A writer, a reader, a painter, a teacher – she loves to listen to words, play with them, decipher the magic behind song lyrics, keenly go through the screenplays of movies she loves and these words make their way through her mind, not just on paper through novels and articles but also through doodles and paintings. She lives by the aphorism, “You should read 1000 words for every one that you write”, and she lives by it conscientiously, not out of constraint, but because reading is an integral part of her sustenance. Her art journal and her drawing pens have permanent residence in her “essential things to carry”. Academically brilliant, she is a Chartered Accountant but her artistic skills ensured she doesn’t stay far away from her literary pursuits and we are glad about that.
Her first book, “Birds of Prey” which released last year in November deals with a harrowing topic of “Child Sexual Abuse”. A psychological thriller, it is an intricately woven maze of emotions and the reviews for the book have been amazing so far. She is also a freelance writer and her articles have been published in various popular newspapers, magazines and anthologies like The Times of India, The Economic Times, The SEBI and Corporate Laws Journal, The CA Newsletter, DNA Me Magazine, the Science Reporter, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the WRIMO India Anthology, the GloMag Literary Journal and many more.
“Birds of Prey” was recently listed amongst the 21 noteworthy debut books by Indian Women Authors (http://www.womensweb.in/2017/05/26-noteworthy-debut-books-indian-women-authors/) and we are extremely proud and happy to have her as one of the writer raccoons.
Extremely humble and lovable, her answers exhibit the raw authenticity of her book and her heart. In this candid interview, Archana Sarat, opens up to us about her debut novel, about her writing process, about her views on various aspects of writing and marketing, and her future endeavors
Q) From what I gathered from my little research, you come from a family of Chartered Accountants and you are one too. You decided that CA was not your cup of tea and shifted your focus mainly to writing. Were there any familial pressures that you had to face initially? Because you know, writing isn’t a lucrative career always.
Archana: My parents knew, right from my childhood, that I was inclined towards the arts. A professional degree is considered a rational end to one’s education in Tamil Nadu.
Anything lesser makes you unemployable and “unweddable”. Since I am from a family of Chartered Accountants, CA was the next logical step. I didn’t question or ponder about the decision. For me, this was as simple as moving from kindergarten to primary school! I continued studying, sincerely and seriously, and became a CA at 21. My unsuitable choice hit me only when I had to sit in a chair and pore over figures all day. I was feigning every excuse possible to avoid my father’s office. By a lucky coincidence, a CA student asked my help to solve a few accountancy questions. That was when I realized that I enjoyed teaching. From then, till now, I have been a tutor for many accountancy students. My parents and husband strongly feel that a woman should not confine herself to her household duties if she has the inclination to do more with her time. However, I have always had this unnecessary guilt that I spend a lot of the household budget on books and house-help so that I can pursue my writing undistracted. So, I try to earn an income, through freelance writing and tutoring, so it can ease off this burden to some extent.
Q) You took up a heavy task of writing a psycho thriller – a genre which requires major twists and turns which I think requires some major pre-planning of the story. How was the entire process of writing it?
Archana: I can never pre-plan or plot the story before writing it. Usually, I have a vague idea of the characters and I discover the story as I write it down. It was same with ‘Birds of Prey’. In the beginning, I knew a little about Swarna and even lesser about Anton. After a lot of prodding, they went about revealing themselves bit by bit. After three college notebooks were filled up with my handwriting, I realized I had an interesting story. However, it was all over the place. I sat down to rewrite the whole thing and give it structure and a linear flow. I did not start out to write a psycho-thriller. I had no idea what was the genre of what I had written. It was my beta-reader who told me, for the first time, that this was a psychological crime thriller.
Q) Can you tell us more about the marketing that goes before and after the launch of a book.
Archana: Isn’t this a question you should ask the publishers? Printing, distribution and marketing are the responsibility of the publisher, right? I can imagine the eyebrows that would raise after reading my previous statement. However, I strongly believe that and I received immense support and guidance from my publisher, Readomania. Apart from launching my book in various cities, I have done nothing else to market the book. The best marketing for a debut novel is ‘word of mouth’. That will happen organically. If a person thinks they can hurry up the process by putting up paid reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, it is their loss. The reader is smart and he/she can identify a paid review easily. It has taken nearly 6 months for my novel to receive 50 reviews on Amazon. Approximately, one for every twenty readers jots down a review online. So, ‘word of mouth’ doesn’t happen overnight. Now, when I get mails and messages from readers appreciating the book, it feels surreal that strangers have picked up the book because they heard their friends/ neighbors/Amazon recommending it. That is the best thing that can happen to a book.
Q) Can you tell us about those things that give you a creative high when you write something? It could be a plot that came out exactly like you wanted or a quote that you wrote which made you only go “ahh” for a while. Does that happen?
Archana: My first high hits me when I get a wisp of an idea for a story/book. I find it difficult to sleep or concentrate on anything else then. Either I am working on my idea or I am mulling on the idea. At other times, when I get ideas on how to craft scenes or structure a story, I am completely immersed in the process. I am in a flow—it is a rare and precious moment. Then, I do not answer the doorbell or the telephone or eat or sleep. I cannot hear or speak. I love that, and wish it happens more often but it doesn’t!
Q) Writing is a solitary exercise and requires lot of research and can get intimidating at times. For a disturbing story like “Birds of Prey” can you tell us the kind of research you did? How long did you take to pen the whole thing down to the final bit?
Archana: Since I did not have a clear story in mind, I didn’t research before beginning ‘Birds of Prey’. Most of my research happened after I completed the first draft and before I sat down to rewrite the entire book. Initially, a few readers had wondered how I could conjure up such terrible forms of abuse. I did not conjure up anything. All the incidents mentioned are based on real life. I had gone through various medical examination reports and post-mortem reports before penning the story. The reality was gut-wrenching. I found it difficult to proceed with my writing many times. It took me a long time to calm down, assimilate my findings and get detached from my personal feelings before I could continue writing further. I got the idea for Birds of Prey in January 2014. The book released in December 2016. It has been a three-year long journey filled with hard work, emotional upheavals, love and hope.
Special Question asked by our chief raccoon Tanu Shree Singh: How was the editing process? Did you pull your hair out? Or the editor’s?
Archana: Editing has always been my nightmare irrespective of the genre or length. ‘Birds of Prey’ went through nearly three rewrites and two edits before being sent off to the publishers. After that, it went through another two rounds of rewriting and four rounds of editing. So, yes, I was pulling out my hair. During this process, I was a horrible person at home, barking at anyone who dares come near me. However, my editor, Indrani Ganguly, is a composed and balanced person. She has a voice that can melt and mesmerize you. So, I used to call her up, calm down by her soothing voice and get back to work again. Her inputs have helped shape the book to what it is now.
Q) What writing advice would you like to give our writer raccoons?
Archana: I don’t think I am qualified to give ‘advice’ on writing; I have published only a single book. However, I would like to share a few things I learned in the process:
1) Please do not rush into publishing. Indian markets value a traditionally published book much more than a self-published one. Each time you send out your manuscript and it gets rejected by a publisher, go through the manuscript objectively and rework on it. Repeat the process. Only after you amass fifty rejections from agents/publishers, should you consider self-publishing it.
2) Read a lot. Don’t restrict your reading to the genres you prefer. Diversify your reading. I read books on mathematics, history, geography, philosophy, physics, politics, medicine and psychology apart from fiction, classics and self-help. Non-fiction gives me the best ideas for fiction.
3) Write everyday—this is the hardest thing to do! It helps to have an accountability buddy. I had a wonderful friend who encouraged me while I was working on ‘Birds of Prey’. Every night, we had to message each other how many words we had written/edited in our manuscript. Now, she has shifted to the USA and I miss her a lot.
4) Carry an ideas book with you everywhere you go. Keep one in every room of the house, including the bathroom! What am I saying? It should be: especially in the bathroom. That is where you get your best ideas.
5) Please be humble. Every person writes for a different reason—money, fame, personal satisfaction, mental peace, compulsion. Give it a thought. Why do you write? Whatever may be your reason for writing, it does not give you a right to put down another writer who might have a different reason to write. And with that beautiful piece of advice we humbly thank Archana for the time she spared for this interview.
Hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed asking the questions and reading Archana’s amazing views.
“Birds of Prey” is available on Amazon through the below link:
Blurb – You wake up, parched and famished, at the bottom of a deep well—dark and dingy with the foul smell of excreta and rotting scars and no seeming way to escape—what do you do?This is the predicament that ex-ACP Anton Pinto faces when he reluctantly joins the investigation into the mysterious disappearances of men from affluent families of Mumbai. There is an inexplicable pattern behind the abductions and all suspicions point towards an old, physically-challenged, mysterious lady. Soon, Anton discovers that the seemingly unrelated men have one common link—the most popular and expensive international school in Mumbai.Following clues that span from schools and old-age homes to illegal dingy hospitals, Anton is led through a labyrinth of incest, abuse, torture and suffering, spanning decades. What secret does the school hide behind its gates? What was the undisclosed crime that is thirsty for justice? Will Anton be able to save the men? Will justice be served?
It is available for free for Kindle Unlimited users.
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