Book Week Scotland, now in its twelfth year, is an annual celebration of books and reading that takes place across the country in November. This year Bylines Scotland highlights one event in particular “Celebrating Leela Soma and Murder at Mela: Discussions on Women’s Crime Fiction, Tartan Noir, and Writing in the Wider Communities”, which takes place at Hillhead Library, 19th November at 2pm.
Leela Soma, who passed away after a short illness, was an Indian-Scottish writer whose work promoted integration and understanding. A talented and gifted poet and novelist, she was on the threshold of a major breakthrough after the publication of her 2021 crime thriller, Murder at the Mela, from Ringwood Press. Her hard-working detective, Inspector Patel, seemed set for many more cases in his pursuit of justice and equality.
Born in Chennai, formerly Madras, in India, Leela immigrated to Scotland in 1969 and began learning how to adapt while retaining her Indian heritage, an experience explored in her first book of poems, Tartan and Turmeric. Settling in Milngavie, she entered the teaching profession and held posts in secondary education, eventually rising to Principal Teacher of Modern Languages. Her heart, however, was in writing, and she chose early retirement to pursue that ambition. In her first novels, the independently published Twice Born (2008) and Bombay Baby (Dahlia Books, 2011), she continued her themes of identity and adapting to new ways of life, with the pain and joy such life-stories affirm, in tales of migration, displacement and return.
‘Murder at the Mela’
Leela’s break-through novel ‘Murder at the Mela’ was cited as one of the ‘9 Best Contemporary Scottish Books You Need to Read’ by BookRiot The novel, set in Glasgow, introduces the first Scottish Asian Detective, Inspector DI Alok Patel to Scottish readers. Patel’s first investigation is the brutal murder of Nadia, an Asian woman. Her body was discovered in the aftermath of the Mela Festival in Kelvingrove Park. There had been a fight at the Festival between the BNP and an Asian gang. This was quickly broken up by the police. Further lines of interest to Alok Patel arise when it is discovered that Nadia was having an affair with a local man. Was this a crime of passion or racially motivated? Could Nadia’s family have something to do with it? An honour killing perhaps?
Soma uses the crime novel to explore the often-tense relationships between different Glasgow communities. When asked if Glasgow was a good setting for a crime fiction novel Soma replied in an interview with Publishing Scotland.
“Glasgow has been my home for over fifty years. I know it well. One book club from London said they would visit Glasgow after reading Murder at the Mela. Visit Scotland should take note. Seriously though, Glasgow has its own charm. An eclectic mix of the highbrow cultural West End along with areas of multiple deprivation and a real multi-cultural city. The old ‘Square Mile of Murder’ as Jack House, the journalist named the inner city in 1961, still reverberates. It has the best people in Scotland with a great sense of humour and sense of social justice that you would rarely find elsewhere. Glasgow writes itself in my novels. I love it, it’s in my DNA.”
When asked, ‘What do you hope people take away from Murder at the Mela?’, Soma replied,
“I hope they really enjoyed reading the book. The novel would have given an insight into the lives of Asians in Scotland, the readers’ neighbours perhaps. Is their interest piqued? Most of the readers have asked for the sequel or even a series. Understanding people of all races, creeds and colour are the same the world over, their beliefs, wants, needs and hopes are similar is what I would like readers to take away from this novel.”
Emerita Professor and member of the board of Scottish PEN, Bashabi Fraser, writes:
“Leela Soma will live amongst us through her books which weave her two worlds – of India and Scotland together in a tapestry that is vibrant, moving and magical. Her liberal humanism and generous spirit shone through her work and those who met and knew her, were touched by her affectionate nature, sincerity and integrity.”
The event at Hillhead Library will feature a fascinating panel of guests: Anjana Sen (poet, writer, and Secretary of the Scottish Association of Writers), Mridula Sharma (Leela’s former Ringwood support worker), Anne Pettigrew (Ringwood author), and Isobel Freeman (Ringwood’s Chief Editor). The speakers, all of whom knew Leela personally, will be invited to discuss her work, its context, and the legacy she left behind.