Author Q&A: Gita Raleigh

Gita Ralleigh is a poet, writer and doctor born to Indian immigrant parents in London. She teaches creative writing to science undergraduates at Imperial College and has an MA in Creative Writing and an MSc in Medical Humanities. She also happens to be a member of 26. You can find her on Twitter as @storyvilled and on Instagram as @gita_ralleigh

You’ve got a new novel for children coming out. Could you tell us a bit about it? 

The Destiny of Minou Moonshine is published by Head of Zeus/Bloomsbury in July and tells of Minou Moonshine’s quest to overthrow the General and restore the queendom. Armed with a secret, a map, and a mechanical elephant, Minou and her rebel friends must travel through the lush jungles and blue hills of Indica (an alternate colonial India) to discover her destiny.

What was your inspiration for the story? 

The first spark came from an image: a ramshackle houseboat anchored beside the rusted Palace gates. I knew a foundling named Minou Moonshine lived in the houseboat with her adopted grandmother. But who was Minou Moonshine? And how was she connected to the Palace, occupied by the despotic General? I had to write her story to find out.

Could you tell us about your journey to get it published? Were there any surprises along the way?

I started writing the story back in 2016 and worked on it for a couple of years before putting it aside. Over the last few years, I’ve focused on poetry rather than fiction and published two poetry pamphlets A Terrible Thing with Bad Betty Press and Siren with Broken Sleep Books. I returned to the novel early last year and revised it with encouragement from my wonderful agent Catherine Pellegrino at Marjacq. After that, things moved very quickly!

What was it like switching genres? What would you say are the similarities and differences?

I love both poetry and fiction and happily switch between them for separate projects, although I can’t work at both simultaneously – my brain must operate differently in each genre. Having said that, there is a poet character in The Destiny of Minou Moonshine, so poetry did work its way in! 

I find I am far more disciplined when working in prose – setting a word count goal helps – and, of course, you have an idea or outline of the plot. Working in poetry is more mysterious to me: I often start with an idea or image but need time to play with it before it crystallises into words.

The Destiny of Minou Moonshine is your children’s fiction debut, but have you done other writing for children before? 

I have published poetry for children and also wrote a YA manuscript as part of my MA in Creative Writing. That one hasn’t yet been published, although it did get me picked up by my agent.

Could you say a bit more about the creative writing teaching that you do with science undergraduates?

I’d published short fiction in Wasafiri and Bellevue Literary Review, and was first invited as a guest lecturer. 

I now teach a full creative writing module based on the short story, with writing exercises on aspects of craft and  a workshop semester. The students produce wonderfully original stories, often influenced by their scientific or medical studies. They all agree that creative writing has a positive effect on their main degree, as well as on the university experience generally.

What’s next? Have you got another project in the pipeline? 

Currently I’m writing a second novel for young readers, due to be published in 2024. The book is set in the same fictional world of Indica as The Destiny of Minou Moonshine, but with a new lead character and an island setting. I’m also hoping to return to poetry and work on my third manuscript later in the year.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon 

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