It's A Challenge For A Debut Author to Be Discovered and Valued For Their Work

Reshmi AR Exclusive Interview With PM Yuva Author Aashisha Chakraborty In Sakshi Post

Meet Aashisha Chakraborty, a PM-YUVA author and winner of Write India. Her debut novel—Mis(s)adventures of a Salesgirl—by Rupa Publications, is loosely based on her experiences as a sales manager.

Her second book, historical fiction with National Book Trust, is tentatively titled 'The 13-year-old Queen and her inherited destiny'. Aashisha has a;sp written for various Readomania anthologies and e-books by Women’s Web and InsideIIM. Her articles have appeared in The Hindu and she has a Star Wars fan fiction column on SilverLeaf Poetry. She is also a winner of Kaafiya (the Delhi Poetry Festival).

In an exclusive interview with Reshmi AR of Sakshi PostAashisha Chakraborty talks about her journey from pursuing MBA and modelling to becoming an author.

1.    What inspired you to write the book Mis (s) Adventures of a Sales Girl?

Some stories simmer and boil inside you till they are ready to be out while some crave to be out of you the instant they formulate in your mind’s map. Mis(s)adventures of a Salesgirl was the latter. As a new sales intern, I was thrown from the marketing theories of the business school to the ground reality of sales and jugaad and it was both a humbling and an elevating experience, more so because of the fact that female sales managers are still rare. It felt triumphant to be able to wade through the toughest parts of the corporate grind and emerge a more experienced professional, person and of course, writer. I wanted to tell the story for all the young people who are yet to enter the workforce, or who are already facing challenges and learning their way through the unwritten untold rules of the corporate galaxy.

2.    When did you decide to become a writer?

When I first read Enid Blyton, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Of course, I didn’t know how or why I would make that happen but it was decided in some part of my head that this is who I wanted to be.

I had always wanted to establish that unique connection between a writer and a reader, something magical that made my childhood beautiful and took me to a safe happy place I still go to sometimes.

3.    When did you decide to go from a writer to novelist?

I wanted to become a novelist ever since I read my favorite authors but over time, I have learned that the journey from a writer to a novelist is one of the hardest ones. After having trashed multiple manuscripts in school and college while other stories with their half-baked endings and halted beginnings wilted away in some corner of my old laptops and older diaries, I decided I will use my sales experiences to coax the writer out of her cubby hole. It was with this book I became a novelist.

4.    People start off with fiction, but you chose to pick something you had experienced as your subject. Comment

I don’t think fiction is ever completely fiction. It is always inspired, put together or thought of by some real-life happenings. Some could just be inspirations while other fictional stories derive heavily from personal experiences. MOAS is partly derived from my sales anecdotes while the other half is the answer to my need to build a system of feelings, people and insights as a fiction writer. My experiences helped me keep the authenticity of the work alive while I played around with ‘what-if’ situations and love triangles as I pleased.

5.    Writing requires a lot of effort, time, and also patience. It's easy to give up in between. How did you sustain?

Writing can be quite a bit of emotional heavylifting and that’s why many of us only dream to write a book. It is a challenge to sit with yourself, talking, discussing and creating imaginary worlds while the real life plays on full scale outside. There were definitely times when I felt like giving up. Especially after a long day at work, I would feel like doing a Netflix marathon or a ‘Lord of the Rings’ readathon but would opt to edit the last few chapters of the novel. There are always choices, some days I took the wrong ones and on others, the right ones. The key to sustaining my spirit lay in the fact that I really wanted to tell the story and when you want something very bad, you end up having it by dint of sheer will. There are no shortcuts, sadly. 

6.    Who are your favourite writers? Is there a book that left a lasting impression on you?

This is an unfair question for seasoned readers because they cannot choose. There is an asteroid belt of writers in my favorite writers’ galaxy and Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Salman Rushdie, Ruskin Bond, Ayn Rand, Jostein Gaarder among others occupy pride of place there. Similarly, loads of books changed me as a person, be it ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘Jane Eyre’ or ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. Books make me emotional and are my raison d’etre. 

7.    Every writer thinks he's produced the best book. But it may not always appeal to everyone. Like movies add masala to make it appealing to a certain section, what elements do you think need to be added to make the book appealing?

I doubt every writer feels they have produced their best work because I certainly didn’t. I was editing till the last day and am nitpicking till date. But to answer your question, a story needs to be told in a way that makes one stand up and take notice. It has to have an x-y-z factor that takes the reader on another plane and makes them feel something they have never felt before or felt only very rarely. I don’t know what these elements are called but I try to add that x-y-z masala in my novels. It’s my personal brand of thought that I intend to take to my readers.

8.    Book writing takes quite a lot of time. Do you think the compensation writers get is good enough?

Aah, finally a question that tries to hit at the truth! I can’t talk about all writers but for a debut author, it is certainly a challenge to be discovered and then to be valued for their work. The compensation for much mundane things is 200X more than the compensation for writing. Writing, art, creation are given such less value than humdrum, routine actions; it’s unbelievably defeating. A lot more appreciation needs to be accorded to the builders of new worlds. I sincerely hope that being a writer could be a more monetarily rewarding profession someday and not just in the sense of creative and spiritual contentment.

9.    When producers release a movie in theatres, critical reviews worry them. When it comes to books, do you also feel anxious about negative reviews?

The moment a writer’s book baby is out into the world, they are frantic about how it has been received. After tearing my hair out for a couple of nights, I decided that I would have to don the sales skin here; I would have to stop giving a damn. Sure, I welcome critical reviews and really value thorough readers who give me areas of improvement. But I don’t beat myself up because that’s what people do in the corporate domain. This is a more accepting, creative, fashion-your-own field. There should be no scope for bad trips here.

10. What's your message to aspiring writers?

Read, read and then read some more. I feel the best readers can be the best writers. I am nuts about books and that gives me the fillip to write. Those who wish to write need to traverse the landscape to first discover what they love to read; only then will they realize what they love to write.

11. How do you rate writing as a career on a scale of 10 and why? Do you think it is lucrative?

I will provide two ratings, one in terms of difficulty and another based on satisfaction. On both the scales, writing scores 8.5 because it takes enormous patience, strength, and spirit to continue and more to make your voice heard. However, it provides an amazing level of satisfaction once it is reached. It takes a lot out of you to take you where you wish to be.  

12. With OTT platforms dishing out a lot of content and reading culture fading out, do you think books will sell?

With reading spans getting shorter and OTT platforms making it difficult for people to concentrate anywhere else, book sales have definitely taken a hit. There is no one to blame save ourselves. Novels today are competing for those few hours of time spent on reading in a week and that’s just sad.

It is definitely a challenge to beat the 30-sec content pieces and 10-word stories but there will always be space for good engaging tales, whether they are told in 2 words or 2 million. It is the concept of enjoying at leisure that will never fade; I still have faith in the readers of the world.

13. E book Vs hard copy, which one would you prefer and why?

Hardcopy any day but I find e-books portable so in my current lifestyle where I am always on the move and there are more and more things to be fitted in less and less space, I would prefer e-books.

14. Poems Vs Books, which one is harder for you?

Poems are harder because you have very few words to tell the whole story. In books, you have the leisure to explain and weave the fantasies you wish to plant in the reader’s mind.

15. Writer's block? What's your strategy to overcome this?

I usually do free writing where I pen down anything and everything that comes to mind irrespective of how shabby and useless it might be. Most writers’ blocks stem from self-doubts; what if I write complete rubbish, what if my stories have no base. Once we go past this stage, things get much easier. Of course, discipline works like nothing else. It is like a fitness regimen, you just have to do it.

16. Do writing workshops help writers clear the block?

Writing workshops, daily prompts, reading books- all these can help combat writer’s block but workshops are usually the most effective. By having someone mentor you, you can get a direction that can help tide over the initial hindrances. Networking and buddying up with fellow writers are also great ways to clear the block.

17. Tell us about your upcoming book

My upcoming book with National Book Trust, India is a part of the PM’s YUVA project where I have written a historical fantasy fiction based on the life of Rani Gaidinliu. The book is tentatively titled “The 13-year-old Queen and her inherited destiny” due to be released this February at the World Book Fair.

Also Read: UPSC Should Consider Shortening The Exam Cycle: Pranay Aggarwal


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