interviewed on Jan 17, 2019
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Q. How would you describe yourself?
Primarily, I am a story teller. I am a history buff and a seeker of mysteries. I kept moving from one thing to other throughout my adulthood, trying to find that one thing that makes me happy. I moved from engineering to travel blogging and then finally to fiction writing. It took me almost a decade after my graduation to realize that telling stories makes me happy - incredibly happy. I live in Bangalore, India. I love travelling. I have traveled across the length and breadth of India, visiting archaeological sites. My husband is an engineer and I have a toddler daughter - Tara. I have a travel blog named pickpackgo.in where I usually share my travel blogs. I have recently taken a break from engineering to enter full time writing.
Q. Tell us something about the books that you have written and the story behind them.
Magic Square is my debut English novella. It is a short read of 62 pages, published on Amazon Kindle as an eBook. It is the story of Amudha - a research scholar - who goes in search of a mysterious person. This book was inspired by my real life experiences. My mother is a teacher. We used to go for hunting books across Bangalore for her academic purpose. Once, we stumbled upon a 50-year old mathematics book. There was a name and year on that book. It amused me thinking about the owner of that book. Where he would be? What he would be doing? How would he respond if I track him down and hand him the book? I weaved a story around those thoughts and added a few elements from history and travel to it. My first book Magic Square was born.
Q. What place does writing hold in your life, how has been your writing journey so far?
I would say that writing was my first love. If you have ever lost love, you know how difficult it is to find it again. Writing was my childhood love and I lost it somewhere on the way of life. I graduated from BITS Pilani, Goa Campus in 2008 and finished my MTech in 2013. I moved to Bangalore to work in the electronics industry. Life got busy, and I stopped writing. My love was lost, and the hangover was terrible. It pushed me so hard, without mercy, until I picked up my pen again in 2014. Since then, I have managed to scribble a few words every day. Initially, I started writing short stories in my mother tongue -Malayalam. I have a Malayalam blog. In 2014 I started writing in English. I started with travelogues in my website. I also participated in the NaNoWriMo 2014 and started writing a novel, which I still need to finish. Magic Square, my first published fiction book was a refreshing detour from my travel blogging and the bigger novel which I am currently working now.
Q. What is your writing process, a typical writing day routine?
I am an obsessive writer. I don't wait for some special creative inspiration to start writing . I believe that the only way to write good books is to actually put down the words - hundreds and thousands of words. Writing is a very draining process for me. However, it makes me incredibly happy. I usually work in the forenoon about four hours, exclusively for writing. I keep away from all the distractions - mainly internet - during those hours. I spend time with my characters, listening to their innermost thoughts without interruption from the real world. In the afternoon I come back to real world. I do social media posts and I write on my websites. I also catch up good books, authors and reviewers in the afternoon. I believe that writing is an incremental process. You write, rewrite and repeat.
Q. What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I have just started marketing my first book Magic Square. Before publishing my first book, I had a very different idea about book marketing. I thought that a good book is just enough and it would do all the publicity. However, I realized that even a masterpiece require proper marketing in today's world. People have a lot of ways to pass time - Social Media, Netflix and Youtube to name a few. It is very difficult to draw initial attention to a book. Marketing through book bloggers was most effective for me. I got in touch with a group of reviewers who read the book and spread the word about it. Social media posts also have done good for the marketing of my book. I have sold over 200 copies of my first book. It may not be a great number but as a debut writer it is indeed a milestone for me.
Q. What do you think makes a book sell, or makes a reader buy it?
In the fast paced world, a book should be able to catch reader's attention. A good cover, title and blurb are very important in getting reader's initial attention. However only the external factors cannot sell a book. A book should be able to generate interest in the reader and should prompt him to keep turning the pages. Quality of the content is very important. The first few chapters should be able to give enough momentum to the reader so that he can go till the end.
Q. What's the most moving or affecting thing a reader has said to you?
I was fortunate to get a lot of feedback for Magic Square from the readers. Most of them were able to relate to the protagonist, Amudha. Many told me that they felt the character very much alive. I was so happy to hear that. But the most moving thing had come from a young reader who happened to read my novel. I conducted a book reading session at my apartment. A young girl named Naomi attended it. She is just 10 years old. She was so engaged throughout the book reading. She even gave me a good luck card that she herself made. Two weeks later she came back to me and told, "Aunt, I enjoyed your book, but I didn't understand a few parts, shall we discuss it sometime?" I was overwhelmed. The fact that my writing could make an impact on such a young person made a great impact on me. I promised myself that I would strive to become a good writer so that I would never let down ardent readers like her.
Q. What are your favourite three books, and why?
Here are my three favorite books.
1984 - George Orwell
At the first sight, this novel looks like a dark political thriller. It is indeed dark, it is very much political and it’s a thriller beyond description. But then, this book is more than sum of its parts. It would literally shatter the way one sees the world. The book is about the political condition in the world in the year of 1984. For the first time reader, the book may seem like just another out cry about the underlying political propaganda and conspiracy beneath the serene society that we live in. At a closer look 1984 is about much more than that. It is about the human struggle and unending will power to preserve one’s freedom and dignity. I have read this book at least 3 times and every time I read it, I get new perspectives about life.
India after Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha
I started reading this book from purely an academic perspective and ended up having emotionally bonded to this book. This is a must read for every Indian.This is more enjoyable than any fiction, because India is a country where dramatic and passionate people live. It also gives an opportunity to meet so many Indians who are otherwise forgotten the larger schemes of things. Be it Potti Sreeramulu who fasted unto death for the formation of Andra pradesh state(Now AP and Telangana), or Sheikh Abdullah, who wanted a secular but independent Kashmir (Grandfather of Omar Abdulla, the current J&K chief minister) or Jaya Prakash Narayanan who might be the first anti-corruption activist, way before Anna Hazare. This book made me appreciate the power of the Indian democracy and enforced my belief in India. It was predicted in 1947 that India would not even last for 20 years before it would yield to poverty, famine, war and a military rule. Yet, we beat all those predictions and stand tall in front of the world even after 67 years from freedom.
3. Sherlock Holmes Series – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I started reading the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was in my first year of engineering. The only thing that lured me to the huge library of BITS Goa was the thick-unabridged volumes of Sherlock holmes series. I was fascinated by the sheer intelligence of Sherlock Holmes. The crisp an intelligent story telling by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is really commendable. I enjoyed the company of Watson as much as Sherlock did. Sherlock has unique ways of solving a crime and often don’t bother what others think about them. Sherlock doesn’t believe in stuffing one’s head with unnecessary information and he believes it would clutter the clear thinking. He shows the strength of observation and objective analysis can greatly help in not only solving a crime, but also solve everyday problems.
Q. Who are your favourite three authors and what do you like the most about them?
The first one is Gabriel García Márquez, I love the way he unfolds a story. He is an incredible story teller. The thing I like the most about him that he makes you believe in magical realism. The second author ofcourse is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I am deeply indebted to him to creating Sherlock Holmes. I often wish I could write mysteries with like he did. The third author is a Malayalam writer named Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. I grew up reading his books. His books are humorous, touching and realistic. I have always adored the way he creates humor out of ordinary circumstances. He is also very brave and he has quested every norm in Malayalam story telling. He is a real inspiration.
Q. Tell us about the books that you are currently writing and their progress.
As I mentioned earlier, I participated in the 2014 NaNoWriMo and completed my first ever manuscript of an English novel. At that point of time, I kept writing to hit the 50000 word count. Later, unfortunately I abandoned the novel for a few years. I got busy with travel writing. In 2017, I picked up the initial manuscript and just read the entire thing. I realized how much I missed those characters and story. So I picked it up again. I re-wrote most of my initial draft and expanded it a lot. Unlike my first published book Magic Square - which is a story driven book- this new book that I am working on is entirely driven by the lead characters. I am following the life of two lead characters and how their life is shaped up. The main themes of this book is about how a persons childhood traumas and unfulfilled dreams affect them throughout their life. It also go into the subject of clinical depression. I am hoping to release it around July 2019.
Q. What challenges do you think are faced by writers, what's the worst thing about the book industry according to you?
Creating characters that grab the minds of readers is quite a challenge. As I mentioned earlier we live in an era of distractions. Honestly only a few people find time to sit down and read a book. There are millions of books out there. People prefer books of famous authors. It is tough to make a name for yourself in the writing industry. It is the biggest challenge for an author to convince readers to leave other things and give their precious time to the book. There is an influx of a huge number of books to the industry, and some of them unfortunately doesn't have much quality. Editors and publishing houses should make it a point to only promote works that they are convinced about. They should only stand for books that they think good.
Q. Apart from writing, what goals do you want to achieve in life?
Traveling is a huge part of my life. I had to put a stop to travelling as I became a mother one and half year back. I want to slowly go back to my travelling routine. I want my daughter also experience the joy of travel and exploration. The second thing I want to do is to be a part of an NGO that teaches underprivileged schools in Bangalore. When I was working as an engineer, I was part of a team named LOTUS (Linking Organizations To Underprivileged Schools) I used to teach English in a government school near Vibhutipura in Bangalore. I really want to go back to that program and teach children. I usually dream about adopting an underprivileged school and help the children to get exposure to the world and its immense possibilities.
Q. What message do you want to share with budding writers?
My mantra to become a better writer is simple - WRITE. Sometimes, we feel that there is nothing to write about. We feel that our brain is empty. Words just doesn't come out. We doesn't like what we write. However, if you get stuck at that stage, you can never finish anything. Write continuously. Don't be adamant that every word that you write should be a masterpiece. Write to your hearts content. Don't restrict yourself. If you write enough, you can always chisel out the bad parts and only keep what is good. However to do that, you should write continuously, relentlessly.