Meet the Mentors! Creative Non-Fiction Coach Shreya Sen Handley
Recently we had the pleasure of catching up with our Creative Non-Fiction coach Shreya Sen Handley!
Shreya is an award winning writer who really has done it all, from a career in print and TV journalism to writing an opera!
Read on to find out more about her work, and how she could help inspire and influence your own…
Tell us a bit about yourself!
A former CNBC and MTV journalist and East India head for Australasian Channel [V], I’ve authored three books for HarperCollins: the award-winning ‘Memoirs of My Body’ (2017), short story collection ‘Strange’ (2019), and travelogue ‘Handle With Care’ (2022).
A Welsh National Opera librettist, the first South Asian woman to have written international opera according to the media, I’ve collaborated with WNO on their film series ‘Creating Change’ (2020), and operas ‘Migrations’ (2022) and ‘Blaze of Glory’ (2023). My play ‘Quiet’ was staged in London by award-winning Tara Theatre in 2021.
A columnist for the international media, I’ve written for the National Geographic, CNN, The Guardian, and more, and my essays can be found in anthologies such as the University of East Anglia’s ‘Writing Places’ in 2019, and Hodder Education’s Secondary School English textbook ‘Detectives’ in 2020.
My short stories and poetry have been published in British and international anthologies, besides being broadcast, performed, and shortlisted for prizes in Britain, India and Australia. My poem ‘No Man is a Sneinton Island’ spearheaded a British national campaign against hate crimes in 2020.
I am an illustrator for Hachette, HarperCollins, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, Nottingham City Council, and Welsh National Opera, amongst others, and I teach creative writing at British institutions, including the Universities of Cambridge and Nottingham. In our city I also teach writing at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, Writing East Midlands and Nottinghamshire Libraries, amongst others.
A regular commentator on culture and current affairs for the BBC and other media, I am a National Literacy Trust Champion, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature collaborative board member, and a former school governor and Nottingham Festival of Literature director.
Currently working on getting my HarperCollins travelogue ready for publication, while writing my new novel and my syndicated newspaper columns, I live with my children, husband, dog, books, unfinished paintings and jars of spices, in a wild little patch of Nottingham.
What are the perks of a coaching package with you?
I have vast experience in the business of writing and have demonstrated, I’m told, great range, having worked with an array of top organisations in different sectors; from print and broadcast media to publishing to opera to theatre and education. Having worked with the best, to a very high standard myself, by all accounts, in a range of arts and genres, I have a lot to share with other creatives looking to develop their careers or brush up on existing strengths. I’ve also been told I’m generous with my energy, creativity, support and good advice, and that’s just what I plan to keep doing.
What do you love most about writing?
Writing is so integral to who I am. I thoroughly enjoy the process. It fills my life with colour and passion and wonder. And the outcome gives me such a lot of self-worth. It also provides a sense of continuity and sanity and stability in a world gone awry (as it has these last 18 months). It brings me calm and purpose and focus, besides being a powerful tool to make a difference in this world. So writing not only helps me, but in putting it to good use, it allows me to help others. What an important art it is, with such an impact on all of us!
What’s been your proudest writing achievement to date?
It has all meant a great deal to me and I have enjoyed the journey as a whole. Having said that, firsts always stand out, don’t they?
My first book for example, ‘Memoirs of My Body’, commissioned by top publisher HarperCollins which went on to win awards and accolades, including from UNESCO Cities of Literature. And my popular CNN column on which it was based; the impact that had was a joy too.
My first opera, ‘Migrations’, with the Welsh National Opera, one of the world’s biggest and best theatrical organisations, delights me, and how mind-blowingly grand our opera is – over a hundred performers, three big choirs and a live orchestra, premiering at the Wales Millennium Centre next summer, then touring some of Britain’s biggest theatres. The fact that I am the first South Asian woman to have written one feels surreal but an important milestone too.
My first play ‘Quiet’ which premiered recently at the award winning Tara Theatre in London, steered by the likes of Oscar-winner Sir Richard Eyre, Booker of Bookers winner Salman Rushdie and ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’’s Hanif Kureishi; it felt great to be a part of that.
Writing for many international television channels has felt fabulous too, making music videos for MTV, and my many columns for global magazines and newspapers, it’s all helped develop confidence and purpose.
That my fiction and poetry too, broadcast by the BBC and published by HarperCollins (amongst others), has been warmly received means a lot. That my writing has made a difference to how some people see the world, or the confidence with which they tackle it means even more.
Something that really pleased me last year was the inclusion of an essay of mine in British secondary school textbooks published by top publisher Hachette/Hodder Education, to be taught to school children as a measure of good literary skills, alongside the works of TS Eliot and Arthur Conan Doyle!
Illustrating books for Hachette and HarperCollins, teaching at Cambridge…and in this city, I was proud to have had my first ever short story chosen for the Nottingham anthology ‘These Seven’ published by Five Leaves, featuring seven select writers from this city including Alan Sillitoe (what fabulous company yet again!) which played its part in our successful bid to become an UNESCO City of Literature.
There are more books and operas and articles with top publications and arts organisations on the way, which gives me much to look forward to. But that’s not to say there aren’t disappointments as well. Every new experience has been a learning opportunity, and a gift.
What wisdom from your experiences would you like to impart on other writers?
In the words of Nottinghamshire legend Alan Sillitoe, we must keep on keeping on.
If it matters, persevere. Open up to new ideas and take risks. Those lucky breaks, which are rarely about luck, will come if you work on your craft till it’s the best it can be, and that is a lifelong process. Pay attention to good advice along the way, including constructive criticism, but turn a deaf ear to the nay sayers. Believing in your abilities, and that you can learn and get better, will enable you to take those crucial leaps of faith that bring further opportunities. And when they come knocking, give them your all.