Mag Events,Legend l by Tina Edward Gunawardhana l 19 Aug 2022     - 85

A Prolific Author


 

Microbiologist Jeevani Charika balances a career as a scientist and romance writer in the UK
 
Words: Tina Edward Gunawardhana

 

For British-Sri Lankan microbiologist and author, writing is her passion. Starting off her writing career Jeevani realised that writing under a pen name will earn her more success so she selected the name Rhoda Baxter. As Rhoda, she has written eight full length novels and five novellas and as Jeevani  she has written three books, all of which have been published. Jeevani first started writing as a child and although she wanted to study for a degree in English her parents persuaded her to study science instead.  She went on to study Biochemistry at Oxford and while pursuing a career in science she embarked on writing romance novels. Writing under her pseudonym of Rhoda Baxter she has been nominated for an Emma award and a RoNA (Romantic Novel of the Year) award, and longlisted for a Page Turner award and the Guardian Not The Booker Prize. As Rhoda, she has been nominated for a Love Stories award and a RoNA award. 

 


How did you transition from being a microbiologist to a prolific writer?
I haven’t really ‘transitioned’ in that I still do both.  After finishing my PhD,  I moved into university technology transfer.  The job involves evaluating new inventions that come out of university research, patenting them (if appropriate) and trying to work out ways of getting them to market.  I still work as a freelance Intellectual Property consultant. I think there is a popular misconception that science and creativity are mutually exclusive. Scientific invention requires making a leap from one idea to another so it’s really very creative. The best inventions are the ones that make non-obvious connections. Conversely, writing stories has a large element of logic to it. I often write about scientists and lawyers because I work with both.  I am at my happiest when having a balance between science and writing fiction. 

 


You write under a pen name of Rhoda Baxter. Why is that?
I finished writing my first book and started submitting to agents back in 2006. I kept getting rejected. After nearly a year of this, I came to the reluctant conclusion that (a) part of the problem was that I had written a book about middle class Sri Lankan characters and publishers didn’t want that and (b) I needed to have some more experience under my belt before a publisher was going to take me seriously. 
I felt I needed some professional advice, so 
I looked for someone to do a manuscript assessment of my book and give me some feedback. While I was researching this, 
I stumbled across the UK Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). They run a training scheme for romance writers called the New Writers Scheme. My book wasn’t romance per se, but there was a strong enough romantic element for it to meet their criteria so I jumped onto it immediately. 
Joining the RNA was a revelation. I learned an awful lot about the publishing industry from the RNA discussion group. When I got my manuscript critique back from the RNA, one of the things my Reader suggested was that 
I stopped focusing all my attention on this one book and wrote something else. ‘Something you’d write for yourself to enjoy’, she said. This sounded like good advice, so I wrote the book which eventually became ‘Girl On The Run’. 
It was a mainstream romantic comedy with white characters. I started sending it to agents (more rejections) and one agent suggested that I should try a digital first publisher because my book had a lot of emails in it (this was 2008, emails in books were considered weird). I did that and got an offer from an American publisher. The editor there asked if I was intending to use a pen name - something easier to spell, perhaps?
I knew I wanted to write the books with 
Sri Lankan characters under my own name, so I chose to use the pen name Rhoda Baxter, which was suitably white sounding. That was a decade ago and most of my writing friends know me as Rhoda now. I happily answer to both names.

 

What is the story behind selecting this particular name?
I wanted to have a name that sounded English, but had some relevance to me. I did my PhD on a bacterium called Rhodobacter sphaeroides, so I named myself after the bacterium. 

 


Why do you alternate between your pen name and your real name?
The name I use depends on the book. I write two different sorts of books. When I write romance novels , mostly with white protagonists - I use Rhoda Baxter. These are easier to place with publishers. As Jeevani, I write about middle class British-Sri Lankans. These are more women’s fiction than romance. I was commissioned to write Christmas at the Palace, which was a genre romance with a 
Brit-Sri Lankan heroine. The publishers wanted that to be under the Jeevani Charika name. 

 


With the increasing popularity of e-books, how do you think digitisation might help or change your own career as a writer? 
E-books have already changed things. My first publisher was an e-book publisher. Most publishers in the romance genre now use the digital first model - meaning they’ll bring out the e-book and, if the book sells well enough, they’ll bring out a print edition. Some of my books are in e-book format only.  When I have books in both formats, I sell about fifty times as many e-books as print books. 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is the Features Editor of Hi!! Magazine. She writes on a variety of topics which include travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also a journalist for the Daily Mirror Life. An intrepid traveller, Tina likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno or email her at tinajourno@gmail.com

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