Sangeeta Mahapatra is the Executive Editor of Business Economics, a national business magazine published from Kolkata, India. She has a doctoral degree in International Relations from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Research Fellowship in 2009-10 and was a Visiting Research Fellow to the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, Ohio State University, USA, specialising in Terrorism Studies. In 1999, her first book of short stories, Miasma, was published. Wreath and Other Stories is her second collection of suspense and horror stories.
What inspired you to start writing?
I cannot think of one defining moment that inspired me to write. There are many things- a snatch of conversation, an arresting image or a strange dream- which can make me go “now that would make for a good story”. But to be able to write it down the way I visualise it with the words flowing naturally and the story shaping beautifully is the biggest inspiration. I am a storyteller at heart and a storyteller needs an audience. I am inspired by my readers’ reactions. If they like my stories, the pen will flow smoothly and I will be smiling even while bumping off a character. But if they don’t, I will probably end up writing more horror stories than suspense.
What did you like to read when you were a girl?
Anything I could cop from my elder brother and father. What I liked to read as a girl, I still enjoy reading now. That’s a tribute to the greatness of these writers. My favourites include P.G.Wodehouse, Gerald Durrell, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Jules Verne, Jerome K. Jerome, G.K. Chesterton, Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe, Somerset Maugham, Saki, Guy de Maupassant… the list will go on. I loved to read Richmal Crompton and Enid Blyton and also enjoyed Reader’s Digest, Amar Chitra Katha, and the ‘Tell Me Why’ series. I read a lot of thrillers too. I was fortunate to grow up in a house where books were always at hand and my family encouraged me to read different types of books.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
The greatest challenge is finishing what you start. When I write a short story, I can’t stop till I have finished it. But it is different with novels. I start writing the chapters and it all goes well for a few days. After chapter 15 or so, just when I reach the part where it is found that the butler didn’t do it and the cunning murderer is still at large, I stop. I have left two such novels hanging in the middle and now I need to get down to completing them. Discipline, not dithering- that’s going to be my mantra.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
Horror stories seem to come naturally to me. No research is needed here. For murder mysteries, I do some research.
What motivated you to write the book “Wreath and Other Stories: Tales of Horror and Suspense”?
I just wrote the stories as the plots came to me. This happened over a period of years. But I was motivated to publish the stories after seeing the growth of Do-it-Yourself platforms in the publishing industry. The prospect of having full creative control over one’s work and communicating directly with one’s readers appealed to me.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “Wreath and Other Stories”?
This book is a collection of ten stories straddling the genres of suspense and horror. It is less about the monsters we can see and more about those we can’t. The question that interests me is how does one escape oneself? What pushes a person to the breaking point? What is this breaking point? The stories prod at our private fears, bring them out of the closet, and show the fallout of this fear. All good horror stories should have a sense of inevitable doom. Hopefully, you will find this in ‘Captive’, ‘Wreath’, ‘Red Moon’, and ‘The Wait’. A seaside village, a brightly-lit city, a beautiful hill station or your own home- the setting can be anything but the fears of the characters, the emotions that suborn them to act in a way that cannot end well interest me as a writer. So you will find characters driven by love, hate, obsession, and paranoia in ‘Malevolent’, ‘Fey’, ‘Tick Tock’ and ‘Déjà vu’ and whatever they do, you will still feel connected with them. At least, that is what I hope you would feel because that would make the stories scarier. ‘Artistic Spirit’ and ‘Snapshot’ are comparatively lighter in tone and I had fun writing these because sometimes a writer needs to tease her readers a bit, making them guess at certain things. Ultimately, the book is about entertaining the readers and making them enjoy the whole experience of reading and imagining the stories.
How did you come up with the idea of writing horror fiction genre book?
From reading to writing horror was a natural segue.
Who are your favourite authors?
All the writers I mentioned earlier are my favourite writers. But there are the favourites among the favourites and they are P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Gerald Durrell, and Joanne K. Rowling.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
I don’t have any fixed timing. I might write for a few minutes or a few hours.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Write for the right reasons. If you love writing, you will be happy and you will make your readers happy. Don’t get disheartened by rejections. Rejections, as many Facebook forwards would tell you, are a part of life. So chin up and deal with it. Each writer has his/her own set of readers. If you don’t appeal to one type of reader, you will appeal to another. So keep on writing. As for publishing, if a traditional publisher rejects your work, publish it yourself. In ‘Artistic Spirit’, you will meet one such character who refused to take rejection to heart and decided to go at it alone. How that turned out, well, that’s another matter. But then, that is fiction and this is reality. So, keep on writing, editing, reading, and improving. What matters ultimately is your work. It should speak for you.
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