As part of the 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex blog series, guest blogger, Amy Zamarripa Solis, of Writing our Legacy explores the life and work of Umi Sinha, a Sussex based British Indian author and teacher.
Umi Sinha’s moving debut novel Belonging (Myriad, 2015) brings to life her own heritage, set amongst the backdrop of World War I Sussex and India and documents the history that unfolds in both places. Her writing is steeped in original research and universal truths. We are pleased that she is also a key collaborator for Writing Our Legacy.
Umi Sinha was born in the military hospital in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1952 to an English mother and Indian father. Her mother, born in Kent, was a writer and an artist. Her father was one of the first Indians to be accepted as an officer in the Royal Indian Navy and served on the Arctic Convoys in the Second World War.
She spent the first 10 years of her life on a remote naval engineering base in the Western Ghats. She grew up in India in the decade following Independence, when there was deeply held resentment against the British.
At age 15, she moved to Britain in 1968 during the backlash against the mass immigration of Asians who had been expelled from Uganda and Kenya. The experience of being an outsider looking for a place to belong, along with the impact of history – political and personal – on individual lives, is a major theme in her writing.
Umi’s debut novel, Belonging has been listed for several prestigious awards, most notably the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.
Belonging is tells the story of 12-year-old Lila Langdon set in the darkest days of the British Raj through to the aftermath of World War I, whose childhood in India comes to end and she is sent to live in Sussex with her Great-aunt Wilhelmina. Belonging presents interwoven story of three generations and their struggles to understand and free themselves from a troubled history steeped in colonial violence — it is ‘an intense, compelling, and finely wrought epic of love and loss, race and ethnicity, homeland and belonging’.
Umi is a creative writing teacher, editor, mentor, storyteller and mediator. She taught at University of Sussex for 10 years and currently teaches on the creative writing programme for New Writing South. She offers a mentoring and manuscript appraisal service for writers called Writing Clinic. She also runs The GuestHouse Storytellers, an oral storytelling club based in Newhaven, East Sussex.
Since Writing Our Legacy’s start in 2012, Umi has been a key collaborator. As a writer, panelist and teacher she has been part of platforms at Old Market, Crawley Wordfest, Shoreham Wordfest, Brighton Museum, Brighton Dome and beyond.
In 2019, she was one of the editors for our first publication, the Hidden Sussex anthology. She has helped us reach writers and audiences across East and West Sussex and Brighton & Hove with commitment, compassion and a strong yet sensitive editorial eye.
Umi is currently working on a new novel set in Italy and India between 1943 and 1948, which has been supported by Artist International Development Fund (Arts Council England and British Council) and the Society of Authors.