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Write On! Features: The Journey To My Books by Hema Macherla

by Hema Macherla

I walked into Waterstones in 2008 and what immediately caught my eye was my book, Breeze From The River Manjeera, on the ‘We Recommend’ display shelf. I was so thrilled.

At an early age, I’d watch my mother burning the midnight oil while she wrote her book. I mean it literally. Atmakur, the small village in India where I was born, did not have electricity until 1973. After finishing her housework, and with her five children securely in bed, my mother used to sit by a kerosene lamp to write. Unfortunately, her book was never published, but her zeal for writing rubbed off on me. I used to scribble down fragments of stories all the time. At school, I managed to win a few prizes for essay writing and poetry. My first story, White Rose, which I wrote at 14, was published in my school magazine.

I was married almost immediately after I finished high school. I spoke very little English when I arrived in the UK on a cold December day to join my husband, who was then a junior doctor.

A few days after my arrival, while my husband was in the bath, the phone rang. I was hesitant at first, but answered it anyway.

“Is the doctor there, please?” the person on the other end asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Could I speak to him, please?”


“But it’s important.”


“The patient is very ill.”

“Thank you.”

And so the conversation continued. I had no idea what the woman was saying. I was repeatedly saying, “Yes, No, Fine, Thank you,” in response to all her questions and requests. It was very difficult for me to understand the words and her accent. I could tell she was fed up with me from her tone and the way she ended the conversation abruptly.

When my husband came out of the bathroom, I told him about the phone call. He immediately rang the hospital. The nurse recited our entire conversation to him. I will never forget the look of embarrassment on his face. He didn’t say anything then, but hurried out.

That evening, when he returned home, he brought me two presents:  a womens’ magazine and a dictionary.

“That’s it,” he said. “You are going to learn English.”

I read the magazine, sitting up all through the night, from cover to cover, without skipping a word. I couldn’t make sense of a single sentence, despite the aid of the dictionary. However, I was not going to give up. The next morning, I went to the library. Wandering down the aisles and reading the book titles increased my determination to learn English. Looking through the children’s section gave me an idea. Why not learn the language from scratch, like a child would? I went home with an assortment of basic children’s books, and I began reading them. It worked. Gradually, I started to understand this very different language. Later I advanced to teenage fiction, and then finally promoted myself to novels. Since then, the library has become my second home and reading has been what I love most.

In the early days, I used to write short stories about my experiences in this country and submit them to magazines in India. Around 25 of them were published in various ‘Telugu’ magazines.

The inspiration for my first book, Breeze From The River Manjeera, sparked from a conversation with my friend about a beleaguered young woman she knew, whom I subsequently met. Her story moved me and I was shocked and surprised to realise that age-old, unfair and cruel behaviour towards women happens behind closed doors, even today, and even in this country. I wanted to publicise these practices, and the only way was to write about them. I decided to write the book in English so that it would appeal to a wider readership. However, I knew very little English grammar, so this novel proved to be the most difficult challenge I had ever set myself. With determination, I summoned up the courage and began to write.

At first, writing in a second language was quite difficult, but I persevered. After writing about 60 pages, I needed advice on whether I should continue and so joined my local writing group. There, I received  the support and feedback I so desperately needed from my fellow writers. Most influential was the constructive criticism and guidance from our group leader, John Farley. He suggested I get everything down on paper first and worry about the grammar later.

When I’d finished the novel, John insisted I send it to Richard & Judy’s ‘How To Get Published’ writing competition. I was hesitant at first, but again, following his advice, I did. I never thought anything would come out of it, but a year later, to my great surprise, I received a letter out of the blue informing me that my book was one of the 26 short-listed novels out of 44,000 entries. This gave me the much-needed boost and confidence to send the manuscript out to publishers.

When Linen Press liked it and offered me a publishing contract, I was thrilled. My editor, Lynn Michell, suggested she edit the book chapter by chapter. I must say I’m fortunate to have her as my editor and mentor. It was another learning curve in my writing life – like doing a course in novel writing. Unlike the other well-known publishers from whom I had near-misses, she didn’t ask me to change the story or  my characters. She understood my characters and their culture as much as I understood them. I’m grateful for her gentle approach.

Now I’ve published three books with Linen Press: Breeze From The River ManjeeraBlue Eyes and Letters In The Sand. All three have been bought by the Paris-based publishers, Mercure De France and translated into French. Working with Lynn Michell, my editor and mentor at Linen Press, has been a wonderful experience.

The publication of Breeze From The River Manjeera paved the way for talks and book signings in book festivals across the UK, US, France and Spain, as well as BBC TV and radio interviews, TV interviews in India and features about my writing in national newspapers in the UK and India.

I received the 2008 Literary Association’s Reading Hero award at 10 Downing Street, by the then Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown, and in 2009 I won a prize in the ‘Big Red Read’ competition.

What I’ve learned through my experience of writing:

  1. Read extensively before attempting to write.
  2. Don’t worry about making every paragraph perfect. Keep writing and then go back and look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. When you read as if you’re reading someone else’s work, not like a reader but like a writer, you will see your mistakes, weaknesses and strengths. As they say, “Rewriting is the art of writing.”
  3. Being a writer is a lonely job. Joining a writer’s group and mixing with like-minded people can be fun and offer encouragement.
  4. Always take criticism in a positive way and use it to your advantage.
  5. Be critical of your own writing. When you’re satisfied with it, you stop learning.
  6. Be bold and delete unnecessary words, especially adjectives and adverbs.

One example:

When my editor was working on my first novel, she asked me, “What is this character doing in your story?” I knew I only created that character to add some humour to the story, but then I realised that the character didn’t move the story forward or add anything of importance, so I deleted the entire chapter.

I’m currently working on my fourth novel. My writing journey, and my love for writing, continues.


Hema Macherla lives in London. She has published three novels with Linen Press, also 25 of her short stories and a number of articles have appeared in Indian magazines. Her debut novel, Breeze From The River Manjeera was short-listed for The Richard & Judy Book Club. Hema received a National Reading Hero award at 10 Downing Street in 2008 and won the ‘Big Red Read’ prize in 2009. All her novels have been translated into French by Mercure de France

All of Hema’s books are available on Amazon.


Issue 19 of Write On! is out now and you can read it online here. Find it in libraries and other outlets. You can find previous editions of our magazines here.

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Always take criticism in a positive way and use it to your advantage.