Tara Guha won the Luke Bitmead Bursary in 2014 and her first novel was published on 1st September 2015. Tara talks to me about how she feels about being a writer...
Two years ago I didn’t describe myself as a writer. Mother, of course. Charity project worker, self-evidently. But writer – one who writes (and had in fact written an entire novel) – not a chance. For years I’d been saying apologetically “I’m writing a novel” but never felt able to use the term writer, fearing questions about publication and generally being “found out.”
Then one night in late November 2014 everything changed. From 8pm to 8.01pm I went from being one who writes to a Writer. Of course, nothing had changed in terms of my abilities or passions, but suddenly the world and I accepted me as the thing that I had in fact been since the age of five. That crucial minute saw me named as the winner of the Luke Bitmead Bursary 2014, an award for unpublished novelists with a publishing deal as first prize. It was the most mind-boggling experience of my life.
I’d spotted the ad for the Bursary back in May. Luke Bitmead was a talented young writer, Legend Press’s first signed author, who tragically took his own life in 2006. His inspirational mother Elaine launched the award with Legend Press to help struggling writers to get a foot in the publishing door – one that is so often closed politely in your face. I was delighted to be short-listed but my expectations of winning were truthfully non-existent. I went along to the Bursary night to enjoying the experience of a night in London, a new dress and the chance to meet fellow “writers.”
Thinking back to that night sends tingles through me even now. I had to make a speech (garbled and grinning), was greeted by my new editor, listened to talk of release dates (it had one. My book had a release date!) and tried to appear calm and composed instead of on the verge of squealing. There are few moments in a life that change its trajectory so completely, but this was one.
Fast forward nine months and Untouchable Things hit the shelves. It’s been a gestation period of frantic activity, excitement, self-doubt and at times total terror. Writing away in my little study is one thing; having people actually hold my book and read my words is quite another. And although I can now (albeit slightly self-consciously) call myself a writer, it’s not as if I really get much time to write at all. Having two young children and working part-time at a mental health charity, the hours where I can actually BE a writer are 9-11pm if I’m lucky. Plus snatched seconds here and there to update my Twitter feed.
But the wonder of holding the finished copy of my book and seeing my name on the cover tells me it’s real and that it’s an experience I want over and over. (Although, if I keep taking nine years from start to finish, I might run out of time.) The finished product is not the main reason we write, or at least it isn’t for me, but to know that I’ve completed something and seen it through, that it now exists outside of me and my paper-strewn study, is an incredibly validating feeling. I want to shout about it, my book, my baby, and tell the world that it’s here, but at the same time I want to retreat, shut the doors, switch off social media and start all over again.
I guess that’s because I’m a writer.
Tara Guha was born to an Indian father and English mother and spent her childhood in the Ribble Valley, passing many a wet day writing poetry and music. After studying English at Cambridge she embarked on a career in the classical music industry in London, promoting artists including Placido Domingo, Paul McCartney and Dudley Moore. Over the years she has also been a freelance journalist, charity worker and has trained as a counsellor.
Tara won the Luke Bitmead Bursary 2014 and her first novel, Untouchable Things, was published on 1 September 2015. She is also a keen amateur pianist, singer and song-writer and lives in the hills of West Yorkshire with her partner and two daughters. The question she is asked most is “Where are you *from*?” She still hasn’t quite worked out how to answer that one.
Follow Tara on Twitter: https://twitter.com/taraguha