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Bali Rai

Bali Rai

LEICESTER WRITER

 

Profile

Bali Rai is a novelist. He was born in 1971 and grew up in Leicester. His debut novel, (un)arranged marriage (2001) was published to fantastic reviews and won several awards. The novel has been translated into eleven languages. Following this debut novel, Bali was firmly established as a leading voice in teenage fiction with a succession of acclaimed titles. He attends festivals, book launches and visits schools across Europe and the world.

As a child, Bali wanted to be a footballer or to write stories. Always an avid reader, he hails Sue Townsend, Douglas Adams and Robert Swindells as his writing heroes. Bali grew up reading Dr Seuss and Meg and Mog and his first book purchase was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. He realised he wasn't good enough to play for Liverpool F.C. and after gaining a politics degree in London, he returned to his home city and combined a variety of jobs in pubs and clubs. He wanted to write accessible material for children of all ages and backgrounds, and realising there were no British Asian authors writing for children, he saw a gap to fill. Bali hopes his novels capture Britain's unique multi-racial mix in a range of provincial settings.

For Bali, the greatest thing about being a writer is for a young reader to say 'your book made me want to read more books'. He enjoys the honest feedback from readers he meets during his school visits. Bali visits over 70 schools a year to talk about his work..He writes full time, also producing shorter novels for Barrington Stoke, the first of which, Dream On, was selected for the Booktrustís inaugural Booked Up list, to be available free to every Year 7 school child in the UK. Baliís second novel for young adults, The Crew continued the award success and his third, Rani and Sukh and fourth The Whisperer were both shortlisted for The Booktrust Teenage Prize. Rani and Sukh was selected to represent the UK at the International IBBY Awards and is on the Main GCSE reading list. The book even has its own Facebook tribute group. 2009 saw Baliís first UK hardback, City of Ghosts, which was selected for the Carnegie Medal long list. His latest novel, Killing Honour, has also gained that accolade.

 

Creative Work

From (un)arranged marriage

published by Corgi Books. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited, 2001


As I crossed over Beckingham Road, halfway up Evington Road, I realised why I loved this part of Leicester so much. On one side there was Highfields, an area that loads of people called the ghetto. I suppose a few parts of it were dangerous, but mostly it got a bad rep because loads of black and Asian people lived there and all the racists couldn't handle that. There was this image of it as being full of drugs and prostitutes and gangs. Well, it had all of those things Ė but then so did lots of other areas of Leicester and if some of the people that slagged the place off actually bothered to go see for themselves, they would find big old houses, with huge cellars and attic rooms, named after Greek gods and stuff. I loved those old houses and the way the streets were so narrow, with the odd tree of shrub planted into the pavement. The streets were mostly quiet during the day too. Back when we were younger we played games like kerb-ball and knock-door-run around there.

On the other side of the Evington Road the streets all ran up towards London Road, which led you into Clarendon Park and, further south, to Stoneygate, two of Leicester's posher areas. In fact, a lot of the houses in the posher areas, especially in Clarendon Park, were dead similar to the ones in Highfields, with the same narrow streets. The only difference was that Clarendon Park was much more middle class and had loads more white families living there, which automatically gave it a better reputation in the eyes of some ignorant people.

That was what I loved about living where I did. Evington Road was like a fence that I could sit on. Each day I could make a choice about whether I wanted to jump over to the Highfields side or the London Road side. It was wicked, because some days Ady and me would be messing about in the narrow back streets of the ghetto, and the next we'd meet Ben, Penny and Parmy up the London Road to play football or cricket on the hockey pitch they had up there, or cross into Clarendon Park so that we could go shoplifting at the Spar.

 

Reflection

(Un)arranged marriage was my first novel and it reflected my desire to write about my home city, Leicester. This was inspired by the way in which my friends and I felt about our city as teenagers. Often adults think that young people donít notice the socio-economic make-up of their environments, and maybe some donít. But that wasnít the case for my friends and me. We saw the disparities between different social groups and geographical areas and these always fascinated me.

The excerpt above explores these disparities. Leicester is a truly multi-cultural, diverse city but, because of this, it is also a city of extremes. The areas I chose to write about, divided only by a few streets, encompass those extremes accurately. I remember thinking about how it felt for me, as a teen, to live so close to that invisible border. I thought about the strange notion that two similar houses would receive such different valuations simply because they were sited in distinct streets and neighbourhoods. I recalled the deep prejudices of various people about the area I lived in, and the equally positive attitudes to the middle-class enclaves around the corner and across the road. That always seemed odd to me as a young person and it became a driving force in the novel's descriptive passages about the city.

I also wanted to be honest about life for teenagers in that part of Leicester. This meant that I couldnít and wouldnít shrink from showing the less comfortable aspects of my city: its crime, racism and everyday language. Iíve always believed, and still do, that young readers arenít shown the same respect as their adult counterparts. We never censor what adults get to read yet many of us constantly demand that our young people arenít ďdamagedĒ or otherwise negatively influenced by what they read. In essence, I sat down, became the teenage ďmeĒ once more, and wrote the story that I would have wanted to read as a fourteen year old. I still believe that there isnít enough writing about the real Britain, the Britain that isnít either London or the countryside. The novel was my first attempt at trying to redress that balance in my own way, and Leicester provided me with a unique opportunity to do just that.

 

Publications

(un)arranged Marriage, Random House, 2001
The Crew, Random House, 2003
What's Your Problem?, Barrington Stoke, 2003 (Sweden)
Rani and Sukh, Random House, 2004
Dream On, Barrington Stoke, 2004
The Whisper, Random House, 2005
Two Timer, Barrington Stoke, 2005
The Last Taboo, Random House, 2006
Revenge of the Number Two, Barrington Stoke, 2007
The Angel Collector, Random House, 2007
Are You Kidding? Barrington Stoke, 2008
Them and Us, Barrington Stoke, 2009
City of Ghosts, Random House, 2010
Killing Honour, Random House, 2011
The Gun, Barrington Stoke, 2011
Fire City, Random House, 2012



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