Preeti Shenoy Talking Books


Preeti Shenoy

India's top-selling female author, Preeti Shenoy, meets BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones at Birmingham Literature Festival.


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Now on BBC News, it's

time for Talking Books.

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Hello and welcome to talking books,

here at the Birmingham literature

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Festival. Today it is celebrating

its 20th birthday. This festival

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brings together writers, poets,

speakers and thinkers across the

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whole of the city centre. Today I am

talking to Preeti Shenoy, who began

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her career writing a blog that has

gone on to become one of India's

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top-selling writers and an

influential celebrity.

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You are the only woman, Preeti

Shenoy, on the list of India's

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top-selling writers. Why?

(LAUGHS)

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Shenoy, on the list of India's

top-selling writers. Why?

(LAUGHS).

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People like my writing. But is there

something you are doing that perhaps

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others are not?

I think my books do

have an emotional connection, and

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one thing I am not afraid to do is

go out there and market my books, I

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think it is important to, if you

have written a book, you have to

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have the courage to stand up and

say, hey, this is my book, this is

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what I have written about. Because

unless you talk about your book and

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unless you believe in the book, why

should others? That is one thing

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which I follow.

It's a business, in

other words.

It is, because if your

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books don't sell, your publishers

don't make any money, and they won't

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want to publish you.

I know you have

said in the past, in India, you tend

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to either be a wife or a mother, and

given the size of the population, a

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number of women in the workforce is

proportionately very low. So I just

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wonder, do you see yourself as a

role model for women in India?

No,

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here's the thing. I don't see myself

as a role model, others seeming as a

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role model, and I am like, oh, what

have I done? I don't really think

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about it. I am most comfortable when

I am sitting in my hiding hole in my

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home and writing will stop that is

when I am most comfortable.

Would

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you be comfortable being called a

feminist?

I don't know, because the

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word feminist has many connotations.

I would say that I believe in equal

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rights for men and women, I do

believe in equal rights. I think it

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is important as a woman to speak up

for what you believe in, and if that

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makes me a feminist, and I am a

feminist.

You are one of India's

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most successful writers. How easy or

difficult is it to make a living as

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a writer in India?

If you have gone

into the big league, by big-league I

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mean, if you sell something like

30,000 copies or thereabouts, and

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you will get good advances. I have

been fortunate, for my first and

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second book I could not make a

living out of my writing. But now I

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am nine book sold, so now I can

completely make a living out of

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writing, which I am grateful for.

But a new author would probably sell

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2000 copies, or 2500 copies. Then it

would be very difficult. So my

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advice to anyone who wants to make a

living out of writing is, just read

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an till you reach the big league.

Don't quit your day job. That is how

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it is in India.

Does it help if you

write in English?

In each state in

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clear they have their language, in

the regions, the book sales are

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smaller than the National book

sales. And also when it comes to me,

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I have never lived in one place for

more than more than three years. My

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father had a transferable job. We

have these things called Central

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schools in India, you have English,

you have Hindi. You simply don't

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have an option to write in English

-- but in English.

It has been a

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journey for you from being a blogger

to one of India's most popular

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writers. Why did you start writing a

blog?

To be honest I have always

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written, ever since I was a child.

My first book was at the age of

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probably seven rate. It was.

(LAUGHS). It was a six page book. --

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seven or eight. I read a lot of Enid

Blyton, it was inspired from there.

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It was four pages of text into pages

of illustrations. And I used to

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wonder, how can anyone write 200

pages or 250 pages? But I had never

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gone public with my writing. I used

to take part in Short story

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competitions in college and all

about, but first time I went public

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was with my blog, and that was in

2006, October.

And what happened,

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why did you do it?

In 2006,

September, I lost my father all of a

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sudden and it was a shock, I was

depressed, I did not know what hit

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me. One moment he was fine, talking

to a mother, and the next moment he

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was gone. And he did not have any

age-related ailments or anything of

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that sort, and that was the first

time I realised that death can be

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that sudden. It felt like someone

had pulled the rug out from under my

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feet. To overcome the grief I

started a blog, I did not know what

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I was doing, and in fact I started

it anonymously. I never put my name

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on it.

You use your initials, PS,

why was that?

I did not know who

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would be reading it. This was in

2006, and when you write something

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you are very vulnerable, you don't

know who is going to be reading it,

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you don't know what will happen. So

I was afraid. This is why I started

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anonymously.

And what were you

writing about in those early blogs?

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It was very simple stuff, I realised

that even though we don't have

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control over what happens to us, we

do have some amount of control over

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what we choose to focus on. So I

decided I would focus only on the

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positives. Anything, whatever has

happened during the entire course of

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the day, there would be one positive

thing that happened. It would be

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very simple stuff like if I saw a

rainbow I would be so happy, I would

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write wrappers are at -- I would

write about the rainbow. A small

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thing which is positive.

And in the

beginning you are essentially

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writing for yourself. But gradually,

people started to respond to your

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blog. Why do you think it struck

such a chord?

Probably because there

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is much negativity around us. People

like to feel positive, and I think

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they like to read that you can take

joy from small things. Which is what

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I did, because I was in a very dark

place in 2006, it was all very dark

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for me. The only ray of hope for me

was clinging on to that little thing

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that happened, it gave me joy. And I

think a lot of people connected with

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that.

And then everything changed,

in 2007, when one of your blogs was

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picked up by an American radio show

host, and it was named "The perfect

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post,", which must have been

wonderful. I wonder if you might

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read us an extract from that. It is

about someone you refer to as K.

I

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will read the last paragraph of it.

" Then out of the blue, I got the

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phone call saying K was dead. He had

had a massive cardiac arrest, it was

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like a very bad nightmare coming

true. I couldn't believe it. This is

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what happened in the movies. How

could this even beat? It left me

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frozen, numb speechless. I did not

know it then, but it would take me a

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lifetime to recover. It would

forever tinged all of my happy

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moments with sadness. It would alter

the way looked at life. You see, K

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was not only my friend, he was also

my dad."

How did people respond to

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that? What sort of things did they

say to you.

I got a whole lot of

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comments for the post, they were all

messages of condolence, and some of

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them did not know that it was

fiction, or whether it was real, so

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I told them every word written and

that was real. I don't write fiction

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on my blog. All of it was real. It

was very touching to get so many

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messages, but it did not help in

anyway, it did not come solely on

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anyway.

I still the pain. I can see,

you are a emotional.

-- it did not

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consult me -- console.

34 of your

most popular posts were brought

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together in a book called 34

Bubblegums and Candies. Which is a

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wonderful and rather unusual title.

Actually that book is being

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relaunched, at that time I thought

it was great, I was excited. But now

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I have grown as a writer, but when I

look at the book, I kind of hide it,

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even though that was... (LAUGHS)

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look at the book, I kind of hide it,

even though that was... (LAUGHS). It

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is going to be called Love a Little

stronger, because that is more

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relevant. 34 Bubblegums and Candies

was interesting, it was like a

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little bubblegum, whatever happens

to us, where you keep chewing and

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you extract it and then you

discarded, or it can be a candy, a

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little sweet nothing which you

swallow you feel good about. Life is

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like that, anything that happens to

us, every incident can either be a

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bubblegum or a candy. That was the

thought behind naming the book.

You

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are very honest in the book, was

there any reason to think, oh, I

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better not this in the public

domain?

No, but here is the thing, I

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did not expect everybody to be

reading it, I did not expect to be

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this well-known. So now that is the

reason I are relaunching the book, I

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haven't altered anything, I have

edited the old stories. But I think

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it is fine to share because I have

learnt that when you share you

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become closer to people, because

people open up, it is when you open

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up, people open up, and now glad

that someone has written about it.

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Someone has shed the pain, someone

has shared the joy.

Is there

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anything you wouldn't write about?

Politics. (LAUGHS)

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anything you wouldn't write about?

Politics. (LAUGHS). I would never

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write about politics. I think you

have to write about things that

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interest you, that you are

passionate about full top and

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politics, I feel it divides people,

art, literature, culture, it brings

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people together. So that is one

thing I don't write about.

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Nonetheless, it's a big leap from

going from writing a blog to writing

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fiction. How difficult it is fine

that transition?

It was very

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difficult. They are two completely

different things. But what happened

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is that after my first book it met

with moderate success, it wasn't

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huge successful, so after that first

book, we moved to the UK. So I lived

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in Norwich for a while. That was

where I wrote my second book. I

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think being in Norwich helped,

because I had access to a library.

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The first time I went to the library

in the UK, they said "You can take

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15 books. " I was like, wow, 15

books? I had never heard that

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before. Between me, my husband and

two children, that is 60 books, we

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would carry them back and I would

sit there and browse, and that kind

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of helped because I was reading a

loss, I was exposed to a different

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culture, and different country, and

that is where my second novel was

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born.

You didn't make life easy for

yourself, because you chose to write

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about a young woman with bipolar

disorder. The book is called Life Is

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What You Make It.

When I was living

in Norwich I went to an art

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exhibition, and it was beautiful, it

kind of Leumeah Way, and they were

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all painted by people with bipolar

disorder. -- it kind of blue me a

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way. It was a bipolar artists

organisation. I thought this was

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interesting and I wanted to

investigate further, and I happen to

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know a psychiatric nurse in the UK

so I spoke to her and it got me

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interested. Then I travelled back to

India and I went to Bangalore, and

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that is where one of the finest

mental health hospitals in India is,

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so I went there, I spoke to people,

and gradually the research for the

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book grew. I was quite interested in

it, and then I wanted to use a young

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girl, because, you know, people

could relate, because I wanted to

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reach out to young people. I wanted

to place her in setting that was

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familiar to Indians, so I just chose

the places where I had gone to

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college, and that is how the book

came about.

How openly are mental

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health issues discussed in India?

At

the time when the book came out,

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which was in 2008, it wasn't

discussed very openly. The book was

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a huge kind of, it made an impact.

But recently, of late, things have

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changed a lot, people are talking

about it.

The book has gone on to be

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a tremendous success, it is one of

India's highest selling titles, but

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the path to publication was not

smooth. It was rejected I think by

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nearly 40 publishers, was that cause

of the topic, the subject, do you

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think?

I think it was because of the

subject, I'd would not know, I sent

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it out to every agent, in India and

the UK. I was very hopeful. Every

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agent, the British are very polite,

so they would read and say "I will

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get back to you", and I was very

hopeful, overcome they are getting

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back! I was very excited. And they

would say it was not suitable, they

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would wish me good luck.

I got used

to it. It must have been

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dispiriting?

I never thought the

book was in the light of day.

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I said, I have one book, let me ask

my publisher. He said to trim it

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down because he was conscious of the

cost! LAUGHTER Sadly

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down because he was conscious of the

cost! LAUGHTER Sadly that was the

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truth. I know it sounds strange but

I will do whatever it takes. So I

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cut it down and that is how that

will come was published.

Ever since

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then you pretty much published a

book a year and one of the

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overriding themes to sum up all your

books is the message that life is

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short and unique to seize it by the

scruff of the neck. Nonetheless, you

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do put your characters in some

pretty challenging situations. I am

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thinking about your second novel,

Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake,

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which opens with a woman being left

by her husband. Why do you challenge

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your characters in that way?

Because

I think life is that way. There are

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things in life you cannot control

and, also, if you write a novel

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where everything goes smoothly, it

would be very boring. Nobody would

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want to read such a novel and I

think it is important to show that

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you can have the strength, no matter

what happens to you, you can have

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the strength to overcome whatever

has happened to you and I think that

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is one message which I want to

convey and it is why I put my

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characters in difficult situations

because that is real life, life is

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not going to be easy.

Something else

to return to is the subject of

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arranged marriage. Sometimes on the

marriage but sometimes head-on, I'm

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thinking of your fourth novel, The

One You Cannot Have.

Arranged

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marriages are very common. They are

not understood by the Western world

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but in India, even to this day,

people marry the person whom their

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parents choose and, of course, the

Rat people who have loved marriages

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also but arranged marriage is a

reality in India.

Still in this

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world of increasing globalisation,

young people still want to obey

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their parents wishes to smack at

least they wanted their parents

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approval.

--?. In India family

always comes first and it is very

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important for a person who is

getting married to have his mothers

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and fathers are provable. It is a

very close-knit bond. The bonds are

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very close in India and that is why

arranged marriages still exist.

It

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brings us to your latest novel, It's

All in the Planets, a boy and a girl

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who meet but they have a already

been promised to other partners.

I

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was on a train journey myself,

travelling from Delhi for a book

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launch, the launch of my previous

book and I opened the newspaper and

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I saw the ZX sign and all of us read

it just for fun, we may not believe

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it, we may believe it, and I said,

what is this forms the start of

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every chapter in a novel? There

would be a prediction and you would

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come to know by the end of the

chapter is the prediction has come

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true or not. I thought it would be

very interesting. I live in

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Bangalore and a lot of people are

overweight because they let

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themselves go after they got a job

and that is how that book came

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about. The idea came to me and a

basin of several people I know.

Is

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that how books come to you, are they

inspired but things that have

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happened to you, people you know?

Usually, most of the time.

Does

0:18:450:18:50

anyone ever might? Here's the thing,

I change it so it must so if it is a

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male, I would probably make him a

female character because the call is

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what I am concerned with Sadeghi do

not recognise themselves. All

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writers borrow from real life, from

things that have happened to them

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and I know different.

Your latest

novel, about to be published, I note

0:19:120:19:17

you have said it is your most

personal to date and have drawn

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about your experiences.

It is a

story about a young man who travels

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back to his native village in

Kendriya Vidyalayas. He's raised in

0:19:290:19:36

Bahrain, and he comes back to work

and he has a very domineering father

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and a huge ancestral property were

his grandfather lives. His

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grandfather is a grumpy old man. In

his 80s. Kendriya Vidyalayas the

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slot even have Internet

connectivity. The boy goes and talks

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to his grandfather and the story

proceeds from there. The real hero

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is the 80-year-old grandfather.

Why

is it so personal to you?

Is he your

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dad? The old man is actually based

on my grandfather. My mother lives

0:20:170:20:23

in tiny village in Kendriya

Vidyalayas and every summer vacation

0:20:230:20:29

I used to go back and there was a

huge ancestral home that I spent at

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least two months in and what

inspired the book is exactly like my

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ancestral home. It was lovely to

reminisce, it brought back so many

0:20:420:20:46

memories. When I was writing I was

honouring those memories, the

0:20:460:20:51

Times...

I was struck by a comment

in It's All in the Planets which it

0:20:510:21:02

said the early books account at

literary fiction.

I get asked all

0:21:020:21:08

the time. I find that in India,

there is a sharp divide. I would

0:21:080:21:15

presume it is the same in the UK and

the world over. Literary fiction are

0:21:150:21:21

the guys who went the prizes. I

think it is important for your story

0:21:210:21:28

to have the connect with the

audience whether it is literary

0:21:280:21:32

commercial fiction, you have to tell

a good story. That was the reason

0:21:320:21:37

why one of my characters said that

comment.

I just wondered, you write

0:21:370:21:43

heartwarming stories about love and

friendship and relationships and

0:21:430:21:48

romance and I wonder if you think

you might be taken more seriously as

0:21:480:21:52

a writer if you wrote about

politics, for example?

I do not

0:21:520:21:57

think you have to write about

politics to be taken seriously. My

0:21:570:22:02

next book is completely different. I

do is tell people, wait for my next

0:22:020:22:09

book because I always feel a better

myself with each book and as regards

0:22:090:22:13

to serious writing, I have been

published in the world, and I shall

0:22:130:22:18

stories tend to be very dark. I tell

people, if you want that kind of

0:22:180:22:23

writing, it read my short stories.

There is no redemption, there is no

0:22:230:22:30

happy, which is there in my novels.

When I tell my readers about my

0:22:300:22:38

short stories I warn them they are

dark. They always see this happy,

0:22:380:22:45

warm person but that is not always

true.

Preeti Shenoy thank you to us.

0:22:450:22:52

It's been a wonderful. Thank you

having me.

0:22:520:22:58

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