran free. You never doubted her. She was the model Muslim girl.’
‘How come you never thought to wear it then, Deepu?’
‘Because I wasn’t into playing games, Mum,’ I said, knowing that every minute of every day, since Mina had been gone, I had been doing nothing else.
Her eyes held my gaze for a second.
‘You wanted her to wear the scarf to blend in, but all Mina ever wanted to do was to stand out, Mum. And she did. Scarf or no scarf, Mina stood out, alright.’
She looked down at her lap, at the blown-up picture of the girl at the airport.
‘No, that’s not my Mina.’
‘I know, Mum, it can’t be, we have to keep believing, have hope, that’s not our Mina.’
‘And what about this Deepu, what about this picture? Tell me that’s not my Mina, tell me…’
She threw the picture on the floor. Robocop’s latest discovery: a wild child picture of Mum’s perfect daughter.
It was Mina. Not the Mina she boasted about: the body-hugging top, bottom-hugging trousers; layered and styled long tresses: all visible to the naked eye. She had seen it and judged it on other women’s daughters. Not her covered-up Mina.
But there she was, in black and white.
She could find no more excuses, other than complete denial – even though, the pictures she had in her hands were so obviously Mina – just not the Mina she was prepared to accept as her own.
Tell us about your latest project
I'm still waiting to hear back from my agent on this project, so I can't really reveal too much about it. But I'll try and do it in a roundabout kind of way!
It's about a woman's journey through adversity and how she finds herself after the relationship with her husband, which completely defined her, reaches a bitter end. Left with nothing, she has to put the trauma she has endured behind her to find her inner strength and come out fighting on the other side. But how? That is the question.
That's probably as clear as I am allowed to be at this moment in time!
What is your favourite cake?
I love anything that is both sweet and tangy, so a slice of lemon drizzle cake or lemon curd tart, on its own or with a side serving of hot custard is right up my street.
© Juneha Chowdhury, 2021
First published in But I Don' Like Salad, Apr 2021