Journey to fame… from scratch to first novel

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Budding Indian authors are catching their share of fame…here Janani Rajeshwari speaks to four such debutant authors to know about their journey to fame.

Shriya Sekhsaria – One

Sixteen-year-old Shriya Sekhsaria is all excited about the overwhelming response to her debut novel One. The book hit the shelves in July and is successfully in its third edition. Quiz the young debut author about her inspiration, she simply replies: “The story happened before the writing and I felt that the characters deserved to live.”

Her stint with writing began while she was in class through various story writing competitions. She participated in the ‘National Level Autobiography Writing’ competition in 2011. “I realised that I liked writing and loved controlling the lives of the characters. In the novel One, there were points when I contemplated if the particular character would do such things. Sometimes, it becomes easier to put yourself in the shoes of the character in question,” points out Shriya.

First book: One is a story of three friends set in the fictional island of Ibinia amid romance, mystery, love and deception. “Ibinia is a combination of Ibiza and Sardinia, which denotes a mix of the Spanish and Greek culture. Like in book, the character Tess is Greek while Aley has a very Spanish name,” she explains. A lot of research went into bringing out the strong aspects of the two cultures. She also adds that while creating a fictional place, it is essential to make people identify with the culture.

She adds that the research that went into creating the book was fun. “The idea was to create places that are real. For instance, at one point, the story shifts its base to Singapore where Aley and Tess attend a party. I carefully chose the Iberian drinks for Tess and Aley,” she explains.

Writer’s block: Shriya managed to finish writing the book within seven months. So, was writers’ block was an issue? “Never did I face it. The story initially started as a short story but ended up as a novel. Also, after a stressful day, writing came as a prize. I loved sitting in front of my laptop. I ended up writing for nearly 10 to 12 hours per day when I was writing the third part in One,” recalls Shriya.

Journey so far: So, how forthcoming were publishing houses towards a 16-year-old debut author? “I was called an amateur writer. Also, the title One was a hitch,” she says.

Did the lukewarm response from the publishing houses make her opt for self publishing? ‘Self publishing is definitely an easy way out. But it can’t do what publishing houses can do for an author,” opines Shriya.

Then, she picked one or two leading publishing houses. Following the response, she decided to put her story on Kindle by Amazon on December 12, 2012. Later, Amazon recommended the story to its Literary and Fiction department. This got Leadstart, a publishing house interested in the story. They took six months to go through the manuscript.

Interestingly, the cover of the book One is indeed striking. “Now a days, a lot of importance is given to the packaging the cover page. So, we spent a lot of time on it,” recalls Shriya.

In the meantime, Shriya is also into activities such as conservation of languages. Shriya became the ‘National Champion of Linguistics’ in the competition conducted recently. She is also into spreading the message of preserving of languages among school students. “Students have a clearer perspective. They help spread awareness amid the older and future generation,” she explains.

On future plans: Shriya is now gearing up for taking part in ‘International Olympiad for Linguistics’ next year at Beijing. She is in Class 12 and much under pressure on a time frame. However, the sequel to One, Implosion is underway on numerous post-its waiting to be integrated. “I felt it would be unfair to the characters if I didn’t tell their story. I won’t stop writing till there is drama in their lives,” says Shriya.

Rajiv G Menon – Thundergod- Ascendence of Indra

Rajiv G Menon began his career in the film industry- first as an assistant director, then an actor and now a screenwriter. Though associated with writing in a different form, he turned a novelist with Thundergod- The Ascendence of Indra that released in 2012.

“Screenwriting is essentially a collaborative process. A film is a director’s medium and as a writer you are a cog in the wheel as opposed to a book where the author is pretty much the wheel itself. While brevity plays a big role in writing a good screenplay, one can be a lot more indulgent while writing a book,” points out Rajiv. He adds that the time taken as well as the research that goes into writing a novel is far greater. More so, in the case of mythology based books.

“Mythology is probably the only genre in literature that has held my interest consistently, right from early childhood. Besides, I was certain to thoroughly enjoy the process and finally did,” he explains.

First book: His book traces the origin and growth of Indra, the God of the Devas set in the backdrop of the Indian, Persian and some Sumerian literature. “When started my research, I discovered that all references to Indra in Hindu mythology have him already established as the King of the Gods subservient to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva,” he explains. Following a detailed research on the Hindu mythology, Rajiv hardly found information on the origin of Indra. “Thus, I thought he may not be indigenous to our region. The next logical place to look for him was in early Persian mythology and found references to him as a demon and a destroyer of cities. So, he was clearly a great warrior who was feared so greatly by his enemies that they accorded him demonic status,” he points out.

In fact quite a few of the characters that appear in the book feature in both Hindu and Sumerian mythology.

It was also a period when there were a very few big cities with multiple ethnicities. Civilization was essentially restricted to one tribe trying to dominate and wipe out the other. Interestingly, Lord Indra, the King of the Devas is the protagonist. “It was this rather negative depiction of him in mythology that drew me to him as a character,” he says. So, how differently has he portrayed the character of Indra? “Not differently at all. Although he is my protagonist, I have portrayed Indra as a flawed human, being capable of acts of incredible heroism and depravity,” he points out. He adds that Indra has been given a raw deal in our mythic tales. “I hope at the end of these three books I am able to set the record straight about Indra.”

Journey so far: However, Rajiv clarifies that writing a trilogy was something that he always felt would happen. “Yes, when I got around to write the book, I realised it would have to be a trilogy or an extremely long first novel. And, it was an easy choice to make,” he says.

Unlike the struggles of a debutant author, Rajiv says that finding a publisher for his book was an easy task. “The path to publishing wasn’t that difficult for me, thanks to authors like Amish and Ashwin Sanghi, mythology had become quite a popular genre by the time I started writing my book. I just had to send my publishers a few chapters of the first book and a synopsis for the trilogy. Their response was extremely encouraging,” he says.

Also, the response towards ‘Thundergod- Ascendence of Indra’ has been great. “People have loved it and it has had its share of critics. All in all I’ve had very little reason to complain,” says Rajiv. However, he adds that this is not going to make a difference to the development of the second. “The second book in the trilogy Rakshasas – The Shadow Warriors, is about the hunter-gatherer tribes, who lived in what is now Central and South India and how they coped with this great invasion from the North-West,” he says.

On future plans: “I don’t really plan too far into the future. Right now my aim is to complete this trilogy. There are a couple of ideas floating around in my head, which I will explore later,” says Rajiv.

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