Bali Rai has written over forty novels about teenagers and children. Born in Leicester, his writing is inspired by his working-class multicultural background. a leading voice in UK teen fiction, Bali is a passionate advocate of libraries, reading for pleasure and promoting literacy. Now, he is a judge for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s MyVoice Creative Writing Competition. We met him earlier in the month and asked him about his inspirations for writing, how he was first published, and what social justice means to him.
Who inspired you to write stories?
My biggest inspiration was Sue Townsend. She was my hero and my role model, and from my home city of Leicester. Her writing gave me the confidence to write about everyday people – the next door neighbours, if you like. There were also other writers like Roald Dahl and CS Lewis etc but the most important for me was Sue.
What was your route into getting published?
I showed a manuscript I’d been working on to a friend whose mother worked as a literary agent and they were very taken by it I signed up with them and the first publisher that saw the book wanted it immediately. I was a little fortunate in that regard although the hard part came afterwards, finishing and editing the novel and then writing even more.
It’s about making sure we act with kindness, tolerance and respect towards each other, no matter who we are or where we come from.
What does social justice mean to you?
My view of social justice is about making sure that everyone in society has equal rights, and equal and feasible access to free education, opportunity and wellbeing. It’s about making sure that those most fortunate pay their fair share of taxes, and creating a world in which profit matters less than happiness and the Earth isn’t being destroyed for financial gain.
It’s about children feeling safe and happy and being able to go about their daily lives without fear or prejudice. It’s about combating poverty, homelessness and inequality. And it’s about making sure we act with kindness, tolerance and respect towards each other, no matter who we are or where we come from.
What are your top 5 useful tips to help young storytellers along the path of their creative writing?
First, read as much as you can. If you don’t read, you cannot be a writer.
Secondly, practice your craft. Write as much as you can, as often as you can.
Thirdly, observe the people around you and the ways in which they interact to help you create better, more rounded characters.
Fourth, make sure you describe things that are important and equally, leave out superfluous descriptions that do not help a reader’s understanding. If they walk through a door, do we really need a description if that door isn’t central to the story like the wardrobe in CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe? Descriptive writing is vital but don’t overdo it.
Finally, and this is a huge one, show us the important actions/drama/situations, don’t just tell us about them. This is vital. If something is central to a story, we need to see it.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone entering the MyVoice competition?
Your pieces will be short, so don’t think about writing an entire story. View it as a moment within a wider story or a chapter perhaps. Short pieces can have their own proper structure (beginning, middle and end) but they aren’t novels. Make sure every word is important too. Don’t add anything that doesn’t help move your piece along. And try and write informally where possible. A narrator should be having a conversation with the reader. Use your own voice, even if it’s not about you, as your starting point. Follow the characters emotions first and foremost. The physical drama is fine but it’s the emotional content that readers actually connect with on the whole. And most of all – have fun!
Are you 10-25? Do you live in Notts? Have you got a voice that needs hearing? If the answer is a perfect score of three yeses, then click here and find out more about MyVoice.