Dear Roopa, many thanks for accepting the request for the interview post. Let us start with…
BNI: A little introduction about you and a hint of your background, please
Roopa: I come from Kerala and I moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1990. I have a Masters in English Literature from Mumbai University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism from Asian College of Journalism.
Over the years, I have donned several roles: reporter, editor, recruitment consultant, PR writer, account executive and a media executive and then in 2013, thanks to Indireads, I became a published e-book author. Wonder what is in store for me.
BNI: Hmm, that sounds interesting. So, how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career? Roopa: I started writing fiction when I was pursuing my Bachelors in English literature from Ramnarain Ruia College. In those three incredible years, my stories and poems founds its way to magazines, newspapers and magazines such as Femina, Sulekha.com, SAWF.com, Skyline Publications, and Asian Age. Recently, a short story of mine found its way to an anthology published by Notion Press.
BNI: You started pretty early at a young age, so actually, what inspired you to write this novella? Roopa: When I read about Indireads, the digital publishing company and what it stood for: a focus on promoting South Asian stories, voices while catering to a South Asian audience; I simply longed to be a part of this phenomenon, which had the potential to revolutionize South Asian publishing. ‘Pyar aur Poetry’ was developed exclusively for Indireads.
BNI: Interesting, before I ask any further question, what will be a rapid 30-word tagline for your book?
Roopa: ‘Pyar aur Poetry’ (PAP) is “a tapestry of youthful quests, longings, and experience.”
BNI: ‘Pyar and Poetry” – how did you come up with this lyrical and catching title?
Roopa: The credit goes to Naheed Hassan – my publisher and her team. She came up with this cute and apt title.
BNI: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Roopa: The novella – ‘Pyar Aur Poetry’ is a fun, and frisky read. To be precise, it is a college romance and I have written it keeping in the mind a younger audience- I have tried to keep it very current by using phrases that are commonly used in colleges in India (I did my research for that).
BNI: Who is your favourite and least favourite character? What makes them so?
Roopa: ‘Arundhati’ is one of my favourite characters in the book. The reason being she is one of those heroines that is very easy to dislike. Nobody really takes to cocky, assertive heroines instantly. Many Arundhati out there are misunderstood– smug, brash on the outside but genuine and caring inside. She may come across as self centred, opinionated and even arrogant at times but dig a little deeper, you find out that she is very honest, sensitive and very protective of her friends and loved ones. In addition, I have always loved intelligent and outspoken heroines with a mind of their own.
My least favorite character is Aaron Jacob -he is shallow, malicious and spiteful. Moreover, there is nothing redeeming about him.
BNI: I am interested in knowing more about the two. Can you please, give us an insight into these main characters of your story? What do you think makes them yet special for the storyline?
Roopa: ‘Arundhati’ and ‘Nikhil’ are the two protagonists of thenovella – ‘Pyar Aur Poetry’.
While ‘Arundhati’ is essentially the showstopper, ‘Nikhil Menon’ is the show stealer. Self-effacing, complex, and secretive, Nikhil is a mystery, even to himself. It is the story about the journey that Nikhil takes to discover his true self that makes him special.
BNI: What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Roopa: My favourite chapter is Chapter 6 when ‘Arundhati’ and ‘Nikhil’ have an argument over Indian writers and writing. It was great fun writing it; moreover, I feel it captures the essence of the book.
BNI: Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?
Roopa: ‘Pyar aur Poetry’ is my first book and as I wrote it I learnt a lot about what to do and what not to do in terms of plot structure and characterization and also when to stop revising. Naheed Hassan, publisher of Indireads and Sabahat Mohammed, the editor helped me immensely at every stage of this book by providing me valuable feedback and criticism.
BNI: What do you think about – What does your protagonist think about you?
Roopa: I think Nikhil would approve of my reading choice of the moment- Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom while Arundhati would love the books on my night stand- Bitter Fame, Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and The Bell jar.
BNI: How about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us?
Roopa: “I thought we had talked about this?
What’s wrong with Indian writing and writers?
You know what—that’s the problem with all of us, especially at St Paul’s. We live in this rut of westernized classics and literature so much so that we can relate to a cookie or scone more than we can relate to a bhakarwadi or chakli.
As for Indian movies, it i’s so cheap, yaar, so trashy. We worship Sylvia Plath and don’t know who the heck Kamala Das is. And we love our Enid Blytons and pooh pooh our Amar Chitra Kathas and Indian folk tales. And then we live in this fake reality after reading Sylvia Plath, especially we,
who have not known fear, deprivation, loss…such a ridiculous sham…I can go on and on…”
BNI: What are your expectations for the book?
Roopa: I hope the book finds its audience and is read widely.
BNI: What according to you was the hardest and easiest thing about drafting this novella?
Roopa: The easiest part about this novella was getting the idea and writing it and the toughest part was to stop rewriting and revising it. Moreover, being a new writer, I was new to marketing and book promotions that proved to be a challenge initially.
BNI: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events? Any plans in relation to this book.
Roopa: I have not had any book signings or conventions where I met readers but I would love to. I would also love to do book readings at book forums or book clubs in Dubai that are frequented by South Asians as they are the audience for books such as mine.
BNI: I understand, but apart from personal appearances, do you get chance to hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Roopa: Although I wrote my book with a younger audience in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to note that a majority of my readers (male and female) who really enjoyed reading this book were in the age category of 50 and above. They told me that they could really connect with the story and that it really took them back to their college days. Moreover, that there was an old world charm to the book and the story. That was a bit of a surprise for me.
BNI: Did you aim to become a writer some day or it just happened by chance? What is your working profile like, at present?
Roopa: I never really planned to be a writer. It happened by default. I am a part time writer as I have a fulltime job-I work as a copywriter cum media executive for an advertising firm.
BNI: Which writers inspire you?
Roopa: I think each writer I have read has left an impression on me. Of late, I am drawn to the works of Neil Gaiman and Alice Munro.
BNI: What made you to decide going for this particular genre i.e. Romance?
Roopa: I am a closet romantic, in denial most of the time. Yet I enjoy reading romance, watching romantic movies and listening until my practical side takes over. I never really thought of writing a romantic novella until I saw the Indireads advertisement.
BNI: According to you, what is the hardest thing about writing?
Roopa: Among the hardest parts are completing what one starts. It is always very easy to start but very hard to sustain one. It is very hard not to seek instant gratification, continue writing and believing in oneself and one’s work in the face of rejections. It is also very hard to continue writing when you know that you always run the risk of never been published or read.
BNI: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Roopa: Right now, my only ambition or plan is to complete what I have started. Ideas overwhelm me; some of which I am pursuing and some of which will end up in the recycle bin. Currently I feel torn between writing a full-fledged gothic novel or a collection of short stories. I hope to complete something by the end of this year. Fingers crossed.
BNI: What has been the toughest criticism and best compliment to you as an author?
Roopa: For any author, the worst criticism they can receive is indifference and the best compliment is when people seek your book, read and appreciate it.
BNI: What will be your one favourite tip to get through the writer’s block?
Roopa: I end up getting a writer’s block when I am trying too hard and get too conscious of my writing. Therefore, I try to get out of myself and get into the story that I am trying to tell and then do what Ernest Hemingway recommends:
‘Write the truest sentence that you know.’ It seems to work most of the time- at least for now’.
BNI: What are your thoughts on book series? Would you like to have one for your latest book?
Roopa: I love the idea of book series. I would be very open to the idea of having one for ‘Pyar aur Poetry’ if there were readers.
BNI: Do you think book cover plays an important role in sales?
Roopa: Yes, definitely. It is like the face of the book and having a distinctive cover makes a world of difference. I love PAP’s cover- it is vibrant, eye catching and distinctive and completely captures the essence of the book. Wajeeha Abbasi, the cover designer and the Indireads team have done a fantabulous job.
BNI: According to you, what is the top most advantage / disadvantage of self-publishing?
Roopa: The advantage of self-publishing is getting the tag of a published author; on the flipside, it is extremely hard to market a self-published book and get it read.
BNI: ebook, pdf, mobi, kindle or printed hardcover book, what is your pick?
Roopa: Printed hardcover book
BNI: What advice would you like to give to the budding writers (or even established ones as well)?
Roopa: Nobody says it like Neil Gaiman:
“Start telling stories that only you can tell because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you- but you are the only you.”