SETTING her first novel in the Mumbai riots and the blasts that followed was a natural choice for Susmita Bhattacharya.

"The riots and the bombings affected me, like they must have affected everyone who experienced them, and as a writer, I was able to express my feelings about those experiences," says the writer and lecturer who lives in Winchester, but grew up in Mumbai.

"I was at college and two of the blasts were very nearby," she remembers.

"We were sent home from college. A friend came home with me, and shortly after we had got back, there was a massive blast. The whole building shook, the windows rattled and the air smelt of gunpowder.

"We realised that we had passed the bomb site ten minutes earlier, on our way home.

"My mother and sister were at school and my father went to find them. It was very frightening, knowing that all my family was out there, while I was at home, waiting for them to come back."

Susmita drew on the events for her first novel, The Normal State of Mind.

Next month sees the publication of her latest book, Table Manners, a collection of short stories.

Again, she has been inspired by events in her own life, as well as the experiences of refugees to whom she used to teach English in Cardiff.

This includes drawing on her own experience of having breast cancer.

Susmita was diagnosed in 2014, and had chemotherapy and radiotherapy, completing her treatment in April 2015.

"The launch of the novel came between my chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was important for me to have the book. It gave me a focus that took me away from what I was going through.

"Having cancer made me think about what I want from life," she adds.

"It really changed the way I look at life. I'm much bolder now, to try new things out that I would have let go in the past.

"Now, I find time for myself, which is really important. Before I was just going through life doing everyday things, and not connecting to what is important to me.

"I think I'm a much happier person now. I let go of the small, insignificant worries."

Another story was influenced by her time living with her husband in Singapore, and joining him for a business dinner.

Once part of her life that Susmita has yet to draw on in her fiction is the three years spent living on merchant navy ships with her husband, following their marriage, when she was 26.

Her husband was a chief officer, and a few weeks after their wedding, she joined him on an oil tanker.

It was a life far away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, with its own set of rules, and Susmita had to adjust to life as the only woman in a male environment.

She had many unusual experiences whilst on board, including being hidden on the ship while it was in Nigeria, as she didn't have an immigration pass, listening over a walkie-talkie while her husband was almost lost investigating a fire during a gale, and watching countless stunning sunrises and sunsets.

But Susmita struggled with having so much time on her hands. She had brought her painting materials and produced watercolours from her travels and also helped with some of the jobs on board, such as the accounting.

She also spent time walking on deck when the weather was fine, making up stories in her head, which would go on to form part of her first novel and a number of short stories.

Susmita has yet to write fiction based on her time on board, as she is planning on writing a memoir about it.

The couple's life on the ocean ended when Susmita's husband got a job in Singapore and after a year, the couple moved to Cardiff, to allow her husband to pursue a PhD.

The pair now live in Winchester, where Susmita teaches contemporary fiction on an MA course at the university, as well as being lead facilitator for the Mayflower theatre's young writers programme in Southampton.

Susmita says that her latest book has an international feel.

"It explores lots of ideas about belonging and questions about home, and what is home," she says.

"These are the ideas that I like to explore. They turn up in my stories, questioning where I belong and where my stories belong.

"Having travelled and lived in so many different places, I feel that I am a global citizen, although my heart belongs to Mumbai."