Author Interview: In Coversation with Samiksha Bhattacharjee

Hello all my lovely readers!
I hope that you are all doing well.

I am back with an Author Interview post, this time with Samiksha Bhattacharjee, the youngest YA author in the UK. Her debut novel, Legal Crime, was released on February 18, 2021.

Read all about my thoughts in my review post.

It has been a real pleasure chatting with Samiksha. She gets candid in this interview and even hints at an upcoming novel *excited dance*! We talk about her journey towards writing, her inspirations and all about her characters. It is quite interesting to see how she and her book evolved through the journey.

Thank you Samiksha for reaching out and giving me this chance to talk about your book!

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  1. Hello Samiksha, hope you’re doing great! Thanks for agreeing to this interview. To start off, tell us something about yourself that is not in your bio! 

Hi Namrata, thank you for having me! Well… I love reading, I love enjoying life as a teen… oh, and I love eating food! I don’t think that’s in my bio. Such a shame that my love of food doesn’t reflect in my cooking… I’m pretty terrible 😂

I’m an extrovert, I love meeting new people and gushing over amazing books with fellow fangirls/boys/theys/people, and when I decide on a book ship, I stick with it. Forever.

2. So, as the youngest YA author in the UK, how do you feel about the title? 

I never expected to get the title when I first published the book, to be honest. I genuinely thought that there were many more teens out there who had published YA novels, but I was wrong. I’m really honoured to have the title, but I want to see other teenagers with published novels out there in the world too! The extremely low number of child authors, all around the world, really shocked me and I hope that after reading Legal Crime, teenagers feel more encouraged to start writing, and maybe even get published!

3. Let’s go back to the beginning. What prompted you to start writing? 

I’ve always loved writing, in fact – I wrote my first little book when I was five! When the idea of Legal Crime first came to me in the bathroom as a seven year old (I was trying to think of an idea for a short story), I never expected it to be any longer than ten pages, let alone be published! Legal Crime was originally meant to be just another one of my short stories that I would keep in my notebook compilation, but it ended up being far more than that. I wanted to write a story about a girl who runs away from home and, through her experiences, comes to appreciate her family. The story really stuck with me and I wanted to continue, even after I had passed my self-imposed usual ten page limit.

4. What challenges did you face while writing about a sixteen-year-old and her emotional journey? 

Well, the story was originally meant to follow a ten-year-old girl, but I changed it very soon after because I didn’t feel like it would be very realistic. Instead, I went with sixteen-year-old confused teenager Fiona Watson, a victim of peer pressure and high school dilemmas.

It was challenging, because I wanted to convey her emotions and feelings – happiness, anger, grief… as accurately as possible, and I really hope that I succeeded! Fiona is older than me, so I had to think a little outside the box, but overall, I thought: ‘if person 1 were in this situation, what would they do?’, or ‘I think that person 2 would take this route, but person 3 might do this… how about I combine them?’.

I really wanted to encapsulate raw teenage emotions in the book, and I think that being a child really helped with that. However, at certain points it was very difficult because I wasn’t sure what would happen next. I managed to face writer’s block and continue with the story though, and I’m really happy that I stuck with the story and created a new universe to add to the multiverse of books!

5. How much of yourself or your life did you draw inspiration from while writing this book? 

Legal Crime is a novel that focuses on emotions, as well as peer pressure and friendship problems. These things are issues that affect most high school students… if it hasn’t affected you, you’re really lucky. I have to say, a lot of the book was drawn from things that I have seen or heard happen to others, and even myself.

The pressure to fit in and be popular and whatnot is a problem that, for quite a lot of teens, orbit around them in their daily lives. It’s really sad to see people change themselves and who they are just so that they can fit in with the crowd… and those who don’t do that are seen as ‘weird’ or ‘loners’. I don’t think that uniqueness is very much appreciated in high school, everything is in uniform – and by that, I mean everyone’s behaviour. I say this as if it’s not a problem that affects me, when, in reality, it does. I’ve changed myself and how I act around people before, because I don’t feel like I can be my true self. By that point, I had forgotten who I really was… but I realised my mistakes. I’m still learning to embrace myself, and so is Fiona, and so throughout the course of the book, we were also taking a similar emotional journey together.

6. Who or what led to the creation of Fiona Watson? 

A lot of things and people, really. I wanted to create a relatable teenage character and Fiona Watson is the result. Oh my gosh, it sounds like Fiona is the product of a chemistry equation… but really, she’s far more than that to me. I’ve stuck with Fiona and seen her ups and downs, watched her make stupid desicions…  and just live her life as a teenager, but I suppose that that’s what makes me want to be friends with her. I still want to ask her certain questions about why she did certain things, so I hope that I’ll be able to explore her further in a later book but… no promises.

7. Why did you choose to address serious issues like drug abuse, suicide and others in this book? 

These issues are key parts of many teenager’s lives. Unfortunately, especially in this day and age, many teens feel the need to turn to other forms of ‘comfort’ eg. alcohol and illegal drugs. Bereavement too is an extremely sad thing that might sadly happen in a teenager’s life. Also, and this is because of many reasons, suicidal thoughts are, unfortunately, very high among this age group – mental health problems are rising and the stress of our lives can lead to things like depression. Peer pressure and the need to ‘fit in’ really don’t help the problem.

I wanted to address and give a small glimpse at some of these problems so that I could resonate and send a message to my readers – other children and teenagers like myself. I wanted to speak to my readers and make them think, if they ever do turn to drugs or whatnot: ‘should I really be doing this? Is this going to actually help me?’.

8. Why did you choose to write the book as diary entries? Is there any significance here? 

Well, it started off by accident, really. I labelled each part with time and date stamps and realised that it was actually similar to diary entries. Fiona’s diary is quite a key part to Legal Crime, so that also ties into it. I haven’t really read any books in this style, so I also wanted to bring my own style and tastes into the writing of Legal Crime and make it different from other books out there… some with very similar writing styles.

9. How much research went into the planning and plotting for the book? 

The thing is, I never particularly liked planning. I’m more of a panster and write what comes to my mind, then edit afterwards. Although I did plan out the last few chapters of Legal Crime and am currently (quite) extensively planning my next book (which is a YA dystopian fantasy… more details soon!), Legal Crime was mainly not planned out and was written straight from my mind.

However, I did a lot of research about things like the psychology of teenagers and also spent a lot of time asking other children and teenagers how they felt about certain issues eg. underage drinking. Although not all of this research directly features in the book, it helped me to keep these things in mind whilst writing certain scenes and influenced quite a bit of my writing.

10. How much time did you spend, on average, in writing the book? 

I spent a lot of time with the Legal Crime characters, and I really hope that this isn’t goodbye! I started writing Legal Crime when I was seven and finished it when I was twelve – so it took me five years! Obviously, I wasn’t writing continuously for five years and I also took some breaks for exam preparation etc.

Legal Crime was accepted by the first publisher my book was submitted to, two days after my thirteenth birthday! I’m nearly fourteen now, but am still working with the characters of Legal Crime, even though my next book will not be following them.

11. How did you decide which characters to keep in the story and which to ignore? 

I didn’t really kick any characters out of the story, seven-year-old me thought that that might be a bit mean 😂

However, the characters did change around a bit – at the beginning I experimented with different names for the different characters. Also, a lot of the characters that exist in the final version didn’t actually exist when the idea first came into my head. I never thought that Legal Crime would be a published novel, so I played around with it and changed a lot of characters, but never ignored them.

12. Did you already have a character chart ready or did the number of characters evolve as the story progressed? 

No… I didn’t have a character chart, they kind of just spoke for themselves and I decided that ‘oh, there should be a character who comes in over here’. I’m not doing that for my next novel though, because sometimes things can get a little hectic… but it was fun to add characters in and see how they reacted to different things and to really make ‘friends’ with them, in a way.

13. If you had to choose one moment from the book which was most important, which would it be? 

That is a very tricky question… I need to think hard about that one.

Well, some of the moments I have in my mind are pretty spoiler-y so skip this part if you don’t want spoilers.

I think that the saddest part was definitely Evelyn passing away, and her life struggles might resonate with quite a few readers out there too. I’m not saying that everybody has to go through depression, being diagnosed with terminal cancer and also having really big family issues… but her story will still stay with me and if I ever write anything in the Legal Crime universe, it will probably be a prequel exploring her story further.

But I can’t just choose one moment! I think that the part where everything changed for Fiona is when she stopped being friends with Luna, and so in the Legal Crime universe, that’s a very important part even though there’s no exact date and time to pinpoint it to.

To be honest, all the parts in Legal Crime are important to me and to the story!

Let’s come down to some simpler things about you now… 

14. What is your favourite genre? 

Anything YA is amazing, even though currently I’m loving dystopia and fantasy!

15. Which is your favourite book?

I can’t choose! I love so many different books… but The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is an absolutely brilliant start to an even more brilliant series!

16. Who is/are your favourite author(s)? 

All authors are an inspiration to me for doing what they do the best – creating fantastic worlds and bringing them to life with writing. I am honoured to have received messages and best wishes from so many of my favourite authors including Karen M. McManus (One of Us is Lying), Louis Sacher (Holes), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns), Cathy Cassidy (The Chocolate Box Girls), Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), C.L Taylor (The Island), Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together), J.Elle (Wings of Ebony) and Kathryn Evans (Beauty Sleep). Thank you all!

17. Who would you say is your inspiration to start writing? 

My parents, for encouraging me to write short stories and for teaching me the basics in writing so that I could continue further in my journey. Thank you, love you both so much!

18. Which was the last book you read that you would recommend to fellow readers? 

Wow, that is hard! I am currently loving They Both Die At The End, We Were Liars and am reading Tower of Dawn which is part of the Throne of Glass series. I think that they’re amazing books and I would definitely recommend them!

19. How has the journey of writing this book shaped who you are today? 

Well, I guess that it’s changed quite a lot of things… if I wasn’t an author, or even just a writer… who would I be? Publishing Legal Crime has made me aware of a lot of things that I didn’t really know in the book world and also has made me develop as a writer. I’m happy that I took the leap and decided to get Legal Crime published. I really hope that I can also inspire other children and teens to get into creative writing, and even get published.

 20. Finally, what message do you want to share with us readers?

Love you all so much, it makes me so happy to know that somewhere out there people are reading and cherishing my book, and welcoming it into a new home. I hope that you enjoy reading Legal Crime and that the story stays with you. Keep on reading, and keep on writing!

Book Review: Legal Crime by Samiksha Bhattacharjee

About the Book:

Written by a thirteen-year-old author, this exciting and captivating page-turner transports you into the fascinating story of sixteen-year-old aspiring singer Fiona Watson who runs away from her family, oblivious to the dangers outside her shielded comfort zone. As she journeys through her new world, leaving her past behind and determined to find a new identity, she uncovers surprising secrets buried deep within her long ago…

How do her new friends link to her past? What secrets are they hiding behind their misleading smiles? How much of herself has she really left behind? And how will she cope when she realises that she has made a huge mistake… one that could ruin her forever?

My Thoughts:

Legal Crime is a YA Fiction debut novel written by 13 year old Samiksha Bhattacharjee. For this, I have to commend her and say how proud I am of the book and her efforts to write it. As you read, you will find out the meaning behind the title as the book progresses!

The story follows Fiona, a sixteen year old teenager who runs away from home and tries to make it on her own. The first step in her plan is to disguise herself and then find shelter. The story is written in sections, as Fiona changes her identity and tries to blend in, hiding from her parents and the police. The author tries to highlight the different phases of her journey in different sections, showing us how she handles the different hurdles she encounters.

We meet many new people, many old ones from Fiona’s childhood whom she has forgotten about, and many who want her out of the way. She soon realizes that being on your own is more difficult than it looks. Life is not so glamorous. With the help of her friends, she also becomes a YouTube singing sensation and gets to perform on stage with a famous singer. Amongst all this, we see a girl who is dealing with peer pressure, trying to live up to an image and expectations that make her change who she is. She finally learns to respect the bonds of family, friendship and to trust in the people around her.

Now let us take a look at the plot. It is strong enough to carry forward through the book. However, there are some minor gaps that make it a little hard to place the events and people. The characters are well thought out, but once again, we miss some of their background and the development that leads to where they are. Also, there are some jumps back and forth in time which take a little getting used to.

However, all this does not take away from the fact that Samiksha has done a great job. It is not easy to write a story and definitely not so easy to handle as many characters as she has. The writing feels personal and more relatable considering that the entire story is written like diary entries. Though the writing is a little amateurish, I think Samiksha has amazing potential. The concepts she has chosen to handle in this book are pertinent and take a lot of effort to write about. Samiksha has managed to handle all of this delicately and in a very mature way which is amazing for a thirteen year old! Way to go!