Award-winning author Meghna Pant tells us how she writes.

 

Last summer I was lucky enough to be selected to be part of the judging panel for the Fellows of Nature Short Story Award in South Asia. It was a huge honour to be considered worthy of such an event!

The judging process was so much harder than I thought it would be. I was given about 30 (there were 165 entries in total) stories to read and judge based on various criteria. It took two whole days of reading and allocating a score out off a possible 20 for each piece of writing.

There was one clear winner that stood out for me within my selection: A wonderful story called ‘People of the Sun’ by Meghna Pant (the entries are unnamed when judging). I was delighted to hear that it was selected to be the overall winner!

Meghna very kindly agreed to an author interview…….

 

What form does your writing take?

Our Indian shastras tell us that from the formless comes the form, and the form takes you back to the formless. As a writer I strive to experience the formless and give it form. And then again engage with the form to experience the formless. I savour the form and discipline of literature to weave life’s chaos and senselessness into linearity. Yet, ultimately it is not form that I’m seeking as a creator. I’m seeking growth and elevation, a path on which to glimpse the higher self. This is the only way in which I know to ensconce myself in the very essence of art.

 

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How often do you write?

While writing my first two books – One & A Half Wife and Happy Birthday! – I was working full-time as a journalist, first in New York City and then in Dubai. I worked non-stop for five years. I filled the days with a job, with which to pay the bills, and wrote like a maniac during every free moment. It was exhausting and exhilarating. Now, thanks to the mild success of those books and my freelance journalism work, I am a full-time author.

My day begins and ends with writing. I’m either writing, thinking about what to write, reading, finding means to sustain my writer’s life, or experiencing new people, countries and encounters to keep my mind bloated with ideas and inspiration. I follow a strict regiment with deadlines and goals. I write 500-1000 words a day on average. I like to be organised in every aspect of my life, so my house has to be clean, finances have to be in order, health has to be heeded, family and loved ones have to be indulged, and work has to be done. I am, therefore, borderline manic my time, not permitting its wastage in the hands of fools or life’s many distractions (including social media).

When I begin writing a story or novel I become so consumed that I can write up to 16 hours a day, without a break, for months on end. I once had my laptop tip over and cut my upper lip (I’m a horizontal writer), and I didn’t get up till my T-shirt was bloody because I was in the middle of writing a crucial scene! That is mania, love, passion, obsession. This is what writing means to me.

How does writing make you feel?

Writing is like jumping off a cliff and not knowing where you will land, or whether you’ll land at all. It is a soul-wrenching all-consuming process that demands you to put the rest of your life on hold.

Writing makes me feel excited, exhausted, complete, empty, frustrated, exhilarated. It makes me feel everything and then nothing.

Ultimately though, the smell of a new book, my new book, which holds years of my life, my little dreams, and being able to send it off on its own journey, out into the world, to fulfill its destiny, that is happiness. Nothing, no one, no struggle, no award, no acclaim, no review, can ever replicate this feeling of joy.

Where//when do you write?

Like Truman Capote, I am a completely horizontal writer. I need to be lying down on the bed or couch, tucked under a blanket to be able to think and write. I’m so finicky about quietude (even in a mad bustling city like Mumbai) that I find the whirring of a fan distracting and can sit through sweltering Indian summers without even a fan on! My family thinks I’m crazy, but that’s not necessarily an abhorrent quality for a writer to possess!

I write best in the morning before my mind has completely awakened to the world and, then, late at night when my mind is slowly unawakening to the world.

What do you write about?

Writing is the only thing I’ve done in my life without expecting anything in return. So none of my writing is pre-determined by peripheral factors; no city, no race, no gender, no religion, no amount of recognition or appreciation frames it. My stories are formed and developed keeping only the moments in mind, those epiphanic moments when the character or the plot or the truth, or all of the above, reveal themselves, most often without even knowing it, and it all comes together or falls apart. Exactly like life.

I am currently writing my fourth book and second full-length novel MEN WITHOUT GOD. It is a dark tale set in – and between – China and India. It is a powerful portrayal of longing, strife and family in the wake of war. It’s my most ambitious work and is, in equal parts, scaring me and exciting me.

What’s the best thing about writing?

My favourite part about writing is having discovered my passion for short stories. I think short stories have made me a better writer. Brevity allows little indulgence for the writer to get carried away with the beauty of their style. It forces a distillation of plot, character, story and form. It demands the writer to hold a moment, keep it heightened, without risking the reader giving up on the story. A good short story can never flag and asks for taut writing with specificity, cleanliness, fleetness and an unflinching attention to detail. The effect of a short story has to be exquisite and offer the reader (and writer) something as transformative as an awakening.

My love has paid off. Many of my short stories have been published in prestigious international literary magazines, including Avatar Review, Wasafari, Eclectica, The Indian Quarterly and QLRS. Random House India published Happy Birthday in 2013 and the book was longlisted for the world’s biggest short story award: The Frank O’Connor International Prize 2014. Juggernaut published my second short story collection ‘The Trouble With Women’. And I recently won the 2016 FON South Asia Short Story Award.

Writing is like falling in love. You cannot experience it without letting it change who you are.

How long have you been writing for?

I was 19 when my first short story, Aberration, was published online. The plot and characters stayed with me for months before I gathered the wherewithal to finish the story. But the discipline of writing, its stark loneliness, does not usually appeal to the young and skittish. So I started writing seriously around nine years back, though at that time it was only short stories. Since I had no training as a writer (my degrees are in Economics and MBA Finance), I took several writing courses in New York. After a fair share of rejections my short stories began to be published in reputed US literary magazines. The idea for a full-length novel, One & A Half Wife, came only in 2010, and that’s around the time I also started putting together short stories that would come together in the collection Happy Birthday!

 BIO:

Meghna Pant is an award-winning author and journalist. Her debut collection of short stories Happy Birthday (Random House India, 2013) was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Award 2014, the world’s biggest short story prize. One And A Half Wife (Westland, 2012) – her debut novel – won the national Muse India Young Writer Award and was shortlisted for several other awards, including the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She is also the winner of the 2016 FON South Asia Short Story Award. Her new short story book The Trouble With Women (Juggernaut, 2016) is now available on the app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More little piggies off to market!

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December 13, 2016 · 9:32 am

Location, location, location

In 2016 I’ve discovered the joy of writing in different places. It’s so refreshing to be somewhere else other than staring at the same view from my office day after day…not that the view from my office is horrid or anything, it just gets a bit samey. By far the best location this year was the balcony which overlooked Porto Roma Bay in Zakynthos. A very close second has to be looking out onto the rooftops in Lucca.

 

 

I wonder where I’ll be writing next? I might cram a bit of editing in on a trip to Torquay….Our trip to Iceland is a long way off yet. Maybe book 3 will be started by then….I wonder if my Macbook would suvive a dip in the hot tub 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Goodreads giveaway

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I’m running another book giveaway with Goodreads! It’s a great way to get lots of avid readers to notice Dance with Fireflies. The first time I did this was at its launch. It attracted 1792 entries from people who wanted to win a signed copy, 780 of these readers added it to their ‘to read’ list…. Not bad!

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My dream cast

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Alicia Vikander

I’ve been day dreaming about the actors I would cast if/when Dance with Fireflies becomes a box office sell out. Alicia Vikander struck me (not literally) on a flight to Prague. I was watching The Danish Girl. She has something about her. She reminds me of a young Phyllis. So with that in mind I set out to cast other characters:

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Micheal Fassbender as Arthur. He just happens to be married to Alicia (handy)

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Anna Maxwell Martin as Margaret

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Mary Jo Randle as Elizabeth

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Kristin Scott Thomas as Pip…maybe with a few more clothes on.

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Micheal Caine as Doctor Liptrot

Not a bad first choice. If you have read my book, I’d absolutely love to hear your ideas!

Oh, I nearly forgot… I’d like it to be directed by Steve McQueen.

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Write.Eat.Repeat

It may look like I’m on a beautiful beach in Zakinthos, but I was actually in Karachi in 1947 as I wrote book two!

I took my Macbook on holiday with me, hoping I might pick it up occasionally and have a delve into the backstreets of Karachi, the Sind Club and Phyllis’s life back in India/Pakistan. It took me by surprise to find myself sloping off to the bedroom’s private balcony to hammer out a few thousand words each morning. It became routine to stare at the amazing Porto Roma Bay that surrounded me, it’s various craft coming and going, as I pictured my ancestor’s lives at the time of Partition.

Lunch was always a welcome break in the blistering heat; a chance to refuel on Yianna’s Greek salad and Sangria at Nikos Beach Bar.

After a swim in the clear waters beneath Deep Blue Villas, I’d spend an hour or so on the beach reading through the morning’s writing. I thought it might be a bit of a burden to write whilst away, but it was one of the highlights!

So if you happen to visit the beach bar anytime soon, look out for one of my bookmarks on the counter…couldn’t resist a bit of cheeky guerrilla marketing.

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What’s the story? Well…

 

Iain Robertson is used to tough jobs – after retiring from the Parachute Regiment, he took on jobs guarding George Harrison, Gary Moore and Johnny Rotten. But keeping Oasis on the rails after debut album Definitely Maybe ignited their rise toward global superstardom would be the toughest gig of them all. Iain was side-by-side with Oasis as their road manager and minder, twenty-four hours a day, eight days a week, as they took on the world and won. No one was closer to the maelstrom. His story is the defining chronicle of life on tour with Oasis.

I caught up with the very likeable Iain, and asked him about his writing……

What form does your writing take? I had a moment of epiphany in the Hamburg apartment of one of our most celebrated Indie- rock-stars.

I had travelled over for something of a holiday, and whilst there was working through the paradigm for my book ‘What’s the story?’ A tour diary of the Britpop giants ‘Oasis’: told from my perspective as their road manager, and head of security.

‘Ignore the rules, enjoy the journey’ he told me.

‘As long as one person gets it, it can be considered a success: even if that one person is you’.

That advice resonated, and whenever I put pen to paper, I’m just looking for an authenticity.

I trust that if I can find something redemptive in the result. Others will.

These days I write mainly for the remembering of this or that, although I am working on a second book, which explores the remarkable dynamic of volunteer fire-fighters. Shifting, as they do, from builder to emergency responder; cutting someone’s teenager out of a car-wreck, to builder again: In the same morning or afternoon.

How often do you write? Not as often as I should.

How does writing make you feel? Mostly, it feels like work. Very occasionally the words find themselves, but in the main it is an unforgiving thing discipline: I have yet to try my hand at fiction, and liberating the extraordinary, in a set of ordinary circumstances/things/events is always hard. The story is not a story, unless it has something of the remarkable within. Sifting for that remarkable, and doing justice to it, when found, well: It takes a keen minds-eye. It often feels beyond me. However, when one finds that remarkable, and captures it, even if only for the benefit of an audience of one: it is rather wonderful.

When and where do you write? I steal moments. I write anywhere. Longhand.

What do you write about? To date, it has always been autobiographical. So: Music. Poetry. Guns and cars and accidents. Fire.

What’s the best thing about writing? Getting a thank you letter, postmarked Australia, from someone who saw a similar truth.

Oasis: What’s the story by Iain Robertson is available in paperback priced £7.99. Follow the link to purchase your very own copy:

https://johnblakebooks.com/oasis-what-039-s-the-story-pb.html

http://www.facebook.com/johnblakebooks

twitter.com/jblakebooks

 

 

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