In her monthly column, Nupu Press shares her personal path of writing a first novel:
The story of my book begins with another book: one I had started for a writing class in college.
The narrator of my story was a young Indian man who heads off to boarding school where he meets his Bangladeshi roommate. I was not a man, nor Indian (I had at that point only visited India on a cursory basis) nor had I ever attended boarding school. However, the confidence of youth meant I could pick up any persona and scribble down tall tales.
The professor and students – generally a tough crowd – seemed enthusiastic in their response. What started as a short story grew to become a novel. I titled it Dead Fish Float Downstream for reasons I thought terribly clever at the time.
Only how could I write about boarding school or India with any propriety when I was familiar with neither? My knowledge of both came from books and films. It would be like a photocopy of a photocopy, a faint imprint of something that didn't quite belong to me. So, I re-set the novel to some years later, when the narrator visits his boarding school friend, Rafi, in Dhaka one summer.
While not as familiar with Dhaka as people who had grown up here, I at least had a relationship with the city that could ground the story in a milieu I could comfortably explore. I gave Rafi a cousin, Pippa, and the book evolved to how the three friends spent the summer in Bangladesh.
Six years later, with the novel complete, I contacted my writing professor and asked if he could read my manuscript. Not wanting to be distracted by others' works-in-progress while busy with his own book (a stance I now whole-heartedly adopt) he very generously put me in touch with an agent friend in London.
I sent it to the agent (who later became the head of Bloomsbury) and she read it over that weekend. She called me to say it wasn't right for her, but she hoped I kept writing.
My later experiences with agents proved to be dramatically different, even when introduced by friends: they could ask for the full manuscript and still disappear into a black hole, never to be heard from again; most never acknowledged the manuscript and it would be unthinkable one would agree to meet if the manuscript had been rejected. But I get ahead of myself.
I met the agent to thank her for being so prompt and gracious. I told her another story had been forming in my mind: that of Pippa. The agent kindly said with enthusiasm Pippa was her favourite character, and she would indeed be interested in reading about her.
And so, without a pause, I set aside my six years' work behind Dead Fish, and started on a new novel. I was still young-ish – twenty-six – and I claimed that this new book would have everything I wanted to say about everything: love, death, loyalty, betrayal, redemption, truth and art.
Nupu Press is a writer and film producer. Her blog is at www.nupupress.com