Tag Archives: writing

Interview for Sarath Babu’s Lifestyle Blog

I was recently interviewed by Chennai-based blogger Sarath Babu about my experience writing and having ‘The Shrine of Death’ published…

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1.What motivates you to write?
Love of the story and the characters! That, I’ve realised, is the only thing that makes you want to keep writing, that brings you back to the book again and again, amidst all the periods of self-doubt and low inspiration. That’s what happened for me with ‘The Shrine of Death’ – the story wouldn’t let me go.

 

2. How did you feel after publishing your book?
For someone like me, who has always loved books and reading, to see my own words within the covers of a novel was an incredible feeling, almost surreal. I remember holding it in my hands for the first time and feeling almost tearful. It was, quite literally, a dream come true.

 

3. What are some of your favourite novels and authors?
I love reading fiction across all genres — I enjoy Edgar Allan Poe and Anne Rice as much as I do Georgette Heyer or P. G. Wodehouse. Crime writer Dick Francis is an old favourite of mine – Ilove the way he deftly draws his characters and their emotional lives, as much as the way he sets up his fast-moving plots. I love the dark and brooding atmosphere that Daphne Du Maurier conjures up in her all novels and short stories. I recently re-discovered the thrillers of Ira Levin — what a fascinating variety of plots he came up with! And I love the gentle humour and kindness in the writing of James Herriot.
4. Is there a specific reason for naming your novel?

 

I had actually given it a different name in the beginning – ‘The Empath’. But my editor Himanjali Sankar and others at Bloomsbury India felt that wasn’t the most evocative title, especially since many people may not even know what an empath was (and I could see their point!) So, she asked me for some alternative titles, and ‘The Shrine of Death’ was the most popular of the ones I came up with. As for why it’s called that, it has to do with a special sort of Chola temple called a pallipadaithat is central to the mystery in my book. These are sepulchral shrines built to honour dead kings and queens – i.e. shrines of death! To know more about how the title came to be,you can check out this post in my blog: https://divyakumar.com/2018/04/05/why-the-shrine-of-death/.

 

5. Where do you write from? Do you go to some specific place, like beach side or the hills? 
I wish! Most of my writing for this book was done at home since I began working on it at the time when I gave up my full-time job as a reporter to become a stay-at-home mom. I still do the same… I generally write at my spot on the couch or at my desk, either after everyone is asleep at night, or after everyone has left home in the mornings! But there are also times when I just need to get away from it all to write, and then my go to is usually a coffees hop. Both in Chennai before, and in Dubai now, I have certain favourite cafes where I love to go, order a cappuccino and write.

 

6. What inspired you to write the books (in general)? Any tales to tell…
I grew up in a home filled with books, and I’ve just loved stories for as long as I can remember.I wrote my first story, about a turtle and fish who were best friends, when I was five years old, and my childhood and teens are littered with ambitious novels I began and abandoned. And that doesn’t count all the stories I’ve made up in my head and never put down on paper! Working as a journalist with The Hindu Metroplus, I covered the book beat, attending book launches and interviewing authors, and that was definitely a source of inspiration as well, meeting all these creative people and hearing their stories.

 

7. What was your biggest learning experience throughout the writing process?
The process of writing and rewriting, working and reworking, the steps that go into converting that first draft, the idea in your head, into something whole and complete, something cohesive and engaging. I’ve done that for feature articles, of course, but a 95,000-word novel is something else altogether!

 

8. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in as a writer?
I think there’s no better training ground for becoming an author than working as a journalist. Just the act of writing and editing everyday hones your abilities. It teaches you to cope with days when the words just aren’t coming that easily. It teaches you economy with words. It teaches you to be ruthless with your own writing. And exposes you to so many new experiences and interesting people.

 

9. Any best piece of writing advice that you would like to share with new or struggling writers? 
Just keep going! This is neither new nor original advice, but it’s the only thing that works – to keep writing. If you’re feeling blocked or burnt out, take a break, take a breather, but then come back to it.

 

10. Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Like my main protagonist Prabha, I have a degree in computer science! But unlike her, my shift in careers happened early on – I did a second degree in journalism, and except for a brief stint as a web developer, had moved completely away from coding by my mid-20s.

 

11. Any future books that you would like to discuss now?
I’m actually working on a sequel to ‘The Shrine of Death’, and I’m hoping to do a trilogy eventually. You will get to know what happened next with the characters in TSoD, and there are, of course, many strange and disturbing new developments!

 

12. What other profession excites you the most?
If I wasn’t a writer, I would love to be part of the music industry, as a singer, songwriter or composer!

 

13. Any special mention about your reader (be it with reviews/feedback or anything else)
The responses from readers are what matter to me the most, hands down. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from someone that they loved a particular aspect of the story or a were drawn to one of the characters; that they enjoyed curling up with the book while sick or during a long flight or layover; that they couldn’t put it down, and had to race to the end! To be able to share this story that was in my head for so long, and to see how people who love to read like myself respond to it… it’s just the best part.

 

14. Do you write the story at a stretch or you take your time to complete it? If you take a longer time, wouldn’t you be forgetting the story? How do you tackle it?
I tend to write in fits and bursts – I write intensely for stretches, then go through phases when I’m not writing that regularly. But I’m in no danger of forgetting the story! In fact, the periods when I’m not writing is often when I keep mulling certain plot points in my head, and come up with ideas to fix any issues in the story.

 

15. Traditional or Self-Publishing? Why?
I don’t know if I’m really equipped to comment on that, since I’m just one book old, and haven’t tried self-publishing. I do see the pros and cons of both though, and can understand why authors may choose one or the other. For now, I see myself sticking with traditional publishing, but who knows, maybe it’ll change in the future!

 

16. How is the response so far for the book? 
It’s been so encouraging! I’ve gotten good to great reviews from newspapers, bloggers, and readers alike, and I really couldn’t have asked for more as a first-time author.

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Filed under Fiction, Interviews, The Shrine of Death, Uncategorized

Of Writing and Motherhood

This was written for the Guest Blog section of the amazing Bookaholicanonymous blog.

 I have been writing for as long as I remember. I wrote my first story when I was around 5, about a fish and a turtle that were friends. This was followed by a comic-book series drawn in pencil over school summer holidays, about a pair of naughty twin boys called Tissy and Tassy. Then came the Enid Blyton-inspired stories about sassy kids who went on picnics and solved mysteries in their holidays, followed by never-completed novels of teenage angst and romance, and even a reincarnation-based story in college that I lost along with all other data when my crappy Windows 95 system crashed.

But in my 20s, following my journalism degree and my grad school years, while working in my first real job as a features reporter at The Hindu, I found myself, for lack of a better word, stuck. I ought to have been the most inspired I’d ever been. I ought to have been churning out stories. Here I was, being exposed to interesting people and stories, every single day, on the job. Here I was, attending book launches, speed reading new novels by Indian authors, and getting to interview them about the process of writing. It was a dream come true for a young wannabe novelist. And yet, I found myself paralysed. When it came time to try and work on my own writing, I couldn’t seem to make progress. I had ideas, sure; I’d sit and try working on some of them, but it would come out sounding stilted. And worse, I wasn’t inspired to keep going.

I talked about it all the time though, so much so that it came to be known as ‘The Book’ in my family, the one I would someday write. The Great Indian Novel, or something like that. Then marriage happened, then the birth of my daughter in my early 30s. I was intense about motherhood, from the start. I wanted to be hands-on, so I quit my full-time job. I was the archetypal over-involved first-time mom. I Googled everything. I worried about everything. I overthought everything. But I also thoroughly enjoyed all those firsts, all those incredible moments of babyhood and toddlerhood, the ones that become picture postcards in your mind, and then get passed on as stories to your kid as she gets older and wants to hear about “when she was a baby”. And of course, I wrote about them too, in blogs and a column.

But something else was happening at the same time, almost silently. I was working on a book, in stolen moments at night, while my baby slept, or on weekends when my husband shooed me out of the house to go take a break. Not ‘The Book’, but just a book. Not some hopelessly elevated ideal, but just a story I wanted to tell, like the ones I wrote in my childhood. Just for myself, what I’d myself want to read. This time, I didn’t talk about it much. It was like a little secret I hugged to my chest. I wasn’t even ever sure I wanted to publish it. I just wanted to write it. It wasn’t until it was complete, some three and a half years later, that I knew I wanted to try and put it out there. That story, of course, became ‘The Shrine of Death’.

I often wonder what made the difference. What broke the paralysis. And I believe it was motherhood. I believe that motherhood liberated me. I know that seems contradictory. After all, motherhood, in a lot of ways, shackles you. Your time isn’t your own, your energy isn’t your own, your mind even isn’t your own, filled as it is with thoughts and worries and fears about the little person who’s wholly dependent on you. But motherhood also gives you a brand of confidence, a belief in your ability to tough it out in the trenches. “If I’ve managed to care for this little life, then what is a mere story?” It puts everything in perspective, and it frees you from any delusions of grandeur you might possess. Suddenly, the story I’d been obsessing about and building up in my head for years was just that – a story. It didn’t have to arrive perfectly formed in my head or become The Great Indian Novel. If there’s one thing motherhood teaches you, it’s that everything in this life, including yourself and your efforts, is less than perfect, but no less meaningful for it. That the most important things in life are messy and hard, and that the only thing to do is just keep going.

I’ve always been terrified of screwing up, of being less than perfect. Hence, you can probably guess, the paralysis when it came to doing anything that was really important to me. But with motherhood, not doing was not an option. I was responsible for this tiny human being, and so I had to do, terrified or not, and – amazingly! – we both survived. I made mistakes, and beat myself up about it, yes, but then I got up, dusted myself off, and moved on, because, again, there was no other option. It just had to be done, and you know what, I did okay.

Every single day as a mother, especially in the early months, holds innumerable moments of failure and triumph. It’s exhausting, but it’s also the biggest life lesson there is.

Now, I like to say I’m the mom of two – of my firstborn child, and of my firstborn book. Neither journey was easy, but I know in my heart that if it hadn’t been for the first, I may have never completed the second.

You can find the original blog post here.

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