Anita Shirodkar is the author of the book ‘Secrets and Second Chances’ published by Rupa Publications in June 2014. She currently resides in Mumbai and Dubai. Food, traveling and writing excite her. She finds her strength in her sister Madhuri and strongly believes that categorizing women’s fiction as ‘Chicklit’ is not fair. She is a mother and a wife and loves to write in her own space. Get to know her better with these 20 questions that Read Addict asked her-
1. Hi, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I started out as a design professional, having studied Applied Art at Sophia Polytechnic in Mumbai. I spent 20 odd years in advertising, with agencies like Trikaya, Lintas and Mudra, before I started freelancing on my own. Essentially I had been a creative director on the art side, but once I started working on my own I began to write copy as well. I am now a creative consultant for Tamarind Tours, which is a Destination Management company handling high end tours and events, so I design and write all their brochures and corporate communications
2. When did you decide to become a writer? How did your decision change your life?
Writing was a natural extension of my creative work for my clients, especially the travel writing. My other big passion is food, and I created a book of healthy recipes for a nutritional consultant, which I designed, photographed and wrote. The next step was, quite naturally, fiction! It started out as an experiment but I began to enjoy it so much that I took it up professionally. Writing is a medium where you can express yourself quite unreservedly, and I particularly enjoy creating characters that people can relate to. I’ve always wanted to write fiction. When my children were younger, I used to tape record bedtime stories for them, which they claimed they preferred infinitely to the commercial ones available. I would leave the story and a crucially exciting point and then threaten not to have the next day’s instalment ready if they did not sleep immediately! People fascinate me and I love people watching, observing how they react in situations, so all of that helps in creating fictional characters. The biggest joy I have got out of being a published author is the fact that people from all over India, from all walks of life have reached out to me in appreciation of my work! I get such encouraging messages on my Facebook page, and it’s more rewarding than I can say. Other than that, writing has given me a tremendous sense of contentment; it’s something I genuinely enjoy doing.
3. How difficult was it to pen down your first book? Tell us how it happened.
I literally woke up one morning and called my sister Madhuri, and said, “I feel like writing a novel… what do you think?” She has great faith in me, and being a creative person herself, told me to go for it. It was as simple as that. With a vague plot in my head, I sat down and began to punch out the pages on my computer. I can’t say it was hard, but yes, since it was the first book I really had no idea what I was doing. I struggled a little at times, but as usual, Google was my best friend. I would Google basic things like which font works best for a manuscript, how much line spacing should I keep, how many words does a full length novel have to be, versus a novella, stuff like that. I also researched a few things to check up on my facts as I was writing. It was exciting, and not for a moment did I think about giving up!
4. How difficult was it to get published?
Initially, I tried to do it on my own. Again, I Googled the Indian publishers, found out what format the submissions were required in, and sent out the first three chapters of the manuscript to about 7-8 publishers. Some replied immediately, politely saying they were not into this kind of fiction, or that they were absolutely full up for the year. One or two asked for the full manuscript, and one or two didn’t reply. While I was waiting for replies from the two who had requested the full manuscript, I was introduced by a friend of mine to a literary agent- Kanishka Gupta of Writer’s Side. He read the book, and within a day he decided he would represent me. Three weeks later, I had three offers from reputed publishing houses, and I signed up with Rupa. I would say it’s hard on your own, especially as a first time writer, because none of the big publishers have time for you.
5. What was the reaction of your family when you told them you want to write a book?
Apart from my sister, I don’t think anyone took it seriously. My kids are grown up- they were quite tickled that I was writing, and extremely supportive. But until I had completed it, they had not really imagined I would be able to publish it. My husband read the book only after it was published, and he could not have been prouder. My family has been completely supportive of everything I’ve done, so this was no different.
6. Please give us an account of your literary work till today. (*Include books, novellas, short stories, poems, blogs, awards or anything of interest.)
I have written lots of material on India, in the travel space. Brochures, website content and even a Destination India coffee table book. I’ve also done a recipe book for a nutritionist. Secrets and Second Chances is my first work of fiction, and the second one is ready and should be published early next year. Currently, I’m working on my third fiction book.
7. What are your opinions about the genre/s you write in?
By and large, women who write women’s fiction are put in the category of ‘Chicklit’. Firstly, I don’t think of that chick lit has been defined as yet in a comprehensive way. This sort of narrow definition is constrictive, and also a little offensive! Looking at contemporary women’s literature in general, I think that my style of writing incorporates a slightly more literary aspect along with the lighthearted romance. I have delved a little deeper into characters, professional backgrounds and back stories of the main characters than is common in this genre. Personally, I enjoy most genres of books, but I always like to read books where I get to know the characters and care about them. That is what I have tried to do here. The book is aimed at a mass market… yes, to a predominantly female demographic. But many of my male friends have enjoyed the book! It’s written for an audience who enjoys a riveting tale with well-rounded characters, taut pacing and a compelling plot. I like to think of the genre I write as literary commercial fiction… entertainment with literary benefits!
8. How much did you research for your book/s? How did you do it?
Since the characters and situations in the novel are quite close to people in my everyday life, I did not require much research on that front…. the hotel industry too is familiar too me as I am associated with the hospitality and tourism business. As far as the architectural aspects go, there was not much of technical detailing, so no major research was required. Whatever little research I did was largely on Google, much like my character in the book, Tara! I too adore Google.
9. Which writers inspire you?
I have read everything from Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie to Tom Clancy and Daphne Du Maurier. Everything is an inspiration! In the genre I write, I like Judith Krantz and Danielle Steele. I also like Georgette Heyer for Regency Romance. A lot of my recent reading is non-fiction, mainly spiritual. After I started writing, I began to read a lot more fiction, especially by Indian authors. There is so much choice out there nowadays. The reading audience out there is quite discerning, and one needs to respect their sophistication.
10. Do you have a special time to write? How do you structure your day?
Actually, I can’t structure my day to fit in specific times to write. I run a business in Dubai which takes up a lot of my time, I have my designing work, my Tamarind Tours consultancy and homes in Mumbai and Dubai to run, so I pretty much squeeze in the writing as and when I can! I try and do a thousand words a day at least, but sometimes that happens only late at night.
11. What was the hardest thing about writing your recently released book?
Secrets and Second Chances is about desires, relationships and how life can come a full circle if you give it a chance. It’s about the ambitions and quest of a young woman, her loves and her hopes, and her all-encompassing relationship with her mother. The book follows Nandita over the a period of one year, unveiling secrets from the past and bringing new people and challenging situations into her life. How she deals with them, what she discovers about herself and how she handles the new people and events in her life form the essence of the book. The challenging part was managing the dynamics of the relationships that continuously change and weave through the book in a way that felt natural. That is also the part I enjoyed the most! The bigger challenges came after the book was written- I had no idea what to do with the manuscript once I had it on my hands, ready to go! Also, I’m not really the kind of person who can go out there and publicize my own work, so that too is a bit hard for me.
12. What can you tell us about the protagonist of your book?
I think Nandita is very much a woman of today… the contemporary urban Indian woman. It’s one thing to have dreams and know what you want from life, but it takes courage and perseverance to take the necessary steps in order to make those dreams a reality. Nandita is faced with situations where she needs to make tough choices, which she does with élan. That is what I admire so much about young women nowadays…they just won’t compromise, even if it means taking the harder route. The creative side of Nandita makes her naturally intuitive about people and things around her, which is why she is always able to see things from other people’s point of view. She is a loyal friend and a very understanding and sensitive daughter. Nandita Dharkar is inspired by many twenty-something women I know, who cherish their independence, have deep respect for their own talent and ability, and won’t settle for anything less than what they deserve.
13. What is the most special thing about your book? (USP)
I think the USP would be that it is a taut, well written, well-paced book that tells a story set in contemporary India; it has characters people can identify with, it is a story that deals with real emotions and real people.
14. Which book are you reading at present?
I have just finished reading Manhattan Mango, written by my sister Madhuri Iyer. That was a wonderful, pacy read. Now I am about to start on Be Careful What You Wish For, which is Volume 4 of Jeffery Archer’s Clifton Chronicles.
15.What is your favourite pastime other than reading?
Cooking all kinds of world cuisine, travelling, painting and watching really good movies and TV shows!
16. How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Unfortunately I have not put up a website yet, but I do have a Facebook page. And I would love people read Secrets and Second Chances!
17. Do you have an alternate profession and how does it affect your writing?
I have already spoken about my alternate profession which is design and writing travel content. I also run a drinking water company in Dubai, which is a challenge as far as time management goes. But I manage to make time, because when you enjoy doing something it is never a chore! At times, when I slip away into the make believe world of my book and involve myself with the characters, it’s a release from the tension of daily work related problems.
18. Do you feel inspired through your personal experiences?
Very much so! I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world since the age of ten, and the sum of experiences I have acquired is so rich and diverse that it is impossible not to draw inspiration form that. I spent my childhood in Russia at the height of the cold war, and that in itself was an experience to remember.
19. What are the most exciting comments that you have received from your readers?
I have received lots of messages telling me that the book is such a relaxed read and the language and flow are absolutely easy. But the more rewarding ones are where people have talked about second chances, and how much that concept has meant to them. One gentleman came to my launch after hearing me talk on the radio about second chances, and said that back when he was younger, he did not know how to grab a second chance, and this was such an eye opener. Another young girl wrote to me and said she was giving her relationship a second chance based on the inspiration she got from the book. So yes, reader feedback is the single most important thing for an author.
20. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’m not sure that I nurse any ambition, or if that is the right word to use. I would put it down as a desire to reach a vast quantity of people with my work. I want to write many more books, reinvent myself every time, and produce good quality literary fiction. I think light fiction with literary value had tremendous potential, and I truly hope that this genre brings more young people into the reading habit. I believe that reading not only provides entertainment, but unlike movies where everything is spelled out for you, it lets you use your imagination, and also improves language skills.