Romantic Novelists' Association

When Soma Met Sahan By Jeevani Charika

22 November 2023

Author Jeevani Charika with her books. Author has dark bobbed hair and glasses and is pictured with a pile of her books. We are delighted that you could join us to talk about your new release. Could you tell us a little more about it? When Soma Met Sahan is a re-release of my book This Stolen Life with a new title and a new cover. It’s a women’s fiction story about a Sri Lankan girl (Soma) who steals an identity and comes to England to be a nanny to a middle-class family. She meets and falls in love with a student, a fellow Sri Lankan, who teaches her to read English. But how can you love someone if you can’t even tell them your real name?

What was the inspiration behind your book? What prompted you to tell this story? The idea came to me years ago when I read The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins, which starts with a woman stealing the identity of a dead woman. I wondered how that could happen now. The story sprang from there and grew into its own thing.

How long did the book take to write? How much re-writing do you normally do? This book took a little over a year to write. I was still working at the time, so I could only write for a few hours each evening. Weirdly, even after I stopped working a regular job (I’m freelance now, so I get to organise my time the way I want it), I found that I didn’t write much more than I did when I had to squeeze the writing into two hours at night. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Probably ‘you need to write more…’.

I’m a messy drafter, so I always have to do a ton of re-writing before anyone sees it. Even my usual beta readers don’t get to see it until around draft 4.

Without giving too much away, what was the hardest part of the book to write?  I find that the hardest bits to write are the ones where you have to give something of yourself to the book. In When Soma Met Sahan, Yamuna, the mum of the baby Soma looks after, is suffering from postnatal depression. She is trying to work out who she is now that she’s a wife and a mother. The scenes where she struggles to bond with her baby (something that I struggled with when I had postnatal depression) were painful to write because I had to go back to that dark place in my life. I cried when I wrote the scene where she finally realises that she’s not broken and that she’s just as maternal as she needs to be. I still cry a bit when I read it … which made editing extra fun.

What was your journey to publication? Oh, this is a long one. You might want to get yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit. Ready?

The first book I wrote, back in 2007, was a women’s fiction story about characters who just happened to be Sri Lankan. I submitted it, got rejected etc – you know how it goes. I got some ‘nice rejections’ which basically said ‘you can write, but I don’t know who I’d sell this book to’. I suspect that the problem was that I’d written a book about people of colour that wasn’t about racism or the immigrant struggle. It was a different time back then. Black Lives Matter hadn’t shown up yet, so books with casual representation were deemed ‘difficult to place’ and no one gave it any further thought. (Side note – In case you think I’m making this up, when the press about Black Lives Matter was at its height a publisher contacted me to apologise for rejecting a When Soma Met Sahan, despite loving it, because they thought it would be ‘difficult to relate to’). Thankfully, things are improving now, albeit slowly.

At the time, I didn’t realise any of that stuff about the market. I just wanted to know what was wrong with my book. I joined the NWS and got a critique for it. One of the comments in my NWS report was ‘you have a comedic voice crying to get out – have you considered writing a book just for fun?’. I thought ‘why not?’ and wrote a romcom about white people for fun. That went through the NWS the following year and came back with a nice short report that said ‘this is pretty good’. I started submitting book 2 and got an offer from a small publisher in the US within a year. I was asked if I’d be using a pen name. I’m a microbiologist by training and I used to work on a bacterium called Rhodobacter, so I called myself Rhoda Baxter. I have written romcoms as Rhoda Baxter for a decade now.

The itch to write stories with Sri Lankan characters never left me and I wrote a second one. I sent that out and it eventually found me an agent, who found me a publisher in Hera Books. That book was When Soma Met Sahan. I’ve been writing under my real name – Jeevani Charika- ever since. Remember that very first book that I wrote? That eventually came out in 2019, 12 years after I first started submitting it, as A Convenient Marriage (and was shortlisted for an RNA award).

What book do you wish you had written? The Bromance Bookclub by Lyssa Kay Adams! It’s about a group of big alpha guys who read romance novels in order to become better at love. The guys are so realistically blokey and the women are so relatable. I absolutely adore this series and I wish I’d thought of the concept.

Can you tell us what you are working on now? Right now, I’m doing the edits for a book that’s coming out at the end of 2024. The working title was ‘Man Buns’ but I’m not allowed to keep that one, so we’re trying to figure out what a suitable title would be. It’s about a woman who loves sugar and the man who opens a low carb cafe called Man Buns opposite her cake shop.

About the Author
Jeevani Charika (also known as Rhoda Baxter) writes romantic comfort reads with a dash of fun. Her books have been shortlisted for multiple awards. Jeevani is British-Sri Lankan. She loves all things science geeky. She also loves cake, Lego and playing with Canva. You can find out more about her (and get a free book!) on her website.
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