Welcome Leila Sen
Author of published biography ‘Where Destiny Commands’/’Aegis of Kali’ and poetry.
NOTE: Within some of her responses Leila refers to ‘This book’; ‘In a book such as this’; etc. These refer to the book Where Destiny Commands/The Aegis of Kali. (Links etc. may be found at the end of this interview.)
Do you write under any other name(s)?
I published ‘Canticles: A Book of Poetry’ as Leila Dutt Sen. The reason I did was because many of the poems in that collection had been written in the years before I was married. At that time I was Leila Dutt – Dutt, of course, being my maiden name.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born just as WWII was brought to an end – but India had yet to face two years of tragic bloodshed as the British Raj finally drew to an end, and the country was riven in two. My generation became the bridge between that era of British India and the modern India of today. Much of the old colonial influence still lingered in the country, and I grew up within the educational and social systems the British had installed. Our nuns in school were from Ireland, our subjects and exams were set and corrected in Cambridge, England, the music we listened to, the films we went to see, the story books we read….the fairy stories, mysteries and adventures of Enid Blyton, later the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer, and, of course, Dickens, the Brontes and Austen were all part of my early years.
My father remained in the army, which meant postings every three years, packing and moving the household, the family and our entourage of pets. It entailed changing schools a number of times as well; and, to avoid too much disruption I was sent to boarding school, on and off, from the age of five. Being more or less an only child – my sister, that is my half sister Violette, was twelve years older – I learnt to keep myself happily occupied with my books, and the imaginary world I built around myself. These kept me content in my own company so that I was never lonely. I enjoyed literature and language in school where the nuns encouraged me to write, and chose English as my major in college, together with education and psychology; but it really wasn’t before the age of twenty, when I joined British Airways as a stewardess, that I actually began to dabble in writing – poetry first, and then prose.
What first inspired you to write, and in which genre do you prefer to write?
When I was very young, my sister, Violette, would make up little fairy stories – usually as a bribe to make me finish dinner – and they opened a door for me into a wonderful hidden world. From as far back as I can remember I have had a deep fascination for all magical creatures and sprites; so much so, as a child I was quite certain one day I would find one hiding under a leaf, or flower, or sheltering beneath a toadstool. Later, I began spinning images from my own imaginings into stories and poems, some for young children, some for the grown child in all of us. One from my latter collection – part of it, actually – can be found on the Tourist Board of Wales’s website advertising a lovely place in North Wales called Fairy Gen.
This book, Where Destiny Commands / The Aegis of Kali, is a complete departure from my usual material and style. After my parents passed away, and I began to fit the pieces of their life together, the story seemed to grow inside me. As unbelievable as it may sound, it took a voice of its own that was compelling. It is so far removed from anything I have ever attempted before, completing it took twelve years of research, travels to England to meet the last two surviving officers from my father’s Gurkha battalion – and a deep sense of love and gratitude for the two people who endured so much to find each other and to become my parents.
Research: Which resources do you consider the best?
Naturally, that depends on the kind of book one is writing. My best resources? Books, books, books, and my own imagination. For this book life itself was a particular contributor, with its many experiences and associations. The internet is invaluable, of course, as long as sources are properly checked.
Do you consider your books convey messages to readers?
Not a message as such, more a broadening of views; a look at different cultures and peoples, and a time so very violent it is hard for us to comprehend. If there is any message at all, it would be how lucky we are, and how grateful we should be to those who fought for the world we have today; though not perfect, they were brave enough to do so, and we should safeguard their legacy.
How important do you consider including social and cultural background information in a book? I ask because some readers appear to favour simple quick action packed tales whereas others enjoy the inclusion of detailed background information. Finding a balance can be difficult for authors.
Again, it depends on the book and the reader, of course. In a book such as this, it is important if there is to be any understanding and empathy for the people and the cultures one is reading about. They are familiar to me, the author, but will remain strangers to a reader until that reader is introduced into their homes and their traditional upbringing. Here, in order to avoid the interruption of having to flip back and forth between readings and a glossary, I have attempted to include, as unobtrusively as possible, the English explanation of those foreign words and phrases I consider important. Others, by their tone and context, tend to be self-explanatory.
What advice would you give to authors who are just starting out?
I don’t know if I have much advice to give, I’m still finding my feet and have such a long way to go myself! All I can say is it does take a great deal of diligence and patience, so one really should be able to enjoy the writing process. Pour one’s love of writing and belief in the subject one has chosen into creating a world tangible enough for readers to step into. And then, – oh, this is so much easier said than done! – don’t allow the rejections to get you down.
Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs: What advice would you give, about using real names and descriptions, to authors who write in these genre? I ask because many raise concerns about the issue.
A concern that is very valid. This is my first venture into this literary field, and every author must decide how they are to deal with the subject. I believe personal histories are just that, very personal, and should be respected. My book deals with true events and real life characters that I have researched to the best of my ability, and I have made a sincere attempt to keep as close to the truth as possible without giving offence. After all, the people I have undertaken to write about here – human frailties, strengths and all – have come to be known as ‘The Greatest Generation’.
Do you self-edit or do you think a book should only be professionally edited?
So far I have self-edited, with feedback from a few friends who were kind enough to read the manuscript. I should have liked the benefit of a professional editor but, sadly, could not afford the cost at this stage.
I honestly cannot count the number of times I edited, and re-edited, and re-edited, ad infinitum. Without the expertise of a professional editor, it was a lengthy task that required a great deal of commitment and patience. I did say it took twelve years to complete!
How important do you think reviews are?
I am finding out just how important they are. After all, it makes sense; we all follow recommendations, especially from those with the experience to give it. Reviewers make the time and effort to read and critique books purely for love of the written word, with no compensation other than the joy of sharing their discovery with other readers. An author can only receive this acknowledgement and help with the utmost gratitude.
If you consider reviews important, how do you go about obtaining them for your books?
Besides those that come from friends and random readers, I am finding there are many sites where one can access professional reviewers – Amazon, Goodreads, Indie. And just as it is with every step in the book publishing process, you sift and sort, pick those who might share a similar interest, and send request after request; then wait for an answer. You keep learning as you go along.
How do you go about marketing your books?
I certainly could do with help here! I have recently created an author page, and started on Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook. One can approach local bookstores and libraries as well, and set up readings. As an author, I am happiest writing. Unlike some who find it a lonely pastime, I embrace the solitude of the creative process. Sadly, though, I fall somewhat short in the publicity arena where, I am grateful to say, my husband, Ronjon, and a few good friends help pick up the slack. Equally important, I am grateful to each and every reader who heartens my love of writing by reading my books.
How important do you think book covers are for effective marketing?
Extremely important. The old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, certainly doesn’t apply here! There are stacks of book choices, and the first thing to catch one’s eye, to arrest a potential reader’s attention, is the cover of a book. I believe, to do that, it should stand out from all the rest – enough to entice one to pick it up and flip over to the synopsis which should, in a few convincing words, induce that person to read the book. Both cover and synopsis should be carefully thought out and crafted.
Are you working on another book?
I have a couple of things I would like to get back to, and an idea or two beginning to take shape in my head.
Do you have a preferred genre for when you read?
I enjoy WWI & WWII mysteries/ thrillers/ romances, as well as stories about magic worlds be they past or present, and I can’t get enough of faeries, elves, goblins, witches and wizards. Of course, I love the old classics.
This is an age old question but one I consider of interest. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you like to have with you?
- Pride and Prejudice;
- Brian Froud’s ‘Faeries’; and my book,
- ‘Where Destiny Commands’/’The Aegis of Kali’ – it is very personal, and means a great deal to me.
Please share with us links to where readers may obtain more information and insight into who you are and about your books.
Amazon Author Page
Goodreads Author Page
Amazon Page for Where Destiny Commands
Goodreads Page for Where Destiny Commands
Tourist Board of Wales website (Contains one of Leila Sen’s poems).
Thank you Leila for sharing with us your experiences and knowledge and insights into your writing and marketing processes.
Follow either of the Author Page links above to view all of Leila’s books.