Interview : Chayya Syal
Who’d have thought that writing about things that mean a lot to you could result in death threats? That’s exactly what happened to blogger Chayya. We find out more about her, her work and her ambitions for the future. We love reading her regular thought provoking blogs.
As a little introduction, we’d love you to introduce yourself
My name is Chayya, I’m a blogger and an entrepreneur from London. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and have a deep passion for all things to do with sustainability, Diasporic issues, Feminism, business, literature and tech.
What inspired you to start blogging?
I have always immersed myself in reading and writing since I was a child – it was my way of coping with loneliness and bullying. I carried on this love for all things creative with me as I got older.
I truly credit my English Lit A-Level teachers as well as my form tutor for encouraging me to really pursue English, languages and writing. I ended up reading English Literature at the University of Reading and I remember it being a very dense degree with regards to what I was studying, reading and writing about. I decided to start my blog, Avid Scribbler, three years ago when I was in the middle of my second year of academic study. It started out as an outlet for me to write creatively, about homesickness and my thoughts on life at the time as well as my identity as a British Asian woman.
It started to get a following; I honestly thought that nobody would read my blog! But fast forwarding the past three years, it’s been such a blessing and a privilege to see Avid Scribbler grow from a little side project to a blog that carries influence and weight.
Have you been encouraged and had the support of your family?
It’s not always been there. In the beginning, my family didn’t even know what a blog was or what I was doing – but they were very curious about it because a lot of my extended family would call up my grandma and tell her how good my writing was! All of my cousins and younger aunts and uncles have supported me in what I do from the beginning – I think it’s a generation thing. As my blog’s presence has grown and intertwined with me as an individual and an entrepreneur with it making some serious impact, my family began to realise that it wasn’t just a small hobby that I did to escape the monotony of life. It was very important for me to actually tell them what I do on a daily basis, where I go, why I do what I do and what my vision is. Since then, they’ve had my back and are the first ones to push me back up whenever I’ve had a setback or a bad business week.
How do you decide what subjects to cover in your blogs? What subjects have you covered to date?
I’m a naturally very observant person and I have a tendency to pick up on tensions, body language and things that most people wouldn’t notice. I believe that the topics that we tip-toe around or feel reluctant to discuss are the conversations that we really need to be having. I am on the go quite often, so I always have a bunch of pens and my trusty notebook in tow. This way if I have any moments of inspiration, I jot them down and make a mental note to develop the idea further and into a full blown article or blog post.
I don’t care too much about writing content for the sake of it being popular or with the intention for it to go viral – I leave that in the hands of my readers and network. If a piece of work is good, well written and changes the way that someone views a certain topic, for me, I’ve achieved my goal. My ethos is that I write because I love it, I want to do it and I want to use my skills as a writer and an entrepreneur for the better.
To date, I mainly write about issues and experiences that British Asians face – this ranges from things like language, how we ‘fit in’ with Western society but maintain a sense of our own heritage, things such as Feminism and how it relates to women of colour as well as addressing our role in the future and how we can play a part in changing things for the better.
We follow your posts and you attend and contribute to lots of events and initiatives. We’d love to know more about what you’ve been up to recently.
I’ve recently added two more segments to my business. The first is going to schools, colleges and organisations across London delivering talks, presentations and small workshops about careers, entrepreneurship, blogging, empowering women and digital literacy.
The inspiration behind this was when I teamed up with Inspiring Futures to become a voluntary speaker. I love the fact that it gives me the opportunity to really give something back and show young people that there are alternatives out there despite what we hear on the news; you just have to be prepared to work hard, manage your time well and be persistent.
The second is moving into tech – here I am in the middle of creating an app which aims to reduce stress on a daily basis and increase mindfulness in an easy-to-understand way. The inspiration for this came after I experienced severe burn out two years ago – it forced me to rethink my career, put my health first and prioritise what is truly important for me. What I enjoy about this is that I’m learning new skills and creating something which comes from my heart. I would never want someone in their very early twenties to experience burn out before their life has even begun!
What’s been the reaction to your blogs?
I’ve been very blessed to have an international readership which continues to be so good, supportive and interactive. That’s something which I always want whenever I write a post; I want people’s opinions and to start a conversation about their thoughts etc. I’ve had a couple of issues in the past, where someone really hated a piece that I wrote about gender inequality in the South Asian Diaspora; I ended up getting death threats from this person as well as another individual attempting to sabotage my blog online and offline. Luckily it was all sorted out and I’ve come out of both incidents stronger and more determined to fulfil my blog’s purpose.
“I think that right now there’s simply not enough talented writers of colour being given the attention and recognition that they truly deserve.”
Do you have any writing role models or any writers who you admire?
I have a wide range of people, writers and other bloggers whose work I admire. I particularly enjoy reading anything by Margaret Atwood as well as Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy and Doris Lessing as well as more classic writers such as Thomas Hardy.
With regards to bloggers, there’s a plethora of inspiration and remarkable individuals who I think are truly invaluable in using tech and there’s way too many for me to put on a list here.
What are your Top 3 favourite books?
There’s so many books that I love, but these three are ones which genuinely have a timeless feel to them and have had a significant impact and influence on me as a person, a writer and an entrepreneur.
 Matilda – Roald Dahl. As a child, I really really related to Matilda and I remember how much it inspired me to keep reading, writing, painting and be creative regardless of what other people said. I felt like Dahl had written the book for me and I love the sense of magic that Dahl brings in many of his books, but Matilda was one which was pivotal during my childhood.
 Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – Jeanette Winterson. This book was recommended to me by a professor at university when I was doing my dissertation. Again, this was another book that significantly influenced and inspired me on a very deep emotional level – it helped me overcome a lot of pain and sadness that I had in the years following my parents’ divorce which saw my mother disown me because I was a girl. It’s a book I’ll never forget and always thank my professor for giving me such an important book.
 Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy. I studied this book when I was doing my A-Levels and it was an eye-opener. After reading this book, it actually changed the way that I viewed concepts such as femininity, masculinity, love, relationships and human behaviour. Tess also heightened my sense of empathy towards a lot of topics, such as rape, assault etc, which are often swept under the carpet or not dealt with. I would really recommend this book to young girls and women. Hardy hits the nail on the head with this one.
“I ended up getting death threats from this person as well as another individual attempting to sabotage my blog online and offline.”
What are your hopes and dreams for your writing? What’s next for you?
I’ve started to write my second book – it’s about South Asian women’s lives, experiences and thoughts in the Diaspora and in East Africa. It’s a big project and I’m not expecting it to be finished for a year or so, but I am so excited about it.
One of my ultimate dreams would be for me to project my writing onto an much bigger international level. I think that right now there’s simply not enough talented writers of colour being given the attention and recognition that they truly deserve. If I could somehow get involved in that, than that would be amazing!
I am also hoping to focus more on the tech side of my business, bring that to life and see where that goes with regards to development. And finally, I am looking forward to a well deserved weekend break away at some point this year!
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Header photo credit : Migreat Communities