How I created ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by Lainy Malkani


Lainy Malkani is a London born journalist and writer with Indo-Caribbean roots. Her critically acclaimed two-part series for BBC Radio 4, Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas, inspired the creation of ‘Sugar, Sugar: Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers‘.  Spanning across five continents and based on historical facts, this contemporary short story collection is an uncovering of inspiring tales of courage and resilience. Here’s Lainy’s story…

“‘Sugar, Sugar – Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers’ is a composition of ten short stories about the lives of indentured Indians spanning five continents. The stories were based on historical documents from the British Library and the memories of the descendants of Indian sugar workers living in London. They were recruited to work on sugar plantation in a number of British colonies after the emancipation of African slaves led to a shortage of labour.

As a descendent of indentured Indians who went to work in British Guiana, sometime between 1838 and the turn of the century I was already aware of the history of my ancestors. In fact, I had already told my story in a two-part Radio 4 documentary series called ‘Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas’. Its success inspired me to write this collection and extend it to Fiji, Trinidad, South Africa and Mauritius where the Indian diaspora also share this incredible history. As a broadcast journalist I was used to telling stories on the radio. But there is nothing quite like having your words in print.

As I had never written fiction before I decided to apply for funding from Arts Council England to help me build a team of people who could help me with the writing process. I first contacted Eva Lewin, Writer Development Manager at Spread the Word who was the first to support my application. I also enlisted the help of author Jamie Rhodes, who became my writing mentor. Mireille Fauchon, an illustrator came on board and I budgeted for actors who would perform readings at book signings and community events. Meeting publisher, Rosemarie Hudson, of HopeRoad Publishing was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

I submitted my application in July last year and by the end of August received news that I had been successful. My project plan was thorough. Over a six month period I scheduled my writing plan: two weeks to research and write the first draft and a further week to review and rewrite each story followed by a week with the copy-editor and proof-reader. I converted the spare room into an office and stuck photographs, posters, postcards and quotes from key research articles and records on the wall. I was in regular contact with Jamie who helped me with the creative process. He read through my drafts and offered critical advice on how to improve my writing. His input and encouragement helped me through many moments of insecurity about my ability to write creatively. It is true to say that I had several moments where my confidence as a writer was shaken. Jamie helped to restore my faith in myself with practical tips on how to work through those darker moments and push on to the finishing line.

The plan was to release the book to coincide with two major events in 2017: the 70th anniversary of Partition which saw India’s independence and the birth of two new nations, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the 100th anniversary of the end of the indenture programme which saw more than 1.5 million Indians migrate to British colonies around the world. The book was launched on 25 May 2017. Seeing my book in print for the first time, holding it in my hand and flicking through the pages was the moment that it really dawned on me that I had become a writer.

To my delight ‘Sugar, Sugar Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers’, is proving to be a success. The London Book Fair, the Royal College of Art and the University of London are just some of the events where I have shared my story. On 10 August I will be hosting an event at the British Library which will bring together over two hundred people to share their own stories of indenture. In the coming months I will be holding workshops with other communities hoping to write creative fiction around their own ancestral history. Looking ahead to next year, I have already begun planning my next book. I think it will be another collection of short stories but who knows?”

Published 4 July 2017