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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Jayanthi Sankar, who was drawn to write when she listened to the voice of her inner critic, successfully pursues a career as an author. She was born and raised in India, and currently lives in Singapore. Her three most recent books are Misplaced Heads, Dangling Gandhi, and Tabula Rasa. Her previous novel, Misplaced Heads, was on the Eyelands Book Awards 2020 final list of historical fiction, in Greece. It made its mark – as an outstanding postmodern historical fiction. Her highly acclaimed work Dangling Gandhi was the winner in fiction: short story at the 2020 International Book Award-American Book Fest. Her recent historical novel Tabula Rasa has already been nominated for two international book awards. In this book, the author brilliantly brings out multiple layers of Singapore as she takes us through its history, culture, diversity, Singlish language, food, festivals, and people.
Apart from writing, she also co-hosts a podcast called Love Of Literature (LOL) podcast. Through this podcast, she has provided a platform for many authors to talk about their writing, their books and share their experiences with the world. She is a passionate writer and believes in building a strong writing community.
Here’s a sneak peek into her creative process and writing journey:
IC: Tell us about your love for writing. How did you get started?
JS: Years of aimless reading, just for the pleasure of reading, living, traveling through books, like it does to most of the passionate readers, slowly brought me to a place where I began to choose genres and authors. I didn’t realize there was a critic forming in me until I started involuntarily evaluating in my mind whatever I read. One fine day in mid-1995, I wanted to find out if I was missing something from a short story I was reading, and so I reread it only to reaffirm for myself that I was right, it wasn’t worth publishing.
Instantly, a voice within asked me, “It’s easy to criticize, but have you ever tried writing at least a simple essay?” I’d playfully crafted ‘The turning point’, a simple story based on my early morning dream, and there was no turning back since then. I didn’t know I could write until it got published in print the following week. It was a complete surprise when the Editor himself contacted me to encourage me. I didn’t know my attempt at finding out how difficult it was to write would open a whole new world to me. And it took me over a year and a few more short stories before I started believing I could pursue writing. And writing very soon became my solace, and it still is.
IC: Tell us about your creative process.
JS: Thinking aimlessly or watching mindfully around while on my long brisk walks, especially when alone, can be magical. Unexpected flashes of inspiration sprout in my mind that help my work in progress. When the process intensifies in me, I get such flashes even in the alpha state of my sleep and I scribble in one or two words on the paper that I keep handy near my pillow with a pencil. I wouldn’t be able to recollect if I miss doing that.
I feel at home while creating and crafting fictitious worlds and characters and the process brings immense joy to me. The feeling of fulfillment increases many times when my readers enjoy reading my world.
Decades ago, I sought to read and write to escape certain bitter realities of life, and eventually, I started finding so much comfort in my fiction world where I stayed more. And, coming into the real world and going back home to my fictional world and coming back again to the real world were both pleasures and pains and as years rolled by, I learned to go back and forth, smoothly. The transitions by themselves have become so important to me.
IC: Are the characters in your book based on people you know?
JS: Although all the characters of my fiction are based on real people, whom I may, or may not know directly, most of them are also combinations of more than one person, acquaintances, friends of friends, distant relatives, people I observe, hear of, read about, watch in public places, meet through friends. It is difficult for readers to spot any resemblances. The person who reads and discusses with me might be a part of a character I created, but he or she wouldn’t know. Some characters might think the way I do, at least sometimes, but mostly I am not present anywhere in my fiction unless I come as myself, as I do in Misplaced Heads.
IC: Did you struggle to develop any of your characters?
JS: In my latest novel Tabula Rasa, the main characters, including the protagonist, are mostly men. I was well prepared to take up that challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the process. The male psychology and their inner thought processes overwhelmed me, but only initially. Subsequently, Li Wei and Muthu shaped themselves, and it was easier as the story progressed and character arcs evolved.
IC: If you choose to be the character in your book, who would it be and why?
JS: I would like to be the feministic Tanya of my feminine novel Misplaced Heads. Poorna only depressed me as she suffered from depression as her story progressed. Although I lived more of Poorna, the protagonist, only living Tanya’s life as I wrote her portions in the fiction empowered me. I loved being Tanya.
IC: Do you have a least favorite character in your story? Who is it and why?
JS: Characters have to be the way they have to be to take my story forward and I am the one creating them all. However, they surprise me with their unprecedented behavior. Raghu of Misplaced Heads and Muthu of Tabula Rasa are such characters. They are characters most of my female readers wouldn’t like. Surprisingly, many male readers love those two characters. My readers hating or loving my characters delight me because that’s when I get the feeling that I’ve formed them so credibly.
Personally, I might not be like them, or I may not like persons like them in real life, but that does not take away the happiness I derive from those characters because if they are not the way they are and just be the way I might like, then all characters might only sound and behave, perhaps, like me. Imagine, all characters sounding like me! The novel would be a disaster. I will certainly want my characters loved and hated by my readers.
IC: What is the toughest part of your artistic process?
JS: Apart from the work-related frustrations like lack of quality sleep upsetting deadlines, slowing down the chapter writing, or pulling down my creative process, I often get upset when the ‘editor’ in me interferes with my creative process because ‘she’ disturbs my flow of thought. So, I always coax and cajole ‘her’ to wait till I complete my rewriting. Most of the time ‘she’ does cooperate instantly by becoming silent, but other times ‘she’ stubbornly sits right on top of my head, pointing her finger all over my text and I try harder to convince her again that her time would come sooner or later.
IC: Tell us about the LOL podcast. What was the inspiration behind it?
JS: Based on what she could learn from me, Sredhanea Ramkrishnan, one of my core mentees, came up with the idea of a podcast, to help aspiring authors, focusing on the behind the scene of publication of a book. We discussed it extensively on the common cause. She said many could learn from what I could possibly share, but I thought if I were to talk on various topics in every episode, it would be so boring and that’s when we thought of inviting guests like authors, publishers, reviewers, literary agents to share their experiences. We got many stories, especially of ‘rejections’. We had started off around mid-February 2021 and therefore she’d coined it ‘Love of Literature’. And, LOL nearing the end of season 1, has grown into a lovely little community.
IC: Tell us about your future projects.
JS: There is a global anthology of short stories postponed to 2022, still in the plan, to be announced, maybe by mid-2022. My publishers have expressed their support for me in this volume. I am yet to work on the media material and dates, but not too soon.
There is a novel waiting to be rewritten and my mind has already started churning the second one. I think my next fiction will either be socio-psychological or magical realism and I should know it in weeks from now. Observing my creative self, I am letting nature take its course.
And, there is an important decision to venture full time in the personal part of my life. Therefore, my reading and writing might slow down a little bit just as they did when I worked full time between 2013 and 2016. My freelance jobs also might reduce because of that.
Surabhi Kaushik is a writer from the heart and finds joy and comfort in her words. You can find all her published work on her blog https://surabhiwritersmind.blogspot.com