Glasgow Writers: Leela Soma
Bloody Scotland – Leela Soma shortlisted
‘I am shortlisted for ‘Perfect Pitch’ Competition and thrilled to be on it. I’ll pitch this ‘spicy new Indo-Tartan noir’ ‘ Mayhem At The Mela’ on 15th September , 2013 and hope the panel are blown away by the new Asian detective in Glasgow, Mr. Patel. www.bloodysco…h-perfect-2013/ ‘
Leela Soma grew up in Madras surrounded by books and relatives who were involved in writing for journals on law and medicine, but she enjoyed writing for fun. After moving to Scotland she enrolled in a Saturday morning writing class, where she was taught by the author Laura Marney.
Leela loved the classes and encouraged by Laura’s approach, she then signed up for creative writing classes at the University of Glasgow’s Department of Adult and Continuing Education. Despite enjoying her role as Principal Teacher of Modern Studies, when the opportunity arose, she decided to take early retirement and focus on her writing.
Apart from her desire to write, Leela was further driven by the a belief that ‘there was a need for Asian voices be heard – a bit like James Kelman’s working class’. She points out that, ‘in Glasgow there are many Indian doctors, lawyers and shopkeepers but a dearth of writers’.
She speaks enthusiastically about Seeds of Thought, the spoken word event, which takes place at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, and where creative ideas and different cultures are shared. African culture is represented through writing and traditional African ‘mbira’ music. Leela admires the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who writes mainly about Nigerian immigrant experience in America.
Leela’s experience of having moved from Madras to Glasgow has been encapsulated in her collection of poetry, Madras to Milngavie, which was self-published for charity and printed by a cousin back in India. She loves writing poetry but finds that she cannot approach this in any disciplined way but rather: ‘ideas come when I’m half asleep, almost like a dream, so I keep a book by my bedside and scribble down my ideas’.
Her poem Light was published in Gutter Magazine:
‘He is never born, and never dies.
He is in Eternity:…
He does not die when the body dies’
The Bhagavad Gita (c.500 BC)
A road, a path unknown, a familiar quest
In the inroads of our being, not in rest
Sea breeze salt laced on mourning faces dark
Still night, words unspoken, sobs distilling, mark
Flesh, bone, cremated ashes from dust to dust
Reincarnating life anew, the shadows sieved
Maya released, the product of yesterdays lived
In darkest sorrow we desire pain – the impression of life
A mother, father, a child, love and strife
By material things are memories made
A sari, a thumbed book, an unopened satchel’s shade
A life unfulfilled in our mind’s eye
While bright Consciousness, the Light Eternal
Moves on to the ether world upstanding
We mourn, not ever understanding.
Glossary- (Maya- Unreal/Illusion)
Leela Soma ©
Leela approaches writing prose in ‘a more disciplined way’ – sitting in front of her computer with a very definitive notion of where she is going. Albeit, as the story progresses ‘her characters have a tendency to take over’.
Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and publications and she won the Margaret Thompson Davis Trophy, for the first 10,000 words of her first novel Twice Born. Leela has been encouraged in her writing by none other than Willy Maley, Professor of Renaissance Studies (English Literature), University of Glasgow, who commended her in his book Discovering Scottish Literature, published by Scottish Book Trust. Thereafter, he urged her to: ‘finish the novel.’ She did, and won Strathkelvin Writes Best New Writers Trophy.
Twice Born was followed by Bombay Baby, published by Dahlia Publishing. – another book reflecting Scottish – Indian connections. Bombay Baby was reviewed in Scotland on Sunday by prize winning author, Suhayl Saadi, who recommended the book as: ‘an engaging, upbeat piece of popular fiction.’
Leela has also been active promoting literature in Glasgow, serving on the committee of Scottish Writer’s Committee and performing at Aye Write with the Federation of Writers Scotland. She has also performed at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has played a key role at Milngavie Book and Arts Festival, presenting her own work and chairing the New Writer’s Panel. Last year she was chair of their event New Writers in the Digital Age.
Leela’s last book of three short stories was an ebook made by The PotHole Press, this included Boxed In. This story was commissioned by Glasgow Women’s Library for their event 21 Revolutions. A podcast has been created of Leela reading from Boxed In.
The story was inspired by Annie Besant, exponent of Theosophy:
‘In 1893 she landed in India, … her splendid presentation of Indian philosophy and her undisguised personal preference for the Indian spiritual heritage, won the support of orthodox Brahmins to Theosophy. The transformation of the religious life in India, particularly among Hindus, is one of the wonders she performed. She was an untiring worker for the upliftment of women, and pleaded again and again for a radical change in social conditions, but never desired any modification of the Indian woman’s temperament which she held to be one of the most spiritual in the world.’
Besant’s dedication to improving the position of women in India particularly captured Leela Soma’s, attention alongside Besant’s concerns with the plight of the Matchstick Girls. Her book highlighting the abominal working conditions at the Bryant and May Match Factory, White Slavery in London, was published in 1888. (http://anglais.u-paris10.fr/spip.php?article84)
Leela speaks with feeling about the plight of many women who, even today, experience low pay and dangerous working conditions. ‘In 2012 not long after I had written Boxed In 56 people died in a fireworks factory in India’. She feels that ‘it is important that the voices of such people are heard through literature’.
At the moment Leela is looking forward to a quiet summer, however, she is planning a third novel but ‘doesn’t want to give anything away’.
As Prof Willy Maley might say: Watch out for more from Leela Soma.
Ayah – a poem by Leela Soma – November, 2014.
Pat Byrne, April, 2013.
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