Jeevani Charika is a microbiologist who also writes under the name Rhoda Baxter. Her books have been shortlisted for the RoNA awards, the Love Stories awards and the Joan Hessayon award. She is a member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.
Tell me what inspired you to write your novel?
Unlike normal, when I flail around trying to find a plausible source of inspiration, I can tell you that Playing For Love was inspired by the children’s TV show Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir. I started watching it with my kids. They grew out of it. I didn’t. The show has a wonderful dynamic between the two main characters (and their secret identity alter egos). I wanted to write a story that captured the same dynamic, but set in the real world. The only way I could think of to do that was to have the characters meet in an online game, where they don’t know their real life identities.
What came first the characters or the world?
In this case, the characters came first. The world … Playing For Love is a contemporary romcom set in a startup incubator. When it comes to settings, I tend to use fictionalised versions of real places. I used to work at a university enterprise hub, so the world of startups is familiar to me.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
The first book I wrote didn’t get published for over a decade. In the mid 2000s, I wrote a book where the main characters were middle class British-Sri Lankans. I submitted it to agents and publishers and got a lot of very nice rejections. Someone suggested I wrote something ‘for fun’ while I was querying. So I wrote a rom com about white middle class people. I had an offer from a digital publisher within a year or so of submitting that one. I didn’t give up with that first book though. A Convenient Marriage was finally published by Hera books in 2019. It was shortlisted for the RoNA contemporary romantic novel of the year in 2020. I’d had seven other books published in the meantime.
How long did it take to write?
A Convenient Marriage (the first book I wrote) took three years to write. Playing For Love took six months. I don’t think writing a novel has got any easier, but I’ve got faster at going through the various stages of the process.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
Hell no! I prefer to have silence when I write.
How many publishers turned you down?
So many that I’ve lost count! Even after the first book is published, it’s not always easy to stay published. I’ve had books published by five different publishers now. I’m writing book 2 of a two-book deal at the moment. The one after that might end up with the same publisher or have to go out on general submission again. We’ll just have to wait and see.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
It had 160 reviews on Netgalley, most of them positive. So that’s nice.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
The heroine in my book is brown. My favourite reviews are the ones that said something along the lines of ‘I’ve been reading romance novels for years and it’s the first time I’ve seen someone like me in one’. I’ve come to realise that this is very important to me. Representation matters.
What can you tell us about your next book?
It’s a romcom again, this time set around the New Year. There’s a fake relationship trope. There’s probably something in there about social class and self belief, but I haven’t written enough of the book to know exactly what yet.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
Of course! It’s impossible not to. I try not to let the bad ones get me down, though. Reviews are for readers to tell other readers how they felt about the book. If someone didn’t like it, then that’s fine. If someone DOES like it, then that’s great. It’s all good. It’s all good. Pass the chocolate, please.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I currently write romantic comedy and women’s fiction (which are two different genres, with a bit of overlap). I’d love to write cosy crime. I just haven’t thought of a mystery with a nice twist in it yet.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I’m a microbiologist by training and I drifted into working with patents and other IP. I help universities manage their patent portfolios. I still work, but on a freelance basis.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Terry Pratchett. I’ve read the Discworld series many times and I find new things to think about every time I read one.
Which genres do you read yourself?
Romance (obviously), cosy crime, psychological thrillers, a bit of fantasy, a bit of sci fi and anything else that catches my eye. During the various lockdowns, I found it very difficult to read, but I’m getting back into reading again now, thank goodness.
What is your biggest motivator?
I’m not completely sure how to answer that. I am compelled to tell stories. The characters usually show up and start talking and the only way I can shut them up is to write it all down.
What will always distract you?
My children. I’m also fairly easily distracted by cake.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I don’t have much input into the covers. If I genuinely hate the cover the publisher suggests, they might tweak it … but generally, I don’t get much say. I usually take the view that they know how to market the books better than I do.
Were you a big reader as a child?
What were your favourite childhood books?
I read a lot of Enid Blyton. I adored the Famous Five. I read them again to my own children and loved them all over again.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
Blackwells on Broad Street in Oxford. When I was a student, if I had any money left at the end of term, I’d go and mooch around in there and spend it on books. I love the Norrington Room – which is underground and the first time you see it, it’s the most wonderful surprise.
What books can you not resist buying?
All sorts. I’m a terrible one for impulse buying books.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I have no special rituals. I wrote my first few books when I had very small children, so I got used to writing whenever I could. I still write at night, sitting in bed.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
The physical TBR pile only has about five books on it. I dare not look at the ebook TBR pile. It’s so big, it’s probably sentient now. It might eat me.
What is your current or latest read?
I am currently reading an ARC of Four Aunties and a Murder by Jesse Sutano. It’s the sequel to Dial A For Aunties.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
Jane Lovering will have a new book out sometime soon. I always drop everything to read her books. The same goes for Sue Moorcroft.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I’m currently writing the second romcom in the world of Playing For Love. It’s set in a Swiss ‘eco villa’. It doesn’t have a proper title yet . It’s due for publication in October 2022
Any events in the near future?
I will be at the Wild Words Festival (near London) in July, where I’ll be talking about romantic comedy and about the different publishing options we have available to us now.
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
Back in the early 2000s, when I had a long train commute, I read a lot (I picked books from the ‘just returned’ shelf of the library, so I read an eclectic selection). I found that I enjoyed the romcoms a lot, but I wished there were more books about competent, smart women and nice guy heroes. In the end I decided to write one, as mentioned above, for fun. I had a blast writing it and that comes across in the writing (I think). I do occasionally write darker books, but keep returning to the romcom. They make me smile and that’s got to be a good thing.