Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
R. K. Biswas is the author of a novel, Culling Mynahs and Crows, published by Lifi Publications, New Delhi, and a short story collection, Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women, published by Authorspress, India.
Her short fiction and poetry have been published all over the globe in such journals as Per Contra and Eclectica (USA), Markings (Scotland), Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, South, and Nth Position (UK), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (Hong Kong), Kritya, Pratilipi and The Little Magazine (India), Crannog (Ireland), and Going Down Swinging, Mascara Literary Review, and Etchings (Australia).
Culling Mynahs and Crows was one of the 20 most popular books published in 2014 selected by The Readers’ Club, Delhi. R. K.’s poem “Cleavage” was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2006 and was also a finalist in the Aesthetica Contest in 2010. Another poem, “Bones”, was a Pushcart Nominee from Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010. In 2007, her story “Ahalya’s Valhalla” was among Story South’s Notable stories of the net. And in 2012 she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I was always scribbling down something or other, mostly poetry, which was for me a kind of diary in code. I also read everything I laid my eyes on, including the Women & Home issues my mother got for herself! And like most children of my era, I began my reading life with the works of Enid Blyton.
The small town where I grew up sat on a plateau with a river running along one side of it and resembled an English village much more than an Indian one. Our school, a convent run by Irish nuns, had a huge collection of books and magazines. The Officers’ Club also had a well stocked library and the local Bengali cultural club had one too. There were lending libraries as well. And we exchanged books with friends. Books defined our lives. Many of us took pride in polishing off five books in a week.
I guess what I am trying to say here is I started out as a reader and that led to writing.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
I am working on several books and also writing poetry and short fiction in between. I keep doing that. I read more than one book at the same time, so I guess that’s how I move as a writer as well. I can’t control the poems. They pop in and if I have a pen and paper at hand or my computer, I put them down. Otherwise I enjoy them in my head and then they are gone in part or whole.
My novel came out last year, and this year began with my first book of short stories, Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women, published by Authorspress India. Right now that’s available from the publisher’s site and at Amazon. Culling Mynahs and Crows can be purchased via links on my website: here.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
It isn’t too different from that of a retired woman! I gave up my advertising career to write and be with my children when they were small. It’s a quiet house these days now my children are grown. Music sucks me into its own world, so I don’t listen to any when I write; just the natural sounds of a suburban day drifting in through open windows. Sometimes I take a break and listen to music or walk about downstairs in the shared garden.
Although I prefer to work from a desktop, I also keep a laptop and tablet handy. Sometimes you just need to get away from a particular physical surrounding. But I am bad at maintaining files, so at times, my stuff overlaps, and I mix up old and new files! I love going for walks, and get many ideas when I am beneath an open sky.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I start reading and writing once my husband leaves for work. Given a choice, I’d like to start my day with writing and finish with my chores. But a long time ago, I forgot about the time when I was writing (a snatched hour during lunch break at work) and almost missed my son who was then in kindergarten at school. The incident shook me up so much that ever since I’ve never been able to give in to my writing unless I am completely certain I have fulfilled my duties as a wife and mom. My husband tells me to change my routine and focus on my writing first, because it clearly makes me unhappy not to, and my babies are no longer babies! So I am working on it.
I begin by editing old work, and then swiftly move on to either completing the story or novel chapter/s or writing fresh poems. Sometimes I work feverishly, and the world seems to fall away. I don’t realize that the day has left, and when I emerge I am startled to see my husband putting his bags away and smiling at me! I love those days; the physical exhaustion of it is exhilarating. Sometimes I am more aware of the physical world, especially if a phone call or the door bell has disturbed my writing.
I try to maintain a five–day writing schedule, and am possessive about this. During weekends, long writing sessions take a back seat; I may write a poem or edit a story. There are exceptions of course, when my husband is touring/out of town for example. It used to be different when my children were small. I know how precious writing time is. I am lucky to get it, and cherish my days.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK PROCESS?
I have two work processes. In the first, I tell myself a story. I may enjoy several versions of it for as many months. If it stays in my head, it’s good, and deserves to put into paper. If I forget it, well then perhaps it wasn’t worth it after all.
The other process is an anxious kind, in which I get nice sentences or paragraphs that sound poetic or mysterious or disturbing, but don’t have a narrative thread. Those I like to scribble or type out as soon as possible. Usually I get into the spirit of an unfinished story by reading the last paragraph. With stories I usually don’t know what will turn up next, though I do have an idea about the whole narrative arc. It’s my private adventure and great fun while it lasts. Things become more sensible and orderly during the second draft. I also do a lot of talking to myself when I am cooking. Sometimes when a character is laughing or crying I may be inclined to do so, and that’s when I am grateful there is no one around to see this crazy old woman in her kitchen!
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Books are magical things. They are like the pictures Mary Poppins jumped into! Or time machines. Or portals into other worlds, dimensions. For me there is no greater happiness than being immersed in a book and/or story, either as a reader or as a writer. Even today I never leave my house without a book and a small writing pad and pen in my bag.
I would die if I didn’t write. There is no other way out for me.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The world around inspires me, but mostly nature. Ideas flow in from everywhere. They are there on this earth and out there in the stars, and sometimes we just happen to be right beneath one and can pluck it like a fruit. Other times it is a bird’s distant song or a shifting cloud shape, a scent we follow deep into the enchanted forest of words.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Writing is the easiest part of being a writer, if you ask me. The hardest part is being a social being with regards to writing. It’s unnerving to call myself a writer/author when I have to introduce myself to anyone. Writing is such a solitary activity that to take it along and make it part of one’s social fabric is almost like coming out of one’s own skin.
One challenge that I face, which is directly connected to writing, is compiling my poems into separate collections. I write poetry in different styles according to the subject or tone, and I find it very hard to put together a poetry manuscript.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?
I see the book industry as an evolving beast, because humans are evolving. I don’t think there are any changes that I can even claim to wish to see. The book industry will move the way humanity moves. Reading will remain, though we may not understand its future avatars. The world is a tougher place now and that impacts all industries. The fittest survive, as always.
My personal goal is to write better and more intensely with every passing day.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Ursula le Guin, Katherine Mansfield, Mary Shelley, Flannery O Connor, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy, Nadine Gordimer, JK Rowling to name a few.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
I’d like to name a few: Soniah Kamal, Dipika Mukherjee, Gay Degani, Vanessa Gebbie, Nuala ni Chonchuir, Rebecca Lloyd, Indira Chandrasekhar, Oonah V Joslin.
Thank you, R. K. Biswas!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Kallol Biswas
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