We interviewed Sheila Kumar and here she speaks about her current work, academic background and all about writing. Very fascinating story right in her own words:
I`m one of life`s lucky ones and I never forget it: I do something I love, writing, and what`s more, I get paid for it. After years of working as a journalist for the Times Group, I have happily switched to a full-on freelance life now.
Surrounded by words, immersed in words, it`s a happy life!
After doing my Lit (Honours), I started off as an advertising copywriter with the country`s top agency at the time, Hindustan Thompson Associates (now J Walter Thompson), then joined Ogilvy & Mather after a few years. There followed a hiatus of almost a decade, because I married an army officer and moved around the country with him on various postings.
Ten years later, I switched careers to journalism, and joined The Times of India. I started off at the TOI Desk as a copy editor, then put down that blue pencil and picked up a pen, becoming a Features writer, a Beauty and Fashion writer, a Travel writer, writing the occasional Oped piece, doing just about every interesting beat and some not so interesting ones, too. I was also the editor of the Delhi Times supplement, and the regional editor of Femina in Delhi.
Tapping into my innate love of books and the written word, I then became a book editor and reviewer. All my career milestones were crossed smoothly, like it was a natural progression of life.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was a published writer at the age of 12, for my school magazine, so it was a given that I would end up a writer.
The thing is, when you have been a journalist for as many years as I have, people invariably ask: `When are you going to write a book? `
`Probably never,` I`d reply flippantly. Because, for years there was no book inside me, and I wasn`t going to churn out something mediocre just for kicks.
Then one fine day, a set of characters walked their way into my head, and insisted they had many stories to tell. Kith and Kin had a gestation period of six months in my brain, then the words came pouring out.
What did you like to read when you were a girl?
Just about every book I could lay my hands on! I come from a family, indeed a clan, of voracious readers, so I grew up surrounded by books. My maternal grandmother had an amazing library and that was where I came by lesser- known writers like Leslie Charteris, PC Wren and Oliver Strange who wrote the `Sudden` series, at a young age.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
When a journalist starts to write fiction, the challenge is in keeping away any dry note of reportage, infusing feeling into your story. Also, regarding Kith and Kin, I wanted to loop all the different threads into one common hook, that of one clan. Each and every character (and my book has quite a few!) had to have a strong persona, catch the reader`s imagination, stay in the reader`s mind.
Can you tell us more about Kith and Kin?
The book is a set of short stories with a twist: all the characters are connected to each other, either by ties of blood or friendship. Most of them belong to one large Malayali clan, the Melekat clan. So, you will find Melekat men and women walking in and out of each other’s stories, some quietly, discreetly, others more boldly, assuredly. `Mele `in Malayalam means `up` or `on high` and this lot consider themselves superior to others; often, that pride came before the proverbial fall, of course.
The stories are real, wry, funny, sad. Life throws all sorts of things at us; how we deal with that stuff makes us the people we are. How they dealt with stuff made the Melekats what they were.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
While my book is not set exclusively in Kerala, the characters are mostly Malayali. And while I’m proud to be a Malayali, I`m a non-resident one, and some things about my home state still remain a mystery to me. My research was anecdotal for the most part, and observational. I went `home,` watched and listened to people, took in manners, customs and idiosyncrasies, and filed all my observations away for use in the near future.
What motivated you to write Kith and Kin?
These Melekats were an interesting bunch, and interesting things kept happening to them. Their stories just had to be written, so I wrote it.
How did you come up with the idea of writing fiction?
I was just following the diktat of the characters in my book. It had to be fiction, I can`t imagine any clan, Malayali or otherwise, having so many people so decidedly off-centre!
Who are your favourite authors?
It`s an impossibly long list but if I must refine it, it becomes a Holy Trinity: Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse and Ayn Rand. It’s all about their style, substance, language and relevance.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
Given that my days are packed with routine writing assignments, my `other kind of writing` is done as and when I snatch pockets of time. So, no fixed routine. I just follow the imperative, as and when it beckons!
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Write. Keep writing. But don`t be casual about it. Polish your work before you send it off to publishers. Better still, get a set of Beta readers who will critique your work. True, every book has its reader but there is really no excuse for shoddy writing. Make sure it`s good work, it`s your best work.
Buy her book now: