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25 February 2019

Q&A With Bali Rai

Bali Rai is a phenomenal writer, one who I have been a fan of since I was just 12. If you haven't read (Un)arranged Marriage or Rani & Sukh then go now and get them.

His latest, Stay a Little Longer, is with Barrington Stoke so it's dyslexia friendly and super-readable. It made me cry a fair bit, it's really one to tug on your heartstrings.

When I heard that he would be on a panel at University of Central Lancashire BA in Publishing's Northern Young Adult Literature Festival I jumped at the opportunity to ask him some questions. 

Q&A with Bali Rai

Can you describe Stay A Little Longer in five words?
Shared depression, unexpected friendship, hope.

What inspires your writing?
The biggest inspiration is real British lives. I’ve always wanted to write about and to explore the lives of everyday British people. Whether it’s a new story, a political situation, or simply a family drama that I’ve witnessed, I try to use real world characters in my stories, and was inspired to do so by my hero, Sue Townsend. I once said that Sue wrote about the next-door neighbours, and that’s what I do, I suppose. Although I also love writing more imaginative and fantastical stories too.

I’m also heavily influenced by other writers, and by film and TV drama too. Basically, any story, in any format, that makes me think and creates an emotional response. You can add music and even art to that list, too. I think of myself as a human being who explores the voices of other human beings, often those whose stories haven’t been properly heard.

Which of your characters would you most like to sit down and have a cuppa with?
That’s a tough question! I love Nanny, from my book The Crew, so he’d be on that list. Also, both Gurnam and Aman from Stay A Little Longer. There’s so much more to both of their lives, and I’d love to find out more, if that makes sense? I’d like to meet several others too, and in essence every character I write is someone I’d love to have a chat with. So, I’m taking the cheats way out of this question and saying all of them!

What is your favourite thing about writing for teens?
I’ve always maintained that I write about teens, rather than for them. And I do that because the books I wanted to read as a teenager, about regular everyday British people (and certainly BAME people) were few and far between. My hope was to do my bit to rectify that situation.

I also love that teens are so openminded and have not succumbed to the cynicism of adult life. There’s a freshness, a newness, about the way teens view the world and their emotions, and I like to explore that. I had a very tough time as a teenager, coping with losing my father to illness, poverty, and often long bouts of crippling self-doubt and depression. It’s not something I talk about much in public, but I explore it through my teenage characters.

Are you a planner or a pantser?
I should say planner, but that would be a huge lie! I’m very much a pantser – everything is last minute, hurried, with lots of apologetic emails about deadlines missed etc… I do work better under pressure, however. I tend to produce better writing and be more engaged with a character’s voice. It’s not always ideal, if I’m honest, but I’ve always been that way. Just don’t tell my editors!

What is your favourite thing about writing?
I love doing research, I love planning a character’s emotional story arc, and I love the feeling of placing bright shiny new words onto a blank page, and for them to start singing to me. It sounds very ‘la-di-dah’, I know, but writing is very organic for me. It’s a process that happens or it doesn’t. And when it does happen, it’s always fun. The only bit I don’t like so much is third or fourth stages of editing. That becomes tiresome very quickly. And cutting words often feels like an act of vandalism. I’m usually very attached to my words – even if an editor isn’t. The problem is that most editors are amazing and clever, and they’re right.

Finally, what are you working on now? What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working on several junior fiction or middle grade ideas, including one about giant armed chickens. I’m also beginning to get my head around a new YA or teen novel idea, after a few years where I haven’t written one. My personal life has been very hectic with lots of changes and I’m just beginning to get back on track. I’m also very keen on writing a sprawling fantasy epic, based on the reality of colonial conquest, but with added magic etc… It’s not something I’m known for, but it does tie in with my writing as a youngster and my reading too. I’ve been operating in slow motion for a few years and I’m now back up to speed, my creativity is flowing again. Watch this space (I hope!).

Northern YA Lit Fest

Northern YA Literary Festival

University of Central Lancashire, in association with their new BA in Publishing, are hosting The Northern Young Adult Literature Festival on Saturday 16th March 2019 at UCLan's Greenbank Building in Preston. Doors open at 9:45am, with the events staggered throughout the day. Best of all, it's free!

Bali Rai will be part of the Inclusiveness in YA panel, with Non Pratt, A.J. Hartley and Mel Darbon, chaired by Aimée Felone one of the co-founders of Knights Of, discussing inclusiveness in YA, and the importance of seeing the world though different eyes.

Inclusiveness in YA panel NYA Lit Fest


  1. Lovely review! I am so excited for this panel! I am going to be introducing it and I cannot wait!

  2. Lovely Q&A, Cora!😊

    Shirley |

  3. Well giant armed chickens sounds interesting and scary!

  4. I loved reading this! I always love reading from authors. I find it really inspiring, as a writer.

  5. I love YA and his books have all the elements of things I'd enjoy! Great Q&A :)


  6. big mood on the pantser situation. i do rly well aand plan but thensuddenly its theday nefore and ididntexecute the plan

  7. Great questions Cora. Giant armed chickens lol. I haven't read (Un)arranged marriage or Rani & Sukh so I must check them out before the NYALit festival.

  8. Great interview! I must check out some of Bali Rai's books.


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