Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I listen, I observe, I react, I respond.

A TEDx speaker, columnist, mentor with Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk 2017 and festival curator, Kiran Manral published her first book, The Reluctant Detective, in 2011. Since then, she has published eight books across genres till date. Her books include romance and chicklit with Once Upon A Crush, All Aboard, Saving Maya; horror with The Face at the Window and nonfiction with Karmic Kids, A Boy’s Guide to Growing Up and True Love Stories. Her short stories have been published on Juggernaut, in magazines like Verve and Cosmopolitan, and have been part of anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul, Have a Safe Journey and Boo. She was shortlisted for the Femina Women Awards 2017 for Literary Contribution. The Indian Council of UN Relations (ICUNR) supported by the Ministry for Women and Child Development, Government of India, awarded her the International Women’s Day Award 2018 for excellence in the field of writing. Her novella, Saving Maya, was long listed for the Saboteur Awards 2018, UK, supported by the Arts Council England. Two of her books, The Face at the Window and Missing, Presumed Dead, were long listed for the JIO MAMI Word to Screen. Here is her story.
Let's start right from the top. What facilitated your journey into writing? 
I think I was always a writer. I was an only child and had my nose in my books constantly, much to the dismay of my mom who was often apologetic of my penchant for carrying a book constantly wherever we went, even to visit friends and family, or weddings and festive occasions. My mom was a teacher, my dad who was an officer in a nationalised bank died rather early when I was nine. So I was often left to my own devices, and that meant I was only too happy to keep reading.
I read so much, it was perhaps only natural that I began writing. I wrote terrible stories with princesses and towers and dragons and illustrated them too, as a child. Then in college, I was doing my English Honours, I wrote terribly pretentious poetry. Journalism knocked the pretentious socks off me. And straightened me out to write on the straight and narrow for over a decade. Then I had the brat and dropped out of the formal workforce for a few years. When I got back, I began with freelancing, then blogging, and voila, at the ripe old age of 40, I wrote my first book, The Reluctant Detective in 2011. It’s been eight books since, many short stories, and a great ride.
As an author and as a writer on women's issues and feminism, what are your constant creative and thought processes like? Do you find yourself tending towards reacting, or is it more of responding, to things around you?
I would think it is always a mix of reacting and responding depending upon how issues impact you. For me, the women who drop out of the professional workforce and find themselves searching for purpose as their kids grow has been a strong influence, having been there myself. That was my protagonist in The Reluctant Detective. In Saving Maya, it was a woman struggling to rebuild her life after a divorce. Once Upon a Crush and All Aboard, which both frothy romances on the surface, dealt with the very real fear of crossing 30 and not being ‘settled’ which most women face, and specific to All Aboard, of being forced to take stock of your life, once the plan (marriage in this case) crashes. I listen, I observe, I react, I respond, and some of this filters down to what I write.
You've broken heteronormativity in your writing, presenting it like it is. What informs your thought process? As a writer, what were your key challenges in presenting a narrative on sexual orientation that isn't lived or your own, directly?
I’ve always believed that we need to present all orientations in our literature, and that heteronormative relationships need not be the only ones depicted in our literature. As a writer, one writes on varying experiences, situations, times and lives one hasn’t lived. Different sexual orientations are one manifestation. I think as long as one approaches every situation, character and narrative with the determination to treat it with respect and truthfulness, the narrative will hold good.
Tell us about your new book. 
My new book is titled Missing, Presumed Dead. It deals with a woman going missing, a dysfunctional marriage, mental illness and all the battles that break us, and sometimes we don’t emerge from. It is a psychological thriller, and I write about how perspectives and narratives change and how we can’t always trust what we’re told, or shown, and we don’t really know what is going on in anyone’s head. What inspired it was the strange thought that what if all one runs away from is the urge to be found.
Stories have the power to move, and create change. Could you share an anecdote or more from your journey so far, of the impact of your writing? 
Well, Saving Maya, my last book had someone write in to me that she finished the book and sobbed because she was a single mother too. It is a funny book, laugh out loud in places, but it is also a very layered book beneath the surface frothiness, and it did affect her very strongly. Her message really affected me, because until that point I had written the book thinking it would be a fun read. To see how cathartic it proved for someone in a similar place in her life was quite humbling.
What about the flip side? It can't be easy being a feminist visible in public spaces, online and offline. What do you do to deal with negativity in the form of trolling? 
I’ve learned to ignore and block. I don’t need to get onto social media and deal with unsolicited, unacceptable abuse. I also have my twitter settings on high privacy so I actually don’t see notifications from folks who don’t follow me or whom I don’t follow. It keeps me peaceful.

What helped you gather knowledge / learn more about feminism in your journey so far? 
Reading up a lot about it. Reading fiction and non fiction. There are lessons in feminism I learnt from Jane Eyre, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying as well as Caitlin Moran. Reading has been the only route and journey and destination for my feminism.

Her latest book Missing, Presumed Dead, can be ordered on Amazon here.)