Very few writers make a lot of money, the vast majority of writers don’t. So to come across a writer who is prepared to donate any money she makes from the sales of her novel to charity is very rare and very admirable.
To find out more, I’ve invited Anne Hamilton to answer a few questions about her novel and her writing.
A Blonde Bengali Wife is a travel memoir about my first ever visit to Bangladesh. I went as a volunteer for an international non-government organisation, Service Civil Internationale (SCI) and was lucky enough to travel all over the country over that three month period. I was supposed to be working on health projects in some very rural communities – and I did: we tested eyes, checked teeth, and over-saw immunisations – but I also painted walls, dug fields, picked up litter…whatever was needed.
It was exhilarating, frustrating, and totally unknown. I went through every emotion you can think of from fear and anxiety to sadness to excitement and happiness. When I wrote, I wanted to capture all of that, along with the colour and life, the very essence of Bangladesh as a country much bigger than its monsoon-soaked poverty. I wanted it to be a feel-good story with engaging characters and full of humour, which drew on the fundamental human experiences we all understand. I’ve always had a hankering to plaster the subtitle ‘A rollicking romp through Bangladesh’ on the cover – though to be fair, my idea of what constitutes a rollicking romp is probably quite tame!
I do call A Blonde Bengali Wife travel chick-lit (accepting it’s not fiction and as many men as women read it). Chick-lit, as a genre, is too often written-off as light and fluffy with the implication it’s poorly written, which is nonsense. Good chick-lit is affirming and – once the irritations, obstacles and adversities are overcome – has a happy ending. That happy ending is, by default, the beginning of something new, usually a relationship. In my mind, this love affair is me and Bangladesh. If the travelogue had been fiction, there would also have been endless scope for romance; I visited beautiful places of which dreams are made, generally in the company of a very good-looking man. He was also kind, patient, fun – and just longing to be described for posterity as a ‘red-hot sex god’…
You’ve chosen to self-publish this new edition of the book. What made you choose this route and what advice would you give other writers considering the option of self-publishing?
Self-publishing, as an eBook, was a bit of an experiment. When my contract with the original publisher came to an end, I’d just finished working with Claire Morley, on the final edits of her novel Tindog Tacloban. Claire had decided to self-publish and in researching how, she became something of an expert. She realised there was a gap in the market for a business offering assistance in eBook production and set up myepublishbook.com. We decided that an eBook ‘reprint’ of A Blonde Bengali Wife would be a perfect case study for both of us. It also meant a continued, active presence for the book, and thus for Bhola’s Children, the charity it supports.
I have always affected studied disinterest in the post-writing production of formatting, marketing, self-promotion and the like, mostly because I was ignorant and scared of them. Learning the ropes with someone who knew what to do and was more than happy to take over the technical bits that made it Kindle-ready, meant it was not just manageable but enjoyable and I had control over the whole process. Ultimately, the product, the deadlines, the outcomes were my own – though without Claire there is no chance A Blonde Bengali Wife would have made #1 Bestseller on publication.
If I have one piece of advice, it would be to remember that there are no short-cuts in self-publishing; to ensure a good product, authors have to be as tough on themselves as the most critical literary agent. In the first place, the book should be well-edited, proofread and accurately formatted. Then it’s important to invest in tireless promotion and marketing – contacting reviewers, arranging blog spots, utilising social media like Facebook and Twitter – until you wonder when you’ll ever have time to write again. But most of all, I’d say enjoy the self-publishing process and the launch itself, and never, ever say ‘it’s just an eBook’.
Did you have any reservations about using real characters and events in your book?
Initially, the pitfalls of writing a non-fiction account never occurred to me. I started out by writing a diary, the idea of it becoming a book came much later. When it did, there was no question that truth and reality were the essential ingredients if I wanted to show another side of Bangladesh. And that’s been borne out by the number of strangers, worldwide, who have got in touch or written reviews to comment on the familiarity of the experiences in the book.
Of course, I worried that I might misrepresent or upset the people – the ‘characters’ – to whom I’d become very close, but I can honestly say that I’m still friends with everyone who has both starred in it and read it! One of the most special Amazon reviews I’ve had recently is from Mitali Kabir, whose family, the Hoques, virtually took me in to their home in Dhaka.
I did make a conscious decision to leave some things out. I had to, the original manuscript was probably 150 000 words long (and yes, if I was writing it now, I’d edit even further – what author doesn’t face this dilemma?) Also, there were some stories that really were not mine, there was ill-health, tragedy, sadness along the way, which affected people I met and were very significant, but too personal to be recorded as part of my journey.
All proceeds from sales of the book go to Bhola’s Children. Can you tell us more about the charity?
Bhola’s Children is a UK-based charity that supports a home and school for children with disabilities on the island of Bhola in Southern Bangladesh. I’m a Trustee, and have been since its formation. The Chair of the Trustees is my former literary agent, Dinah Wiener. Dinah agreed to represent the book long before the first publication of it; she thought it was a wild card but it made her want to visit Bangladesh. That she did, and came across the small community which was to become Bhola’s Children. Since then, we have both visited it many times and it’s a lovely place to be.
A Blonde Bengali Wife is not about Bhola’s Children, but it is the book that inspired the charity, and the modest proceeds have always gone directly to it. We’ve managed to build a substantial house and workshop there, replacing the flimsy shelters that never withstood the extreme weather, to improve the education and health facilities for the children, and to continue raising awareness in the community of disability issues. Bhola’s Children currently has about fifty children and young people in its family, and has made a difference to so many more.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently editing my first novel, Chasing Elena. It’s a story with another strong sense of place – Cyprus – but this time it’s definitely fiction! It’s a dual narrative novel, by which I mean it’s narrated by two characters in two different time settings. In 1974, the time of the Turkish intervention, Elena is ten years old and telling her story of life as a refugee on the island. Thirty years later, her childhood friend, April, is at a crossroads in her adult life, and goes to Cyprus to seek out Elena…
I had always intended the traditional route of trying to find a literary agent and publisher for Chasing Elena, but in the event that doesn’t work, self-publishing is no longer the alien idea it once was. When I’m not writing, I’m lucky enough to work as a creative writing tutor, and as an editor with other authors working on their own first novels. I never fail to find inspiration in all of it.
You can buy the book and find out more about Anne by following the links below. A Blonde Bengali Wife is certainly going to the top of my tbr pile!
A Blonde Bengali Wife is available from Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016UDI86I
and Amazon.com amzn.com/B016UDI86I
Twitter: @Anne_ABBW and @AnneHamilton7