A special book came out into the world in April this year. Not only is The Whyte Divide a young adult, crime-romance novel but it is a saga involving betrayal, tests of loyalty, lust and loss, bonds of friendship, young love and romance. Nineteen year old Leonardo Whyte, one of the Whyte Brotherhood's best assassins, is on a mission to avenge his father's murder until he meets the daughter of his sworn enemy and must decide his own future. I'm passing the reigns over to Anam Iqbal today to talk about her inspiration behind the world of The Whyte Divide and her journey of becoming a published author as a person of colour:
My love of writing stemmed from freedom.
As a child, I was incredibly shy and often struggled to voice my thoughts and opinions: they would either stay buried deep inside or expressed on the pages of diaries. When I wrote, it felt like magic, like anything was possible and not a single dream was out of my reach, like I could express whatever I wished without any judgment at all. It was simply freedom.
However I’d never thought about sharing my work with people: my writing was always a grave secret, one that I guarded fiercely and kept ever hidden; my heart would shudder at the mere thought of someone reading my work over my shoulder. It wasn’t until the age of seventeen that I reflected on this secrecy and tried to understand why I was so reluctant to allow any light to shine on my creativity.
It was then that I realised I had never before read a book by someone of colour, someone of a non-white background, someone who wrote about non-white characters. And because of that, I’d simply begun to believe that people of my background, skin colour and religion didn’t write books, didn’t exist in epic stories and that my work could never be good enough to be published.
That was a turning point for me: the realisation that there were such self-doubts, negative thoughts, fears and stereotypical views about my own identity holding me back from achieving my dream – which was, in fact, to one day write something adventurous, rich and beautiful and share it with the world. It was thus at the age of seventeen that I decided to write my first novel. I was doing my A Levels at a London college at the time and was inspired, on a bus ride home, with the idea for The Whyte Divide, a Crime Romance novel. It was a stressful year with plenty of essays, revision and workload, and the gangster love story in my mind became an escapism for me.
I spent the next few years writing about the intense, riveting, sexy and dangerous characters in my mind. I carved out their features, personalities and ambitions on the notes app in my mobile, in my diary or on the sides of lecture notes at university. And when I was unable to do any of these things because of my hectic life as a student, I simply daydreamed of Leonardo Whyte's scheming smirks, Eleanor Archer's skill with blades, Faith Hunter's fierce female strength and Denzel Whyte's ruthlessness as London's most powerful drug lord.
Through the diverse characters in my novel, I was able to express so many of my own thoughts as well as those I’d heard from the mouths of others: moral dilemmas, social pressures, alienation, the desire for an epic young love, the longing to discover truths, the reality of living in a diverse world, and most of all the thrill of going on an adventure… After eight years and much editing – which included writing the entire novel from scratch four times! – it was finally published and made available to the world. It was truly a dream come true: a dream that required a lot of hard work, patience and – perhaps most importantly – self-belief.
There are certain writing tips I’ve picked up from my experience of completing and publishing my debut novel, and I’d love to share them with other writers:
- Draft the story in as much detail as you can before you start writing. Having a solid draft of where the story is heading will give you the motivation to keep going and it also means less rewriting ahead!
- Plot your story without fear. The fear of being judged will limit your creativity and may even lead to Writer’s Block! And even if you find a way to continue writing, fear will distort your character’s voice and make it inauthentic. Therefore stay away from any negative, judgmental energy (or thoughts) whilst writing. Find a positive writing space for yourself – this is very personal, and can be absolutely anywhere!
- Start writing. Sometimes you have to do this even when you don’t feel ready, or else you’ll never start. You can always edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page.
- Don’t get bogged down in the editing process as you write. It will slow you down a lot. You can always go back to edit later. Separate the process of writing and editing into two different stages. (The editing process itself is lengthy and most writers have extensive re-writing in store for themselves, so keep that in mind as well. Completing the first draft by no means indicates that your work is done!).
- Set yourself a target of how much writing you wish to do everyday, and monitor yourself to achieve it. If you write based on whim alone, chances are you’ll never complete your novel! The truth is that completing a manuscript is painstakingly hard work and requires dedication: sparks of inspiration or your burning passion to write won’t always be there to accompany you. (The final draft of The Whyte Divide was 170,000 words and I had to ensure that I worked on it consistently everyday for a year in order to complete it).
- Work hard but also be kind to yourself. Remember to set yourself realistic writing targets because if you don’t, you are only setting yourself up to fail, which will lead onto negative thoughts and feelings of failure. Keeping a positive outlook is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT thing to keep you going. And whenever you do finish a chapter or section you had planned to, treat yourself and be proud of your work!
- Self-belief. Whilst writing a book, you will undoubtedly experience many highs and lows. Some days, you’ll think that your novel is surely a unique and compelling masterpiece; other days, you’ll feel that you’re wasting your time on writing a pile of rubbish that no one would ever want to read. And it doesn’t get much easier when a writer completes their manuscript, for most writers experience abundant rejections from literary agents and publishers, who are simply in a highly competitive business. But it is important to never lose hope. Never stop believing in the beauty and power of your words. Writing is deeply subjective, and there will always be someone out there in the world who resonates with your work. Who knows, next time it could be the perfect literary agent for you, or you could self-publish your novel to find a large online readership that was just waiting for something your novel delivered!
- Never stop dreaming. Your manuscript’s every sentence can be stunning and lyrical, but it won’t mean anything if your story has no heart. Dreaming is the secret ingredient to bring life into your writing. Dream both while you sleep and are awake. Experience as much as possible, speak to abundant people, read widely, do strange things, love deeply, feel openly, let your imagination run without bounds. And it is through these experiences that you will breathe life into your characters and their journey.
It requires a lot of hard work to write a book – and writers do it without any knowledge of whether they’ll ever get any compensation for their time and effort. But most writers don’t write with the thought of what they’ll get in return, they write because they feel a burning sensation within themselves pushing them to write, and when they ignore it, they feel it nagging at them until they pick up their pens. In my opinion that is all you need to call yourself a writer – to feel that nagging sensation. Give in to it, and I promise it will be worth it in the end.
It is such a beautiful feeling to be here now, so many years later, as an adult, when my novel is published. Now, I am able to turn back to the seventeen-year-old girl that I was, who had dreamed of writing a book some day, and tell her that I made it, that I didn't give up, that I managed to ignore all the voices that told me I couldn't do it (including my own at times), that I pulled through all the lonely nights writing and busy days editing all for her: the teenager who once sat on the top deck of one of London's famous red buses, on her way home from a long day at college, when her wild imagination took her somewhere else entirely...
The Whyte Divide is available to order from Amazon now.