I’m not exactly sure when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I do remember that during my teenage years, that for a few years, I wanted to be a lawyer – which is because I used to watch a very glamorous TV programme called L.A. Law and I also liked arguing. Then for another few years, I wanted to be a Managing Director of some company, it didn’t matter what industry or sector, the key was that I had the title Managing Director, and when people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I used to tell them, very seriously, “An M.D.” because I thought that the abbreviation made me sound like I knew what I was talking about.
I never even thought of writing as something one could pursue as a profession or commit one’s working life to. By which I mean, of course I knew other people did so, but it just didn’t occur to me that it was something that I could do.
What I do remember is that I seemed to have a talent for writing from quite a young age. English teachers always praised my stories; other teachers used to use words like “lucid” and “articulate” and “fluent” to describe my essays; when I was at boarding school, and my friends and I wrote to each other in the holidays – these were the days when phone calls from the landline were rationed – they would all ask me to write more frequently because my letters made them laugh. So that having a sense of being good at something – and that something being writing – was always there. But even when I went to university, I decided to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics, not Literature. Even then, I never even thought of writing as something one could pursue as a profession or commit one’s working life to. By which I mean, of course I knew other people did so, but it just didn’t occur to me that it was something that I could do.
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Yet by my final year of university that I decided what I wanted to do was write novels. I’m not sure why I came to this decision, other than the fact that I had more time than ever to read novels, and the more I read, the stronger my conviction that this is what I wanted to do, too! But I still had rather odd notions about writing then, it seemed glamorous (which it really, really isn’t), it felt that it had to be something pursued without any other life demands – like paying bills – and I therefore thought that what I needed to do was do a lucrative job for ten years, save up money, and then write my novel. So, I found myself a job at a credit card company. Now, never having done more than a few weeks work experience here and there, I had no idea at this point how poorly suited I was to corporate life. Needless to say, I was miserable. I mean really, deep-down miserable. I felt angry a lot of the time, wondering why I had ended up doing something I hated. I resented having to toe the corporate line, and the company resented me for constantly asking questions which they didn’t want to answer. For me, it felt like everything they said was bullshit – and what a writer does is cut through the bullshit! And then one day, I decided: enough is enough. I cannot do this anymore. I have to have some integrity. I cannot be a person who ticks boxes and smiles at the boss just to make my way up the career ladder.
Willpower is critical when you embark on a project that has no one else’s backing or patronage. The drive has to come from within.
And so I wrote my first book. I went to work in the day and wrote in the evenings and at the weekend. It requires an awful lot of self-discipline, especially when you’re in your early twenties and everyone is going out and having fun, to turn down invitations in order to focus on your work. I don’t mean that I became a complete hermit but I always kept in mind the bigger picture and what I wanted to achieve. Willpower is critical when you embark on a project that has no one else’s backing or patronage. The drive has to come from within.
And what you choose to write about has to come from within, too. There are always trends in publishing, with editors looking for the next this or that, but you can’t tell a story convincingly if you don’t believe in it yourself. Because what readers connect with, regardless of what you choose to write about, is authenticity – that the writer knows, cares and understands what they’re writing about. All three of my books are political in one way or another, either small p, capital P, or, indeed, both! For me, politics is all about the intersection between a person’s personal, private relationships and how they present themselves to the world. For every single character in my books, I always think about what – time, place, personal experience – has made them who they are and what drives them. For me, more than a concept or plot, a story hinges on its characters. At least, when I read, that’s what I’m most interested in: what makes us who we are and why do we do what we do. With my latest book, The Antagonists, although there is a lot about very specific political situations, underneath that, what I am wondering is: how did this situation come about? Sometimes, seemingly innocuous events in a person’s personal life snowball into matters of great importance to wider society.
For me, a writer is a friend. A friend whom you will disagree with at times, but who, by turns, will also open you up to new experiences and ways of thinking, challenge you, make you laugh, provide you with comfort and solace, give you that wonderful feeling of “That’s exactly what I thought, too!”. In the end, writing is simply about making a connection.
Tina Biswas writes novels and screenplays about whatever inspires her. She lives in London with her husband and young daughter. She frequently daydreams. The views expressed are the author’s own.