From Canada to Bollywood to Bestseller: A Conversation with Author L.A. Nolan by Ankush Bharti

 L.A. Nolan, the award-winning author hailing from Toronto, Canada, has carved a unique and adventurous path in both his life and literary career. Born into a family rooted in Liverpool, England, Nolan's restless spirit led him to explore the world extensively, eventually finding his home in India in 2012. While his journey began with wanderlust, it took fascinating detours through motorcycling, Bollywood acting, and fronting a rock and roll band in New Delhi.

However, a life-altering incident on a mountainside compelled Nolan to embrace his true passion: storytelling. In 2018, he shared his captivating experiences through "Memoirs of a Motorcycle Madman", a collection of humorous travelogues. Yet, it was in October 2021 that he truly made his mark in the literary world with the release of his debut crime thriller, "Blood & Brown Sugar." This gripping novel earned him acclaim as the Best Fiction Novelist of 2021 by Literary Voice Magazine and the Best Crime Thriller Author of 2021 at the SRG Lit Awards. Ukiyoto Publishing House also recognized him as a rising star in the world of fiction.

Nolan's literary journey didn't stop there. In December 2022, he unveiled "A Crate of Rags & Bones", a collection of macabre short stories that left readers eagerly anticipating his next work. As we look ahead to November 2023, Nolan is set to release "Blood & Bombay Black", the highly anticipated sequel to his crime thriller.

Beyond novels, Nolan's creative prowess shines through his contributions to various anthologies, some of which will soon find a unique home on the moon for future generations or perhaps even extraterrestrial readers.

Currently residing in Mumbai with his wife, a wryly named beagle named Sweeney Todd, and two mischievous motorcycles, Wilhelmina and Elvira, L.A. Nolan's literary star continues to rise, promising captivating tales and adventures yet to come.Here is an exclusive conversation with him.

  1. Can you tell us more about your family roots in Liverpool, England, and what led you to be the first Canadian-born member?

In the late 1950s, Canada was being sold as the land of opportunity to many middle-class Brits by expanding companies that were opening offices there.  My father emigrated to provide a better life for my mother and his two children and I guess they settled in well, as a few years later, I was born.  

  1. Your life seems to have been marked by a lot of travel. What inspired you to settle in India in 2012, and how has it influenced your writing?

I suffer horribly from wanderlust. I was never completely settled, wherever I was, and seemed to always be searching for home. I think it had a lot to do with the displacement I felt being born in Canada while my family was English. I lived in England briefly as well, but ultimately returned back to Canada.  India presented itself by way of a soulmate.  The easy answer is that I fell in love.  First with an amazing woman, then with the country in which she lived.  Emigrating here was an easy choice after meeting my wife.  I’ve often credited the move to India to the re-awakening of my writing.

  1. Motorcycling plays a significant role in your life. What drew you to this hobby, and how did it shape your experiences in India?

I’ve always been a biker. I got my first motorcycle when I was seven or eight years old, I think. I was influenced by my older brother I suppose—he had a bike. The freedom motorcycling provides plays well into my restless nature and once I started, I was hooked completely.  When I was settling into life in India, I joined a motorcycle club to make friends and learn about the culture. I’ve seen this country from top to bottom, literally. There are only a couple of states I haven’t ridden through.  Those rides, those experiences, exposed me to the true essence of India and what a beautiful country she is. It solidified my love for India.  

  1. You had a brief stint in acting in Bollywood productions. Can you share some memorable moments from your acting career?

My acting exploits were short-lived, with just a handful of roles here and there. I viewed the whole thing through a writer’s eye, soaking up the experiences for story references later.  At some point, I’m sure one of my stories will feature characters who will act in something, or be on a set somewhere.  It was fascinating though, and I did get to rub elbows with some interesting people.  Sidharth Malhotra, Sanjay Gurbaxani, Satinder Sartaaj, Pulkit, people like that.  A lot of fun. 

One night on the set of Aiyaary, Sidharth and I got scolded while filming the airport scene.  I was whispering jokes in his ear during our close-up and he kept cracking up. He was dressed in disguise as a woman, and I kept asking him if he shaved his legs for the scene. Sidharth is a very cool guy. The director, Neeraj Pandey, got a little steamed and chewed us out.  My fault. I own it.

  1. You were also the frontman of a rock and roll band in New Delhi. How did music impact your creative journey?

Music was just another creative outlet. Writing lyrics isn’t all that different—in concept anyway—from writing a short story.  You're telling a tale, taking a journey, and while you can be a little more cryptic in song lyrics, you still have to express your thoughts fairly clearly. I actually unintentionally insulted Satinder Sartaaj when we first met on the set of a music video. As I don’t really follow Bollywood, I didn’t know who he was!  He laughed it off. He’s also a very cool guy, and I appeared at the start of his Masoomiyat music video. 

  1. Breaking several bones during a motorcycle ride changed your focus to storytelling. What motivated you to become a writer?

I wouldn’t say it ‘changed’ my focus, really. Rather, re-directed it.  I have always been a storyteller. I’ve been writing all my life.  I wrote scads of short stories back in Canada and had some limited success in university magazines and some brow bag press releases—small magazines with limited circulation, you know. But after college came marriage, a child, and other interests. Life got in the way and writing was pushed onto the back burner.  After my accident, I was afforded the opportunity to revisit that passion.

  1. "Memoirs of a Motorcycle Madman" is a humorous collection of motorcycle blogs. How did you decide to turn your travel experiences into a book?

It was born of my blogging site, to be honest.  After I had accumulated enough blogs about my travel, a book seemed to be the logical extension. I originally started blogging to relay all of these new experiences in India to my friends and family back at home in Canada. But to my surprise, the site was frequented more by Indian readers. I was getting wonderful feedback and support.  As I said, I’ve always had an eye towards becoming an author, so a book just made sense.

  1. "Blood & Brown Sugar" received multiple awards, including Best Fiction Novel 2021. Can you share the inspiration behind this crime thriller?

By the time I decided to dip my toes into the sea of novel writing, I had been composing short stories again. I’d been at it for about a year.  Not for submission but just sort of polishing my craft, reawakening my passion. I was experimenting with different types of plot lines, viewpoints, and genres, just finding my writer's voice again, really. I became very intrigued with the notion of an anti-hero main character, and Alex Crossman was born.  The plot line of Blood & Brown Sugar was simply a vehicle for telling his story.  I am an avid motorcyclist, so that was an easy canvas to paint on, and with all my experiences riding through India, I had plenty of sights, sounds and smells to draw on.  The crime thriller angle, bike clubs, and drugs and violence, just kind of fell into place while I was exploring different ways to tell Alex's story.  While it is a bit of a rollercoaster ride of action, at the heart of it all is Alex’s struggle. It is really just about him. 

  1. How did it feel to be recognized as an up-and-coming fiction author by Ukiyoto Publishing House in 2021?

Amazing. Seriously, nothing could ever compare to that moment of acceptance and validation.  I think all writers suffer from imposter syndrome at the beginning of their careers. We are never really sure if we are worthy enough to spin tales for people's entertainment. We actively doubt it, in fact.  When you are recognised for doing exactly that, honestly, it feels like a punch to the gut.  All the sweat and doubt and tears and frustration pay off in one brilliant bang. Incredible. 

  1. Your novel "Blood & Bombay Black" is scheduled for a November 2023 launch. What can readers expect from this sequel?

The marketing team at my publisher would say, ‘Thrills, spills and chills!'  But more realistically, the story picks up a year after the conclusion of Blood & Brown Sugar.  The plot lines left hanging in the first novel continue looking for resolution, but more excitingly. I explore some of the secondary characters from B&BS more closely. A few of them emerged as pretty interesting people in the first book, and I wanted to follow their journey.  Of course, all the main characters are still prominent, and there is a continuation of all the excitement and intrigue, but I pick up on some new plot lines as well. 

  1. "A Crate of Rags & Bones" is a collection of macabre short stories. What drew you to this genre, and how was the reception of the book?

Interesting question. By nature, I’ve always leaned more towards the macabre.  Horror, dark suspense—that’s the direction most of my work takes.  I have dabbled in drama, thriller, dystopian fantasy, and even romance.  I’m a storyteller and I try not to overcomplicate that.  Genre, along with location, time period, and characters, are all just vehicles to that end—telling a story.  When I first get the itch or the seed of a story, I simply pick the best arena in which to tell it. While I do carefully select the time period and setting, usually the genre suggests itself.  My first book was a crime thriller, so I was labelled as a crime thriller writer, but honestly, I lean more towards horror. 

A Crate of Rags & Bones is doing very well. I am extremely happy with how it’s been received.  Many people have commented on how the collection has something for everyone and I’m happy about that. I did try to include many different styles, including horror, dark drama, suspense, and murder. It's all in there.  So far, the highlight of its release was when Neil D’Silva called it an un-put-downable read. I was thrilled, to say the least.

  1. Your short stories have been featured in various anthologies. Can you highlight one of your favourite short stories and what it means to you?

There are a few that I am very proud of writing. In A Crate of Rags & Bones, there is a story called Sabbat of the Kali Daayan that I am very fond of.  I was reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft while I was writing that, and tried to implement some of the Lovecraftian style. It worked well, I think.  Same as An Agreement Among Unsavoury Gentlemen. I love the feel of both of those.  In the My Hearts Sunshine anthology, I dabbled in romance writing for the first, and only time, with a story called The Last Farewell.  I pushed my boundaries with that one, really stepping outside my comfort zone. 

  1. Your work is set to be included in an upcoming moon lander. Can you share your thoughts on having your stories potentially read by future generations or even aliens?

It’s such a thrill to have one of my stories included in a time capsule on the moon.  When you write or commit to print, there is always a lingering trepidation, a little voice whispering in your ear, This will be out there for people to read forever. It can be a little unnerving.  Having a piece on the moon takes that to a whole new level. Knowing that in a hundred, (two hundred?) years, someone is going to read my work and look at it as a representation of contemporary literature of our times is as frightening as it is exhilarating. If aliens do pick it up, I hope I’ve represented humankind well. I hope they don’t think everyone is as twisted and grim as I am! 

  1. Tell us about your life in Bombay with your wife, your sarcastic beagle, and your motorcycles. How do these elements inspire your writing?

My life is quite serene, actually. Not that you would think so based on my books, but it is very peaceful. My wife is so supportive of my craft and understanding of all my idiosyncrasies, it creates a wonderful environment for me to write. She alone is the keeper of my mental health.  The dog—not so much. I love him to death, but he is a mischievous one.  In retrospect, naming him Sweeney Todd may have been a mistake.  As far as my bikes are concerned, they are an extension of me, part of my makeup and psyche. Often, after I finish a project, I will reward myself with a nice long road trip to clear my head. More than once, the promise of that ride has pushed a project through to its end. I was once asked if I had to give up my writing or my motorcycles, which would I choose?  The honest answer is I couldn’t pick between the two. Both are passions so deeply ingrained in my life, I couldn't survive without either one. 

  1. Finally, can you provide some insights into your writing process and any upcoming projects beyond "Blood & Bombay Black"?

I'm not entirely sure if I am cursed or blessed. I get story ideas quite frequently, A bulk of the time, the whole story comes completely—start to finish—all in the time it takes to close the refrigerator door after grabbing a midnight snack.  The trick has become about spotting the gems among the river stones.  But once I have a solid idea that I am excited about, the first thing I do is write character profiles.  Very long, and very in-depth. I firmly believe that your characters are the ones that carry the story; they can make or break it. So I develop them quite deeply. I’m more of a pantster than a plotter, so my outline doesn't take long. I leave it loose and open. As I said, I normally have a good idea of where it is all going anyway. Then I write, for four to six hours a day. I’m a morning writer, so I'm up early and at it.  I’m like a bulldog with a bone when I’m drafting. I see or hear nothing else. I keep my head down until it’s done, anywhere from six to eight weeks for a first draft, normally.  Then I let it cool for two or three months, go back to it, and run it through the grist mill. That entails at least four rounds of intense edits, then I will send it to my publisher. 

I have a handful of projects on the go at the moment. A dark historical drama called A Mad Dog & His Englishman is being reviewed by a few literary agents. That will be the next release after Bombay Black. I’m in the first round of edits on a dystopian thriller called Pirate Air, and I’m finishing up the first draft of a gothic horror novel, the working title of which is War of the Witches. And, of course, I am always churning out short stories. So, there are a few sails on the horizon for me in the coming months. I’ll just keep praying for fair winds!