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In Conversation with the Author
Monideepa Sahu talks about writing and more...
Monideepa Sahu studied at Lady Shri Ram College and Delhi University. She worked as a bank manager before veering off into writing. Going Home in the Rain, and Other Stories (Kitaab, Singapore), is her latest book. She has also authored Riddle of the Seventh Stone (Zubaan) and Rabindranath Tagore: The Renaissance Man (Penguin/Puffin). Her short fiction appears in collections from Central Michigan University, Northeastern Illinois University, Marshall Cavendish (Singapore), Puffin, Scholastic India, and elsewhere. She has been a Views columnist with Bangalore Mirror (Times of India Group), and regularly writes for The Deccan Herald and other mainstream publications.
Readomania: Thank you for talking to us, Monideepa. An author’s life is a basket full of memories that inspire them to create an imaginary world, where Fiction lives a happy life. This has been an age old process, but do you think it is changing for the new authors?
Monideepa: I’ve followed this age-old route, delving into my own life experiences and observations while creating my own fictional worlds. But my stories haven’t always been happy ones. I’m an optimist and like to see the positive and the life-affirming even in dismal situations. However, I’ve also experienced some unsettling situations, whether in my own experience, or through those close to me. There are occasional dark corners too, in the fictional worlds I create, and twilight zones where light is diffused in greying mists.
Today there’s a talented crop of new authors out there, producing some wonderful original work. Then there are some, perhaps compelled by market forces to churn out a constant flood of bestsellers, who seem to have no time for reflection. I’ve read such books which seem to rely more on magic formulas, rather than imagination and thought.
Readomania: What has been your favourite writing journey and what did it create?
Monideepa: Writing my first book, Riddle of the Seventh Stone, was filled with joy. This comes through in the humour and the imaginative ideas in this fantasy novel for young people. It was written at a time when my son and I were growing up together, sharing our favourite books, games and outings. Some of the funniest and most striking passages of the book have been enriched by his suggestions.
The short stories in Going Home in the Rainwere written over several years. I shared much of this writing journey with various writer friends from other countries, whom I virtually met in the Internet Writing Workshop. Though we never met in real life, these warm friends and the wisdom and encouragement they shared, were most precious for me. Some of these stories happened simultaneously with Riddle. However, these short stories for adults are quite different from Riddle. They are reflective and realistic for the most part, though a couple of them are coloured by magic realism and fantasy. While there are lighter moments, these stories are more serious in tone.
Both these journeys, which partly overlapped, were my favourites for the affection and companionship associated with them.
Readomania: How do you see the Indian writing space evolving over time? Who are your favourites in this space and why?
Monideepa: When we were kids, there were a handful of talented Indian writers writing in English. Today, there is an explosion of new voices. Fresh, vibrant and original writers are coming up, with exciting new books. With a profusion of new publishers and they boom in self-publishing and vanity press, the scene is also getting clamorous and overcrowded. These days just about everyone seems to be an aspiring writer. With bookstores downing shutters and people preferring to spend on pizzas and burgers rather than on books, I wonder where the readers are.
Please don’t ask me to name my favourite writers. There are so many good ones out there, it’s tough to choose just a few.
Readomania: Ha ha ha, that is a standard response from many. On writing, We all know good writing is subjective, what appeals to one may not to others. Yet, there are universal elements that can somewhat draw a line. What according to you is that line?
Monideepa: I go for originality, relevance and clarity of ideas; beauty of language and expression; skillful crafting of plot and characters. These for me, are the universal elements of good writing.
Readomania: Do you believe creative writing is a skill people are born with, or can it be taught? If so, what and how can this skill be mastered?
Monideepa: Creative writing requires some amount of inborn talent. Courses and workshops are definitely useful in honing that talent. But without talent, no amount of lessons and exercises can build an outstanding writer. What lessons can do, is improve your skills of communication and expression. This has practical uses too, writing a killer mission statement or crisp CV for example.
Creative writing courses are a recent phenomenon. Past masters were mainly self-taught. They learnt from trial and error, and by closely reading plenty of classics and good contemporary writing. This approach still works.
Readomania: On a lighter note, every author has a very quirky bookish habit, what is yours?
Monideepa: I like to munch on something while reading. Chocolates or rich cakes are great. I savour the tastes on my tongue while immersing myself into fictional worlds leaping up from the page. My preferred posture is an orthopedician’s nightmare. I lie flat on my substantial stomach and nibble into the food and the book. This is so relaxing, that I sometimes doze off.
The trick is to protect my face from the cake, and not crack my glasses as I fall face first. So far, I’ve succeeded in averting disaster. Even if I haven’t, why should I tell you that?
Readomania: It was a pleasure talking to you, Monideepa. We look forward to reading more from you.