Sarwat Chadda is a New York Times bestselling author of MG and YA who loves writing fantasy and adventure.
A first-generation immigrant, Sarwat Chadda has spent a lifetime integrating the best of his Muslim heritage with the country of his birth. There have been tensions and celebrations, but he’d not wish it any other way.
A life-long gamer, he embraced his passion for over-the-top adventure stories by swapping a twenty-year career in engineering for a new one as a writer. That resulted in his first novel, Devil’s Kiss, back in 2009. Since then he has been published in a dozen languages, writing novels such as the Indian mythology-inspired Ash Mistry series, the Shadow Magic trilogy (as Joshua Khan), and the bestselling City of the Plague God, a Rick Riordan Presents title. While he’s traveled far and wide, he’s most at home in London, with his wife, two daughters, and an aloof cat.
When and how did you start writing?
I’ve dabbled for years, but never done anything serious, but then in 2004 a friend suggested I try my hand at writing a proper story. That night DEVIL’S KISS was born.
I wrote pretty much every night for about three years before entering the Undiscovered Voices competition with what was probably my fifth or sixth draft by then.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
I loved THE HOBBIT. I still do. It was read to me at primary school and I was converted. I ploughed through Greek mythology, then Norse, then Celtic, The Arabian Nights and more recently Hindu myths.
I read the Willard Price adventure series and moved, as you do, into fantasy as a teen. The Conan books were probably the biggest influence as they were light on myth, deep on scene setting, and blood raw on action. Then Moorcock and the entire ETERNAL CHAMPION series. I have a thing for melancholy, brooding heroes. Then somewhat belatedly I turned back to Tolkien with LORD OF THE RINGS.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
I wrote my first draft of DEVIL'S KISS filled with enthusiasm and no knowledge. The key moment was finishing it - 100,000 words, most of them rubbish.
I had my first book. It was then that I realized I could become a writer. It’s fulfilling the commitment to write and produce a book that's so important - writing THE END to something. Then I was roundly, and rightly, rejected. Not a problem. I wrote another. Then another. I took classes and entered competitions. I’d decided not to submit to agents until I had won a few, seeing that as my best way of keeping off the slush-pile.
I entered the Cornerstones WOW Factor competition and then, almost by chance, the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition.
I was shortlisted on the WOW Factor and one of the winners with SCBWI. It was this that proved to be the turning point, though I didn’t know it at the time.
Meeting Sarah was the next key moment, but the one I knew was going to change my life was when DEVIL'S KISS went to auction. That was the moment I knew I could quit my day job and become a full-time writer.
Now, a year later, I can honestly say that it’s exceeded my expectations big time.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
I was roundly rejected with my first attempts of writing, and quite rightly so. They were pretty bad. But I made a very conscious decision then to avoid agents and not submit. Agents say that if you write well and have a great story, THEY WILL FIND YOU. That is true. And one way they find you is via competitions.
I wrote for two years solidly, 10pm till midnight, on draft after draft after draft of DEVIL’S KISS. Not rewrites or polishes, but chuck it all in the bin and start again.
So when Sarah called to meet me, I was very anxious, especially as the story she’d read I had subsequently dumped in the bin. I warned her that the new version was pretty extreme and (though I didn’t tell her this at the time) had been violently rejected by a couple of agents as being (and I quote) ‘poisonous and no bookseller, parent or librarian would let a child touch it'.
So thank god Sarah liked it! Still, she wanted it rewritten (keeping the poisonous and vile bits) and that’s what I did.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
I drop the kids off at school and then go straight into the writing. I try and do all the first draft and rewriting in the morning, whilst I’m fresh, and leave the paperwork and correspondence to the afternoon. That’s not rigid but gives me a structure to work with. I try and not write over the weekends, but will do some work Sunday evening (for example this interview), usually stuff I’ve promised to others like interviews or articles.
I’ve taken to writing at my local cafe. Firstly, they don’t have WiFi, so I’m not distracted by idle websurfing or YouTube. I like the background activity. I have a study, but can’t be in it all day - it’s just too dull. I’ve spent most of my life in open-plan offices so can tune out pretty easily.
Inspiration usually comes from places and history. Mythology and religion play a big part in my stories. They are the fundamental blocks on which our world’s cultures have been built.
And real life, of course. Billi wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for my daughters and my role as a parent. DEVIL’S KISS wouldn’t exist if not for my visit to an intensive care unit for babies. All these things tumble around in my brain, and my work is tying them into something that has structure, some sort of meaning.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Write and write and write. Chuck it away and start again. But finish whatever you start.
Accept rejection and learn the craft. It does not come naturally and putting sentences on a page does not equal writing. The harder you are on yourself, the easier agents and publishers will be.
Avoid autobiographical works! Ultimately all characters reflect the writer, but don’t do it in a way that’s obvious, and it usually will be.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
Rewrites. Be prepared for them. Some are very big and you’ll wonder if you can incorporate changes and ideas that have come from your editors. Remember you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t do it. Have confidence in your abilities.
Don’t get over-confident, and take advice!
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
It’s a dinner party so you’d have to invite Oscar Wilde. THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY is one of my favourites.
Mikhail Bulgakov. I’ve only just discovered him but OMG. Insane. He comes across as a very cool cat.
Phillip Pullman. I entered the world of children’s fiction through HIS DARK MATERIALS. He’s probably the main reason I became a writer.
I wish I’d invented Bilbo Baggins. THE HOBBIT is the most perfectly formed children’s book ever.