Meet our graduates: Bhavika Govil
The joint winner of the inaugural Pontas & JJ Bola Emerging Writers Prize talks to us about developing her Creative Writing dissertation into an award-winning novel-in-progress.
Bhavika Govil graduated with an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh in 2020.
Having lived in New Delhi, India for most of her life, she came to Edinburgh five years after completing her undergraduate degree in the arts in 2014.
Explaining her decision to delay taking a masters degree, Bhavika says “I wanted to study further, but I didn’t want to jump into a subject I felt lukewarm about. So, I tried to get different experiences in publishing and journalism.”
“I interned at publishing houses in New Delhi. I worked as a features writer for a city-discovery website, and later, for a travel magazine. But I didn’t dare to write fiction properly until I had to send in my writing sample for the application at the University of Edinburgh.”
From short stories to debut novel
Bhavika won the Bound Short Story Prize in 2019, was longlisted for the Toto Awards for Creative Writing (English) 2021, and was mentioned as a Notable Contender for the 2020 Bristol Short Story Prize.
Her work-in-progress - The Silent Treatment - is her first novel. The book follows the lives of a morbid eight-year-old narrator, Mira, and her 12-year-old brother, Ashu, as they’re growing up in a conservative Indian society with an unconventional mother.
Asked how the Creative Writing MSc programme at Edinburgh helped prepare her for writing professionally, Bhavika says “Deadlines! If I didn’t have regular deadlines for workshops and my dissertation, I’d probably never have seen any projects to the end.”
“Maybe the biggest learning for me was starting to write a long-form project. While I wrote short stories through the year, I began writing my novel-in-progress under the supervision of Miriam Gamble during the dissertation period. This then went on to win the 2021 Pontas & JJ Bola Emerging Writers Prize and led me to getting signed by a literary agent and finding a mentor, all of which has been incredibly affirming.”
Workshopping stories across time zones
Bhavika’s Edinburgh experience was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but she feels lucky to have been able to meet her teachers and fellow students in person, at least for the first few months.
Asked what she liked about studying here, Bhavika says “The community has been one of my favourite parts. The department has very warm and encouraging staff, including, but not limited to, Jane McKie, Jane Alexander, Miriam Gamble, and Allyson Stack. Some of my classmates are now close friends, and we still workshop stories across time zones, and complain to each other about writing - and not writing!”
“Edinburgh is very welcoming to an international student. There’s a beautiful bookshop at every corner; so many workshops and book signings to attend. Plus, you can call yourself a writer with a straight face here and get away with it.”
As for advice for new students, Bhavika says "If you’re done writing and have some energy left over, show up for those student workshops hosted by your classmates. Submit to and/ or join the team of the course anthology From Arthur’s Seat. Have a chat with your teachers in their office hours (but be respectful of their time), and give people feedback the way you’d like to receive it."
When you get to the MSc, you'll realise that everyone is at different stages of their writing. Some may have been published already, while others haven't written a word of fiction before the application process. It's natural to compare, but that's okay. You've got your own journey.
Staying involved in Scotland's literary scene
While in Edinburgh, and up until recently, Bhavika worked with the Scottish BAME Writers Network, which she describes as “a fantastic community for writers of colour in Scotland”. The Network was co-founded in 2018 by LLC Creative Writing PhD alumnus, Alycia Pirmohamed, together with Jay G. Ying.
Speaking about Scotland’s literary landscape, she says “The writing community in Scotland is very solid and small - and extremely friendly! The people make the experience fun, and everything - even rejections - a bit easier."
Having now returned to India, Bhavika remains active in Scotland’s writing and publishing scene. While working on The Silent Treatment, she has also written what she describes as “some baby-sized short stories” for Scottish magazines, including for Extra Teeth ('Black Cat Magic' - Issue Three) and Gutter ('Ms Spitfire' - Issue 22 and 'Movie-Theatre Dreams' - Issue 24).
Since this interview was first posted in 2021, Bhavika Govil has landed a book deal with HarperCollins India. Her novel, now titled 'The Book of Ma', is due to be published in 2025.
Bhavika has also been writing some short fiction. Her story 'Eggs keep falling from the fourth floor' was shortlisted for the 2021 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize, published on Wasafiri and included in 'A Case of Indian Marvels', an anthology for new Indian writing.
Are you interested in Creative Writing at Edinburgh?
As the first UNESCO World City of Literature, Edinburgh is the ideal place to study Creative Writing. Tailored towards your practice in either fiction or poetry, our taught masters (MSc) programme will help you develop your creative and critical skills in a supportive community of intelligent readers and acute listeners. We also offer a PhD in Creative Writing.