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Writer-in-residence connects to community

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 10:52 PDT, Fri October 15, 2021

Sonya Lalli spoke to residents at a September kick-off event

For new Richmond writer-in-residence Sonya Lalli, September’s kick-off event was a chance to connect to her new community here in B.C.

Lalli, who recently moved from Toronto with her husband, will hold the writer-in-residence position through the end of November, offering workshops to locals. Two workshops are scheduled for Oct. 23 and 30, and there will also be a finale event in November.

“The first (workshop) is on the path to publication, standing out, getting ahead. I’m going to talk about my journey through the publishing world, and try and help people with any tips that I’ve learned from my mentors,” says Lalli. “The second part is focusing on authentic storytelling. I write books about South Asian women; a lot of times I’m drawing on my own personal experiences or those of my community or my family. Some of that stuff can be pretty difficult, intergenerational trauma and various baggage or complexities and nuances that sometimes are hard to write about.”

While Lalli has always been interested in writing, she used to consider it just a hobby. Her first book, The Matchmaker’s List, started as an idea “that really wouldn’t leave me alone.” She was able to find a literary agent, who helped her with the editing work necessary, and was matched with a publisher.

At first, Lalli wrote in the hours outside her day job, including mornings and weekends. But when she began working from home during the pandemic, she found herself with even more time to write. Now, she works reduced hours at her day job and is able to find more balance between that and writing.

Her second book, Grown-Up Pose, was challenging. It was released in March 2020, so the excitement of a new release was tamped down by the onset of the pandemic. Lalli describes the struggle some writers have with their sophomore novel, and says she experienced impostor syndrome and doubt compared to her first book.

Lalli’s fourth novel, A Holly Jolly Diwali, will be published next month. Lalli describes it as “an escapist romance,” since it’s set in India and follows a young South Asian woman who travels there and falls in love.

“Nobody was travelling and we’re all home, but it was really nice to escape into this world and write a book where everything was as it was (before the pandemic) and we’re all travelling and falling in love in the old normal way,” says Lalli.

She’s recently stepped into a new genre, and her first psychological thriller Are You Sara? will be released next year. While that genre wasn’t something she’d considered before, it was “challenging and fun” to explore something new.

Lalli emphasizes the importance of mentorship and community, particularly given the lack of representation of minority stories in books and media. She hopes her workshops can help people in their own writing journeys.

“It’s on me and others like me to keep the door open, and to pass on what we’ve learned, and to help others get in too.”

She was able to have meaningful interactions with some people at her recent event.

“A few people I met there had read my work and wanted to talk about what it means to see yourself in the books you’re reading,” she says. “I get those sorts of messages online, but it was one of the first times that I was able to have that conversation in person and it was really really rewarding. It makes you realize why you’re doing this, and it’s to have other people feel seen and heard and have their voices and their stories matter.”

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