On the TV and best known perhaps as a stand-up, she’s smashing it as comedic novelist too now…
By Mamie Colfox
COMEDIAN, actor and writer Sukh Ojla has added another string to her bow with her debut book ‘Sunny’, and, to celebrate her achievement, will be talking about the novel with well-known podcaster Anchal Seda tomorrow (June 9) and appear as part of Seda’s podcast ‘What Would the Aunties Say?’ (see details below).
Ojla’s novel follows 30- year-old Sunny as she moves back into her Punujabi origin parents’ home and tries to be the perfect daughter, whilst at the same time going on secret dates and accepting that all of her friends are moving on with their lives. The book is an uplifting exploration of family, love and mental health, and www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with Ojla to discuss all things ‘Sunny’.
“It was two months since lockdown and I was going stir crazy,” she began when asked about her inspiration for the book. She’d lost a lot of income due to the lack of acting and stand- up work, but it wasn’t until her editor Sara Adams at publishing and audio firm, Hodder Studio approached her with the idea, that she thought of writing a novel.
“When it came along, my editor pitched the idea to me. She suggested I write a fiction loosely based on what I talk about.
“It was based around my stand-up, and a lot of it is around living at home with my parents, mental health and dating.”
Although not autobiographical, Ojla’s protagonist, Sunny, is loosely based on a younger version of herself and the book “does draw on certain events in my life that happened almost ten years ago” she told acv.
Discipline doesn’t come naturally to Ojla, she admitted. “I have the concentration span of a fly!”
“It was quite difficult because I was learning how to write a book and writing a book at exactly the same time.” When concentration lacked, she would find herself writing in front of the TV or when she was cooking “when I was really struggling and I couldn’t bear to sit in front of a laptop I would write on my phone in an ad break, or when I was waiting for something to cook, I would write on a google doc on my phone.”
She managed to find a few constants to help concentrate. “The only constants that worked for me were either silence, or maybe sometimes some instrumental music, although no words because I’d be terrified that I’d write them down accidentally! And writing in short spurts.”
Ojla spoke excitedly about what the experience has taught her, and although intense, collaborating with an editor was extremely informative.
“The bit I really enjoyed about it was that I got to work really closely with an editor, who is now my friend. I got to work collaboratively with her, and it was a huge learning curve”.
The euphoric feeling of finishing the book didn’t last long and was followed by the usual feelings of doubt and trepidation.
Ojla had an unusual way of dealing with this “there’s something I do when I get quite overwhelmed. I go to sleep. My body just says no thank you, we’ve had enough of real life now, I’m going to be unconscious for a little bit.”
Little did she know that the same day she finished her final draft, she had been accepted on a creative writing course signed up to sometime earlier.
As well as her skills in the writing department, Ojla is a successful stand-up comedian. She has also appeared on ‘Jonathan Ross’s Comedy Club’, ‘Mock the Week’, and ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’. She also can be seen on BBC2’s ‘Big Asian Stand Up Show‘ and across the BBC Asian Network. Her first solo show ‘For Sukh’s Sake’ was a hit in Edinburgh, and her most recent show ‘Life Sukhs’ finished in December 2021.
“Stand-up was never the plan” she confessed, and it was only when she was having a quiet time acting-wise that she stumbled across a comedy workshop. “I saw a workshop pop up at the Southbank. I thought it said comedy writing, but I saw that it was free, which is my favourite price, and so I went along.”
Slowly but surely, she began to perform at gigs on the Asian circuit and loved the South Asian audiences “purely because I think it’s quite new for our community as they’re not as jaded as mainstream audiences can be sometimes.”
When the idea for ‘Life Sukhs’ came to fruition it was 2019, and she began touring in January 2020. But on March 17, 2020, after only a few months of shows, the pandemic hit. By the time the show restarted, it was September 2021.
“I was a completely different person, because I think we all changed during the course of 2020. I had to rewrite bits of the show to reflect that, but the show itself was received so well because I talk about mental health, and I knew that a lot of people were struggling with their mental health”.
“I didn’t want to do a show about lockdown which is why I only briefly mentioned it, because sometimes I do think we need a bit of escapism from what’s going on in the world as well.”
Ojla is working on her second book which, she says, is very different from ‘Sunny’, as well as a few TV scripts that she is unable to talk about yet.
‘Sunny’, by Sukh Ojla, published by Hodder Studio, March 2020
‘Anchal Seda and Sukh Ojla in conversation’, Thursday (June 9), 6.30pm, Waterstones Kingston, Second Floor, Bentall Centre, Kingston-Upon-Thames, KT1 1TP.
More info: https://www.waterstones.com/events/anchal-seda-and-sukh-ojla-in-conversation/kingston-upon-thames