"I just realised I was really curious, loved finding things out"
Trying to break into the writing industry can already be hard enough. However, finding British Asian writers to act as role models for this journey can be harder.
With the lacking representation of South Asians in the creative industries, inspiration is hard to find.
Writers themselves have been expressing the lack of diversity amongst the journalism industry. For example, an article from the Press Gazette in 2020 highlights this point:
“Fifty black, Asian and ethnic minority journalists have accused UK newsrooms of repeatedly failing to improve diversity in the industry.”
It is vital for young people from ethnic minorities to be able to see themselves in the workplace.
Finding British Asian representation in writing is also essential for kids who have decided to steer towards a more artistic career.
For many minorities, it can be motivating to see somebody like you performing the jobs you desire to fulfill.
DESIblitz compiles a list of 10 inspiring British Asian writers who are breaking barriers and showing off their amazing literary talents.
Sathnam Sanghera is a journalist and author who amplifies British Indian experiences to his extensive audience.
Born in Wolverhampton, UK, he has utilised his novel-writing to shed light on the experiences of Indians in the UK.
After completing his English-based education at Christ’s College, Cambridge, the writer became immersed in the world of journalism.
From The Financial Times to participating in projects at the BBC, Sathnam poses as a perfect role model for journalists.
However, his work does not end there. The journalist is also an award-winning writer, with his novels centralising themes of identity within Britain.
In 2008, the author published The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton. It became an instant fixation for many British Asian readers.
The memoir quickly became covered with never-ending praise, as well as being shortlisted for the 2008 ‘Costa Biography Award.’
The judges of the award praised it, stating:
“Quietly witty, engrossing and tragicomic – this insight into the parallel culture in Britain today is the poignant story of an exceptional family that everyone should read.”
The Independent described the book, writing:
“Tragic, funny and disturbing, The Boy With The Topknot will challenge you, and may even change you. In other words, it’s literature.”
However, the memoir wasn’t the writer’s only source of success. Sanghera’s novel Marriage Material (2013) similarly gained traction.
The novel is self-described as telling the story of:
“Three generations of a family through the prism of a Wolverhampton corner shop.
“Itself a microcosm of the South Asian experience in the country: a symbol of independence and integration, but also of darker realities.”
The writer also released Empireland: How Modern Britain is Shaped by its Imperial Past in 2021.
Sanghera’s interest in writing about the British Empire and learning more about it has stemmed off into wider projects.
November 2021 marked the start of the writer’s documentary, Empire State of Mind, which takes the author’s investigation further.
Therefore, Sathnam Sanghera poses as an influential and admirable figure for many British Asians.
This is particularly the case for those trying to immerse themselves in journalism and writing whilst balancing traditional home lives.
Naga Munchetty is a journalist and presenter who has become a popular face amongst many Brits.
Born in London, Munchetty also studied English and went on to write for The Evening Standard and The Observer.
She has expressed how she found her passion for writing when speaking to The Gryphon in 2020:
“I just realised I was really curious, loved finding things out and could write ok.”
Munchetty’s route from writing to presenting makes her an interesting figure for many British Asians.
If the spotlight of television is the route you’re wishing to take, Munchetty proposes herself as somebody to follow.
The BBC presenter has interviewed a range of prominent figures.
Whether it’s asking politicians the probing questions or welcoming celebrities onto the red couch, the journalist has done it all.
Moreover, the Indian Mauritian hasn’t kept quiet about her struggles in the writing industry either.
Further in her interview with The Gryphon, the presenter reveals:
“I was very different, I came from a different background, I looked different and I think that would be difficult for anyone.”
“Those are issues that don’t change.”
Therefore, it is important to find people in industries that you want to participate in. Munchetty is a classic example of how British Asian writers are slowly infiltrating mainstream media.
This exemplifies her as a person at the top of her game, who has surpassed various barriers in her journey.
A prominent face amongst British Asian writers is Nikita Lalwani. Nikita is another writer who studied English. She was born in India but grew up in the UK.
Brought up in Wales, the author has been incredibly successful. She was shortlisted for the ‘Costa First Novel Award’ in 2007 for her debut novel, Gifted (2007).
Despite India being her country of birth, Nikita has made an impression on a more global scale.
With translations of her writing into sixteen languages, the writer is an admirable British Asian for aspiring authors around her.
Similar to other British Asian writers on our list, Nikita’s successes are not entirely reliant on the written word.
For example, Gifted won a ‘Mental Health Media Award’ for its radio adaptation.
The writing style of Nikita is diverse, and her second book, The Village (2012), takes inspiration from a real-life setting.
Her website describes the ambience of the novel, mentioning:
“Set in a village modelled on a real-life open prison in India, The Village is a gripping story about manipulation and personal morality, about how truly frail our moral judgement can be.”
Nikita’s third book, Resist: Stories of Uprising (2019), has gone on to receive stellar reviews.
This illustrates the stature of this author and the wide recognition for her novels. The Guardian describes the third book, stating:
“A moving, authentic, humane novel which raises fundamental questions about what it means to be kind in an unkind world.”
The fictional and realistic setting that influences the work of Nikita shapes her as being a novelist for young British Asians to idolise.
Daljit Nagra is a British Indian, born in Yiewsley, London, to a Punjabi family.
After moving from Heathrow to Sheffield for his family’s corner shop, Nagra gained a setting that would influence his work.
His mini-biography even details how becoming a writer and poet was not something he always wanted to do:
“It wasn’t until the age of 19 that I first picked up a book of poems.”
Nagra is a perfect example for British Asians who are in conflict about their career paths. He personifies how choosing what career to pursue does not always have a clear-cut answer.
Sometimes it arises in youth during education or whilst immersing in new experiences. The author shares:
“It was William Blake’s simple yet complex Songs of Innocence and Experience which awoke me to the power of poetry.
“It inspired me to study for A levels, including English Literature.”
The power of the school allowed Nagra to realise his love for poetry. This is reflective of Nagra’s impeccable work as it is part of the school curriculum.
His poem ‘Singh Song!’ is part of the AQA GCSE specification, allowing students to have an insight into the workings of a corner shop.
The poem is a selection from Look We Have Coming to Dover! (2007) – a famous collection of the poet.
The author urges his audience to value this collection:
“The reader should expect to be immersed in a community that often feels its values are self-evident.”
“My community and its individuals intend to show their true colours. I hope the reader will experience this Britain from the ‘inside’.”
Nagra has a hypnotic writing style when detailing the experiences of his community.
Pride, self-awareness and representation of British Asian experiences are a refreshing and original take on literature.
This shapes Nagra into a poet that many British Asians may want to follow the style of.
Jasvinder Sanghera is not only an author but also a figure of change. Born in Derby, the writer became subject to potential forced marriage. After fleeing away, her family went on to disown her.
But the situation of forced marriages stayed close to home due to her sister’s suicide (as a result of her marriage circumstance).
In a 2021 interview with the Yorkshire Post, Sanghera explained how this event in her life led her to wider projects:
“The reason why Karma Nirvana was formed was because of my sister, who took her own life. She was the one who was forced to marry a stranger, the one who went missing from school.”
Karma Nirvana was set up by Sanghera in 1993, offering nationwide support to end honour-based abuse.
Additionally, the writer has upheld campaigns whilst producing a popularised trilogy. Shame (2007), Daughters of Shame (2009), and Shame Travels (2011) are all hailed as powerful books.
Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron also went on to describe them as “political weapons.”
The Sunday Times commented on Sanghera’s initial book (Shame), commenting:
“She tells her story with the pace and vivid turn of phrase of a true writer. Shame is an inspiring book, not least because of its honesty.”
Sanghera is a writer who has not only spread her message on paper but also in policy and national aid. This has allowed her to make an impact on British Asians and wider communities.
The name Sita Brahmachari is a familiar name for young British bookworms across the nation.
The British Asian author has remained prevalent on children’s bookshelves since her first book, Artichoke Hearts (2011).
The triumphant debut novel went on to win the Waterstones Book Prize within the same year.
However, other notable works include Red Leaves (2014), which became popular amongst Brahmachari’s young audience.
Kulpreet Grewal, an avid reader from the UK is a fan of the writer’s books and talks of the author’s inclusion of culture:
“She incorporates her heritage by diversifying the main characters.
“In Red Leaves it’s a Somali refugee called Aisha.”
Some may not be aware that the writer’s specialism is not solely novels. The author also crafts short stories into plays.
The writer co-created a theatre production influenced by Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival (2006). This emphasises her individual scope for writing and her broadened landscape.
Brahmachari’s willingness to make a change to the demographic of Asians in the UK’s creative industries is an important part of her journey.
On her website, she powerfully details a key realisation for her:
“From childhood, I was always searching for the nuanced, complex and often beautiful representations of families, cultures and histories that I had experienced growing up.”
This frames Brahmachari as another writer striving to close the gap for ethnic minorities and fellow British Asian writers.
Similar to Bramacahri, Bali Rai specialises in young adult and children fiction. He is a poignant figure amongst British Asian writers.
Born and raised in Leicester, England, Rai witnessed one of the most diverse hubs in the country.
In 2001, he published his first book Unarranged Marriage, which was a pivotal moment in the writer’s career.
Rai was offered a contract with publisher giants, Penguin Random House, who were familiar as ‘Transworld’ at the time.
However, something the writer candidly has expressed is his lack of direction towards writing after his degree. He recalls:
“I moved from one awful job to another until personal circumstances (and a lack of money) forced my return to Leicester.
“Over the next few years, I worked for a large supermarket, sold random things over the phone and eventually settled as the manager of a bar, and then assistant manager of a nightclub.”
This marks the writer as an inspiration to those who do not know what they want to do in the future.
His subsequent success in novels such as Dream On (2002) and Rani & Sukh (2004) showed why Rai is so successful.
His incorporation of different cultures and incorporating South Asian characters provided a profound insight into unique storylines.
Rai’s 2020 novel, Now or Never, also encompasses his innovative style. Following an Indian RAF pilot, the novel is an immersive World War 2 adventure set in France.
Likewise to the main concept of this list, Rai possesses a memory of when he found his role model:
“At the age of eleven, I read the book that would inspire me to write. It was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.
“Other authors had inspired me to write for fun (Roald Dahl in particular) but it was Sue Townsend who became my true role model.”
The author has illustrated the need to have inspiration. He himself is definitely inspiring budding Brit authors.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a British writer with many literary talents, coming from an Indian background via her mother.
The author is famous for many readers, with some of her most influential books gaining utmost recognition and praise.
Her first published novel The Girl Of Ink and Stars (2016) immediately put Hargrave on the map.
In the same year, the book won the ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Award’. Managing director, James Daunt, commended the success:
“A work of imagination and drive that will command a special place on the bookshelves of many generations of readers to come.”
“The overall strength of our shortlist and the category winners reflects the vibrant health of children’s publishing which we are delighted to celebrate.”
Kulpreet, also a reader of Hargrave’s books, highlighted her love for the plot of the book:
“The plot isn’t typical and makes the heroines love interest a really small side plot so we can appreciate the personality of the heroine and the journey she’s been on.”
She continues to link this back to the relevance with South Asians:
“I think in a world where women have been and still are sometimes defined by their partners (which is quite big in Indian culture), the way that this is subverted is fantastic!”
A multitude of readers appreciates the books of Hargrave.
In 2020, she decided to have her go at the genre of adult fiction.
The Indian Express also explores this transition from children’s books to The Mercies (2020):
“The Mercies is an extension of Hargrave’s writings for children, marked by her surefooted sense of atmosphere and character.”
This shift from writing towards younger and then older audiences depicts Hargrave as a British Asian author to watch out for.
She is a writer that undoubtedly many British Asian writers and people admire, in general, trying to find their flow.
Bhanu Kapil is an English-born poet who resides in the UK and the US. Her poetry is recognised profoundly, winning the ‘TS Eliot Prize’ in 2021 for her book, How To Wash a Heart (2020).
Many British Asians may choose to admire the writer for her ways of incorporating her childhood memories into literature.
When interviewed about How To Wash a Heart, the writer shared how stories from her past influenced the settings:
“This story, which really wasn’t a story but an image, was repeated to me at many bedtimes of my own childhood.”
The style of the author may also be motivating due to the topics she discusses. For example, Schizophrene (2011), was a book that delved into the mental aspects of migrations and partitions.
The Atlantic writer Tanvi Misra describes the messages carried in the book:
“The images she creates are violently in flux, and heavy with the trauma of constantly leaving and arriving, but never belonging.”
Kapil’s writing is by no means ordinary. Her exploration into migration, which can hit very close to home for many British Asians, make her relatable for numerous communities.
Aliya Ali-Afzal is a London-based writer who has seen it all. The Russian and German graduate has split her time between the UK, Pakistan, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Egypt.
Despite the writer’s interesting travel stories, she has also been surrounded by success. Waterstones describe her debut novel Would I Lie to You? (2021), commenting:
“A page-turning, warm and funny debut about what happens when you have your dream life – and are about to lose it.”
Cosmopolitan has also characterised the British-Pakistani’s work:
“An uplifting and joyous read…A refreshing new voice in commercial fiction.”
Moreover, Ali-Afzal participated in Curtis Brown Creative’s ‘Writing Your Novel’. She has spoken out about how this has helped her develop as a writer, expressing:
“I loved the fact that the ultimate goal of the course was to get published, and found this ambitious approach both motivating and inspirational.”
Ali-Afzal is a great person to look out for if trying to understand how to develop your writing. From 2021, Ali-Afzal was working towards a masters degree in creative writing.
Her dedication to improve as an author and continue her success is an exciting prospect for British Asian authors.
There are British Asian writers to look out for when trying to broaden your literary horizons. Not only are these figures incredibly talented, but they each bring unique aspects to their work.
From social media writers to published authors, it is important to look out for the rising writers amongst your own community.
That way, you can develop your own writing, whilst finding figures to inspire your own authorial progression.