Martin David Hughes is new to the world of writing and about to publish his first fictional novel, Jaya Nepal!. Straying from his career in health care to become an author we asked him to share with us why he began writing.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am thirty-three years old and a first-time author who loves traveling, interacting with other cultures, and finding meaning in the small yet significant moments that happen while exploring abroad. I’m originally from Canada, but I moved to the United States (Portland, Oregon) in my mid-twenties to pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. Though my background is in health care, I’ve always enjoyed writing, as I find that it’s the best medium through which to express myself artistically. I had the good fortune of traveling to South Asia in my early twenties, and this experience helped me develop a deep connection with the people and the cultures of the Indian subcontinent (as well as a love for cross-cultural exchange). When I’m not writing or managing my online business (NaturalFootgear.com), I’m out enjoying the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, my home for the past three years.
If you could describe the storyline of your latest novel to someone in just a few sentences, how would you entice someone to want to read it?
Jaya Nepal! is the story of a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal who seeks redemption for past transgressions. It captures the period of intense (and tumultuous) transformation from youth to adulthood in one young person’s life, and the story itself weaves its way through both time and geography, from fun and free college days to enhanced adult responsibility and from Nepal’s Himalayas to Bombay’s Dharavi slums. Jaya Nepal! tells that most personal of tales—of how your first true romantic adventure can have a profound ripple effect on your life that lasts for many years.
When and why did you begin writing?
Jaya Nepal! is my first dedicated attempt at writing fiction. I started writing the novel during my own volunteer stint in Nepal, mostly as a way of helping me interpret everything I was seeing and experiencing, but also as a way of chronicling the very interesting lives of the Nepalis around me. The novel grew out of the very intense emotions—joy, loneliness, compassion, camaraderie—that I experienced during my volunteer placement. It was a great period of transformation in my life, and I felt that committing those emotions and experiences to paper would help me better understand who I was and what my role in life ought to be. The urge to write was so strong, and the story just kind of bubbled to the surface. Once I began writing, I was hooked on the process and fully committed to seeing the project through to completion. The metamorphosis—both of the writing into an actual novel and of me into someone passionate about writing fiction— that occurred was a happy (and very welcome!) surprise.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Writing is an extremely fulfilling activity for me, and it’s the vehicle through which I’m best able to interpret the world. When I’m writing, I feel as though I’m connecting with myself and the world in the most honest way possible. Writing allows me to share messages with others that reflect my deepest hopes and wishes for our human family, and that’s what I really love about my work. I also enjoy the process of crafting a story, of mashing up all the bits and pieces of my own experience to create something that I hope is both entertaining and meaningful.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
I think that, like many first-time authors, juggling the realities of life with the desire to devote myself more fully to writing has been one of the hardest things about being a writer. Understanding and accepting that writing time (for most of us) is a privilege that must first be earned through hard work (and then figuring out how to accomplish this) has presented many unexpected challenges. Also, trying to maintain a healthy life balance when writing has, for me, historically been quite challenging. I often find myself neglecting other aspects of my life (exercise, healthy eating, etc.) that actually support my efforts and promote well-roundedness. Another aspect of being a writer that I’ve found challenging is cultivating the patience to put my work aside for months at a time so that I can eventually come back to it with a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective.
What inspires you to write?
The desire to be as true to myself as possible is what most inspires me to write. I am a writer, which is both a title and a vocation that I strongly identify with. Any work task in life that takes me further away from writing causes me to feel an underlying current of restlessness and makes me realize just how important writing is in my life. There is something internal that compels me to write. And writing makes me feel free, fully and completely. I also find that writing is therapeutic, in many ways. It’s what allows me to better understand myself and the way in which the world works. The fact that writing is so immediately accomplishable—that you can craft something out of nothing using only your imagination and your own past experiences—also inspires me to write.
When working on a new novel, what is the first thing you do?
The first thing I did when writing what would eventually become Jaya Nepal! was to jot down all the little ideas that began to form in my mind. Once I committed to the creative process, the flood gates opened and countless ideas for the story and how to tell it flowed forth. I kept a small notebook handy that I used to record these ideas, some of which came to me in the middle of the night, others during my daily bike commute to and from school. Without that notebook, I would have lost all those ideas.
For any new work, my initial approach will be slightly different. The first thing I will do is sit down and map out a framework for the novel, including all the characters and their various personalities (while still leaving plenty of room for growth and spontaneity within that framework). I think that doing this, creating a structure for the novel, will save a lot of time and help streamline my efforts.
Which writers do you admire, and can you name a favourite book?
Three writers I admire immediately come to mind: Khaled Hosseini, Rohinton Mistry, and Gregory David Roberts. All three write about life in South Asia, and I respond very positively to that because I have such a strong connection with that part of the world. I like Hosseini because he’s such an amazing storyteller, and also because he’s a physician who transitioned into being an author—a transformation that’s very near and dear to my own heart. I like Mistry because he has such a tremendous command of the English language and because he explores so intimately in his writing all facets of the human condition. I like Roberts because of the passion for Indian culture that emanates from his work and for the incredible scope of his undertaking.
My favorite book is Roberts’s Shantaram. Shantaram changed the way that I view all other novels. No other novel I’ve ever read (perhaps with the exception of Mistry’s A Fine Balance) depicts the suffering and joy of everyday men and women so honestly, presents the anguish of the exiled so candidly, and celebrates the gift of freedom so vividly. Shantaram is a big, beautiful novel full of the emotions and the experiences that so classically define the human experience.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Recognize that you have a unique story to tell and that it’s vitally important to honor that story and tell it with passion. Persist, persist, and persist. Explore, with an open heart and mind, your full talents, and realize that the journey (though challenging and frustrating at times) is what shapes you into a better writer. Surround yourself with people who can help you realize your full potential (both as a writer and a person). And take care of yourself! How you approach your physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual health can have huge repercussions on the success of your project and your long-term well-being.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue writing fiction that focuses on cross-cultural exchange. Now that my first novel is complete, I have a lot of new ideas forming for future works. I look forward to sharing more of my work with the good readers of Travelling Book Junkie in the near future.
Thanks again, Tam, for this wonderful opportunity! I really appreciate the chance to share my experience as a writer with your dedicated readers. I’m happy to answer any additional questions that might come up.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for taking part in our ‘Author of the Week’ series. Good Luck with your first novel out of the 7th Oct. (review coming shortly).