“Lavina Valiram’s debut novel Part Star Part Dust was released last year and the book was lapped up by KL’s literary set. At the book launch, the venue was packed with friends and well-wishers including Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir who was all praise for Lavina’s first literary effort. “I wish I could write as beautifully,” gushed the seasoned veteran in the publishing world. The novel revolves around a millionaire, a widow and a monk; whose lives became forever intertwined in a plane crash. Lavina’s storytelling is smooth for a first-time author, the characters are fully developed and the plot will definitely glue you in. Part Star Part Dust was unputdownable, and we can’t wait for her next book. Dream of publishing a book? Here are some helpful tips from Lavina to enrich your journey as a first-time author.

1. A hard beginning maketh a good ending

“I thought I could write a book because I was a little skilled and I freelanced as a writer in my teens.” Armed with this confidence, Lavina started her first manuscript and about 30,000 words in, she had to bin her story. “It was so bad, I couldn’t even read it!”

At the second attempt and after about 30,000 to 40,000 words, she decided to send the stack to a critique. The manuscript came back full of red markings and that’s when she realised it’s not going to be as simple. “They say writing is not describing the house and the blue skies above, it’s about shedding light on what happens when there is a fight in that house. It’s important to keep your readers engaged while you steer the story forward.”

The first two drafts for Part Star Part Dust took about 2 years and the edits another 6 to 8 months; although the idea of writing a book has been brewing in her head for 8 years.

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2. Building each chapter and the characters

There’s a whole structure underneath stories, one has to build the scaffolding. And while you’re building the story, you’re learning. Lavina definitely did. “I studied for over a year, took courses online and I learned to put all that information together,” shares the mother of two and wife to retail powerhouse Sharan Valiram.

By the time she was finished, she was filled with the knowledge of character arc, conflict, theme, voice, scene goals, plot and point of view. Writing is a craft, the harder you work at it the better you are going to become.

“I took a long time to create the characters and I remember spending weeks with each one in my head, trying to understand who they are. I had all these imaginary friends and I became each one of them. At times, I could not go on because the scene would become too emotional and I had to stop.”

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3. Knowing that this is it 

It was a big learning curve for Lavina but she also came to the realisation that this is what she wanted to do. “When you write the perfect sentence and it’s there sitting on the screen looking all innocent, and you can’t believe it came out of you – that feeling is like falling in love. That perfect ending, that perfect paragraph, that perfect word. You just need a moment to feel it.”

When you are overwhelmed with these emotions, it’s just not normal. Lavina felt it very deep in her being. “These characters I’ve created won’t let me sleep. I will wake up at 3am and think about them. It doesn’t usually happen to everyone but I’m glad to have experienced it.”

4. Coming upon the narrator

Lavina was deeply fascinated by time. How you can’t stop it and the way it rules your life. “I’m just amazed at the concept of time and how we can’t rewind it. What you’ve chosen for yourself, you’ll have to live with it because that choices have consequences. You can’t go back and undo your decisions, but you may re-do in the future. I love that. Time baffles me. How you’re born into time and can’t stop it.” 

She often wondered if time was a narrator what story would it tell, and strongly believes that it will be a story of us, and that’s how Part Star Part Dust came to be. A story of us, one that any one of us could identify with.

5. Putting the readers first

Her main concern was not wanting to be disrespectful of her readers and she wanted to make sure it was the best possible book. “I didn’t want to ride on my name and status, I just wanted it to be about me and my craft. It was about me exerting my independence as a person, independent of my social status, business or the family I married into. Money can’t buy a 5-star review and money can’t buy a compliment; and I was craving that.”

She also reveals that sometimes whatever little she achieves, people will say it’s easier for her given her status but she’s fiercely protective of this success. “I can hold on to this, I did not use money. I went in like everyone. I used the cost of my books to cover the launch. Readers who walk in the bookstore to buy a book don’t care who you are, they just want a good book to read.”

She will keep writing books that are worth her readers’ time.

6. The hardest part of writing this book 

For Lavina, the hardest part of writing this book is having the discipline to overcome the 80 percent of procrastination associated with writers. “I think writers are the biggest procrastinators, our best work is often produced in the last 5 percent of the leg. The hardest part, let me stress it again, is getting through that 80 percent without guilt.”

She was scared out of her wits to put the book out and it was like being naked, although she had good feedbacks from her agent. When the first 5-star review came in, she was very emotional. 

“I was then holding my breath for the 1,2 stars but it hasn’t come in. I have no intentions of stopping. I think I run my business pretty efficiently, I have a good sense of entrepreneurship but actually I’m a writer. That’s what I’ll be doing happily when I retire,” mulls over the director of Valiram Group and creative director/founder of FLOW.

7. Finding inspiration in books

She loves Sylvia Plath for her madness, intensity and pithy writing style. “She was a genius, despite her mental illness, and she was able to produce such raw, deep and naked works. For a writer, it’s an honour to write with such honesty and with Sylvia there was no filter. All was out there on the table in beautiful words.”

Her books have a sad tone but you feel connected, like you know her. And that’s an achievement, when a reader can connect with a writer. “I just love her. I also love Stephen King for his style of writing, he knows how to keep you going. Another favourite author of mine is Ira Levin and I love his books Rosemary’s Baby and A Kiss Before Dying. He’s a beautiful writer who writes punchy whodunits.”

Lavina is already working on her next book and it will have a dash of romance, whodunit and mystery. Stay tuned!

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