Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a writer and travel columnist. Her fourth book and first collection of short stories, ‘Suspended Animation – Short Stories of those who wait’ is now available worldwide. She is the bestselling author of ‘Coming Up On The Show’ and ‘Between The Headlines’, two novels on the Indian Broadcast News Industry. Her last worldwide release ‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land,’ a modern take on Alice In Wonderland has been getting rave reviews from critics and readers alike. Her travel columns have been featured in Venture, The New Indian Express, One Philippines and Geo. Her non-fiction pieces have appeared in multiple Indian editions of the Chicken Soup series. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in more than twenty anthologies and online literary magazines in more than four continents. She has a monthly travel column called ‘Trippin With Shweta’ in Travel and Flavours Magazine. She worked as Communications Officer for Greenpeace India and as correspondent with CNN-IBN, before dedicating her life to writing. Shweta currently lives in The Philippines with her husband and two-year old daughter.
You can read more about her life and work at www.shwetaganeshkumar.com
Thank you so much, Shweta, for agreeing to this interview.
From a Communications Officer to a best-selling author, Shweta, could you please tell the readers about yourself?
I’ve always wanted to reach out to others with stories and real life narratives of real life incidents. I guess, my decision to become a TV journalist stemmed from this need. I had always wanted to work in the field of developmental journalism, but two years into the field I realized I wasn’t able to tell the stories I wanted to. This is when I decided to move to an NGO – to work on communications.
In 2009, I quit my job as a Communications Officer and moved to the Philippines to join my husband. It was the peak of the recession and in the absence of a job, any job, I had taken to ranting in my trusty old blog. I had also written a couple of travellogues, for a newspaper back home. An offer to contribute for a ‘Chicken soup for the Indian Soul’ edition and many positive responses later, I seriously started to consider writing as a full-time profession.
Many edits and rejection slips later, today I am proud to call myself a full-time writer who has two novels, one novella and a collection of short stories to my name. It has been a great journey.
How did you think of writing a book? Who/ What inspired you?
One of my favourite sayings about writing and reading is ‘Write the book you want to read.’ And this is primarily what I had in mind when writing both ‘Coming Up On the Show’ and ‘Between the Headlines.’ As a fresh journalism graduate and newly recruited news trainee in 2006, I had always wondered whether there were others who had shared my experiences. I searched my favourite bookstores for books with fictional characters I could empathize with, but found none. All the fiction books I found on Indian journalism were written by senior journalists who had written about major news events and campaigns. I did not find anything on the shelves that told the story of bright-eyed news trainees and rookie reporters and about what it is like to be on the bottom-most level of the news pyramid. These were the people I wanted to write about and write for.
The basic ideas for my books always come from real life.
What were the challenges faced while writing the book?
Writing turned out to be the easiest part. The challenge was getting my manuscript picked up by publishers.
As an unknown first time writer based from outside India, it was extremely hard to get myself published. I was also looking at getting an entry into the publishing industry without any recommendations or literary agents. I must have sent the manuscript of my first book to at least 22 publishing houses, till Srishti Books responded favourably.
I know it is difficult for an author to choose between her books, but which is closest to your heart?
That’s like asking a mother with more than one child to list her favourite! But I will say this, just as the newborn baby takes up more of the mother’s attention, it is always my latest release that takes up mine. So while all four of my books are equally dear to me, right now my focus is on ‘Suspended Animation – Short Stories of those who wait’ as it just released a couple of weeks ago.
How do you find time to write articles, columns, books and blog?
In the early days, when my daughter was just a few months old, I used to type drafts out on my phone, as she napped on my lap. Now, at two and a half years old, she is a boisterous toddler and I find that I don’t have as much time as I used to, to focus on writing. Which is why I am always grateful to my husband who is a hands-on father who takes over whenever my muse decides to pay me a visit.
I would not say that I am able to balance all of my passions like my family and my writing, perfectly. But most days, I manage and I am glad that I can. I also make it a conscious decision to work on multiple projects like my columns, books and blog simultaneously. This way even if I don’t feel the words flowing for a certain story, I know that it will for another essay or blog that is waiting for my attention.
When you pick up books to read, what is your favourite genre? Who is your favourite author?
In terms of genre I love books with South Asian themes, magic realism, travel literature, science fiction, dystopian fiction and also well-written young adult fiction. There have been so many books that have left such a deep imprint on my mind, that it is hard to name just one favourite author. To name a few, I would have to go with Isaac Asimov, Jasper Fforde, Kamala Das, Elif Shafak, Ma Jian, William Dalrymple and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My favourite classic author is Charles Dickens and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I am also a Muggle who is madly in love with the Harry Potter series and therefore, J.K. Rowling. As a child, I also devoured Enid Blyton.
Which book are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
What is the next project that you are working on? When is the next book scheduled for release?
As ‘Suspended Animation’, my first collection of short stories just came out two weeks ago, I’m currently focusing on getting the word out to readers.
But apart from that, I’m also dividing my time between a number of projects. Jostling for mind-space and time is a play and my first non-fiction book on sights and experiences in The Philippines.
I’d say my next release will be in late 2015.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
The biggest challenge about being a full-time writer is sticking with it to the end, in the absence of an external editor, boss or deadline. Especially in the beginning, when you have no idea that your manuscript might be picked up for publication at all, it is easy to sit down and put your hands up. And so my advice to aspiring writers is to just persevere and to be patient even in the face of rejection.
Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts with your readers.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reach out to the readers of your blog.
Social Media links of Shweta Ganesh Kumar for people to find/follow/like:
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Next in Author Interview Series: Interview 8: Sarita Varma on 15th July 2014