Marisha Pink is a rat race escapee turned author and entrepreneur.
Born and raised in London, from a young age she had an unhealthy obsession with books. She always dreamed of one day writing stories with the power to take readers on a journey, but somehow she wound up studying Chemistry and working in marketing instead.
In September 2012, after five years of climbing the corporate ladder, she decided that it was finally time to take the leap. Backpack in hand, she left everything behind to travel Southeast Asia and complete her debut novel, Finding Arun. She’s been on a mission not to live life by the book ever since.
Eventually returning to London in February 2013, Marisha raised the finance to publish the book through crowdfunding, and joined the self-publishing revolution. Released globally in September 2013, Finding Arun has earned a 5* Readers’ Favorite review, a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and a shortlisting for the inaugural Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction.
Marisha has been featured on BBC London 94.9FM, The Literary Platform, and across several popular blogs and podcasts. Her second novel, Last Piece of Me, the prequel to Finding Arun, was published on 5th March 2015 and is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook.
Hello Marisha! I am delighted today to be chatting with you about your B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Finding Arun! Please tell me a little about your book?
Hi, Stephanie! Thank you for having me on your blog. Finding Arun was my first book and it is an engrossing, coming-of-age tale that will take you on an intimate and personal journey through modern-day India. It charts the story of Aaron Rutherford, a nineteen-year-old Indian boy who was adopted at birth by white British parents and brought back to the UK to be raised. Aaron has always gone along with whatever his parents asked of him, but he has never felt as though he truly belonged in their world, conscious of others’ attitudes towards their ethnic differences. When his adoptive mother dies, Aaron discovers that what he has been told about the circumstances surrounding his adoption is false, and he decides to travel to India in order to seek out his biological family. As he learns more about them, their culture, religious beliefs and way of life, Aaron finally feels like he “belongs” somewhere, but a promising life awaits him back in the UK and he is under pressure to return to it. Eventually, Aaron finds himself at a crossroads, and for the first time in his life, he must be the one to choose his own path, determining who and where he wants to be.
What inspired you to write a coming-of-age story and what do you feel is the importance of writing one?
I was experiencing a period of change and growth in my own life, which in essence is what coming-of-age is all about. Aaron is thrust into an unfamiliar and unexpected situation, and he has to make big decisions that will have a lasting impact on his future, but that can happen to anyone, at any age, and it often happens repeatedly throughout life. When I started writing, Finding Arun had an entirely different premise, but over time I think I began to explore some of my own thinking through the character of Aaron. I think coming-of-age stories (and personal stories in general) are important because readers can connect with them in a very different way to the way in which they engage with other genres. Reading fantasy or thriller books, for example, provides a way to escape real life for a few hours, whilst romance novels can offer up something to aspire to, but with literary stories, readers are more likely to relate to the characters on a personal level and use this to better understand themselves or provoke further thought. We often see successful/happy people as they are now and forget how they got there, but the journey is just as, if not more, important than the destination.
Please tell me a little about Catherine Rutherford.
Catherine Rutherford was Aaron’s adoptive mother. She was a very successful doctor and lecturer, and a devoted wife and parent, but we learn at the start of the novel that she has recently passed away following a short illness. She and Aaron were very close, and she is the reason that he hasn’t felt completely isolated and alienated. Initially, Catherine is presented as someone who was adored by everyone and who could do no wrong, but as the story progresses we discover some unsavoury things about her, which challenge this image of the “perfect woman”. To fully understand her character and motivations, however, you’ll have to read the prequel, Last Piece of Me! It’s written from her perspective, as well as that of Aaron’s biological mother, and details the events and circumstances leading to his eventual adoption.
Why you chose Surrey as one of the settings for your story.
I chose Surrey as the setting for Aaron’s home in the UK, because it immediately conveys a sense of the environment in which he has grown up, for those who are familiar with the area. Surrey is a county just outside of London, and it is considered to be a very affluent area, with a predominantly upper-class, white British population. It is therefore easier to appreciate how and why Aaron’s ethnicity has become his defining feature, because it clearly marks him out from the rest of the community.
I am absolutely intrigued with India’s culture. What is an example of a tradition India holds that your readers might not know about or would be interested in?
Family is very much at the heart of Indian culture and Raksha Bandhan is a festival celebrating brotherhood and love. During the festival, a sister ties a rakhi (sacred thread) around her brother’s wrist to signify her love and wishes of well-being. She offers up prayers, sometimes with an aarti (a tray with a lamp or candle ritually rotated around the brother’s face), and also applies a tilak (coloured powder) to her brother’s forehead. She then feeds her brother one or more bites of traditional Indian sweets and/or dried fruits. In return, the brother vows to protect his sister at all costs, and usually offers her a gift, e.g. clothes, money or jewelry. What people might not know is that this is not restricted to immediate siblings; it is very common to tie rakhi and offer gifts to cousins and close friends as a symbol of kinship, love and protection. Aaron partakes in the rituals of Raksha Bandhan during his visit to India, and the scene is important, marking his acceptance and inclusion by his biological family.
What are the joys and challenges of writing Literary Fiction?
I really enjoy getting lost in the characters’ minds. It’s fun to put yourself in someone else’s (fictional!) shoes, and to explore how they might react or respond to different situations – it’s like living lots of different lives. As a word geek, I also get a great deal of joy out of crafting sentences and tinkering with them until they sound beautiful linguistically, when spoken aloud. I think the challenges are less to do with writing, and more to do with marketing, literary fiction. There aren’t the same big groups of readers organised around it, in the way that there is with genre fiction, so it can be harder to gain visibility and traction. Thousands of great literary works are written every year, but so many go undiscovered by the very people who would enjoy them the most. It’s a challenge for all literary fiction writers, indie or otherwise.
Could you please share an excerpt?
The train was now hurtling along the tracks at speed, treating Aaron to his first sights of rural Indian life. Women in brightly coloured saris could be seen working the rice paddies or sidling down terracotta dirt paths balancing water pots on their heads and babies on their backs. Farmers tended lovingly to their fields beneath the baking sun, whilst water buffalo bathed coolly in ponds using their tails to swat away feasting flies. Uniformed schoolboys raced excitedly alongside the train on their bicycles and gaggles of girls waved shyly at the people passing them by. It was a whole other world and, transfixed, Aaron felt the buzz of excitement growing in his veins. Life seemed simplistic, yet wholly satisfying for the people beyond the train. They had nothing compared to what he had back home, but as they went about their morning rituals there was a contentment evident that was rarely found in the miserable faces of London’s busy urbanites.
Inside the train, the procession continued with a catwalk of beggars competing for change and food scraps, in a battle to demonstrate who was the worst off. A scrawny, elderly man with both his lower limbs missing shuffled through the aisle on his hands and torso, occasionally stopping to massage his stomach for added emphasis. A blind man with a terrible voice burst into religious song and gently bumped his way along the aisle, hands outstretched to receive whatever was offered. Rag-clothed children pleaded pitifully with their eyes and mumbled incomprehensibly while they stroked the arms of fellow passengers, trying to rouse their sympathy. And then came the more unusual characters. Transgender men, cloaked in acid-coloured saris and heavily caked in make-up, stalked haughtily through the carriage clapping loudly and demanding money, followed by a wild-haired man aggressively waving a silver tray in passengers’ faces whilst yelling unintelligibly.
Aaron didn’t know where to look or what to say. He had never experienced such an abject display of poverty and he couldn’t decide whether making a donation would help or simply encourage the string of desperate behaviours he had just witnessed. His fellow passengers appeared to be ignoring the spectacle and even the smiling young gentleman, who had so kindly made space for Aaron to sit down, was violently shooing away the beggars’ advances. It might have been his imagination, but as each beggar inched closer he got the distinct feeling that they were specifically directing their pleas at him, as though being foreign obligated him to donate the most. He couldn’t bear the dismal looks in their eyes and feeling slightly ashamed, he stared at his feet, pretending to fiddle with the straps of his backpack, until the parade passed into the next carriage.
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I move around a lot. Finding Arun was actually written while I was travelling in Southeast Asia, so I think it might be a hangover habit from that period. I find that changing my location helps to get me going again when I get stuck. My favourite spot is at the dining room table, because it looks out onto the garden and it’s so sunny in the afternoon. However, I have been known to write in my bed, in the kitchen and even in the bathroom! I try to write or revise a chapter each time I sit down, which for me is ~2000 words, and I have taken to just getting my thoughts down during the first draft, and then crafting more carefully during later edits. I find that it’s easier to work with something than nothing, even if it’s rubbish! Like a true Brit, I also have to have a cup of tea on the go – it just doesn’t feel right otherwise.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
I discovered indieBRAG through the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), which I joined in 2013. ALLi reviews services and opportunities on behalf of its members, and the community is very proactive about sharing advice and experiences. When I saw that indieBRAG had become a partner member and started to notice lots of other authors commenting about the award favourably, I knew that it was a credible and respectable organisation.
Who designed your book cover?
I run crowdsourcing contests on 99designs.com for my book covers, but I usually end up taking a concept and then tinkering with the final design myself, so I like to think of it as a joint effort! This specific cover was designed by Abhishek Anil Naik, a designer based in Goa, India, but he’s since been banned from the website!
What are you working on next?
I’ve started working on a standalone book that explores life from inside the mind of a young woman suffering from depression, though nobody around her knows about it. It is fiction, but it will draw on real events and experiences, both my own and those of others. It’s probably the most personal book that I will ever write and I feel quite vulnerable opening up in this way, but it’s also proving to be incredibly cathartic and I think it’s a subject that many people will relate to. We don’t talk about mental health issues and that’s part of the problem, so I want to open up a dialogue about it. I have some great ideas about how to present and structure the story, and it will be my first attempt at writing in the first person, so I’m very excited. I’m hoping to have it ready for publication by the end of the year and it’s provisionally titled “I’m Fine”.
Do you stick with just genre?
I don’t know if Literary Fiction qualifies as true “genre”, because the range of stories is so diverse and they don’t necessarily obey a strict convention in structural terms. I will always continue to produce literary works, but I do have some other ideas for Women’s Fiction and a non-fiction series, which I would like to explore at some point in the future. Watch this space!
Where can readers buy your book?
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Marisha Pink, who is the author of, Finding Arun, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Finding Arun, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.