NOT CHOOSING TO WRITE ON GENDER ISSUES, THE EXPERIENCE OF SELF-PUBLISHING, AND COMPARISON WITH R.K. NARAYAN

Interview by Alaham Anil Kumar

Madhavi N. GunasheelaMadhavi N. Gunasheela is a doctor by profession, and has written her first book of fiction in English, a collection of short stories titled A Brigand for a Night and Other Tales. A resident of Bangalore, Partridge Publishing (a division of Penguin) is her publisher for this self-published venture. Madhavi earned her medical degree from Bangalore followed by a Diplomate of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation from New York. After practicing in the US, she relocated back to her hometown. That’s when the writing bug bit her. Initially, Madhavi wrote medical articles for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. This led her to experiment with fiction that culminated in her first book A Brigand for a Night and Other Tales, a collection of 12 short stories and two novellas. Her passion for writing has successfully overtaken her medical profession and says she is now preparing to become a full-time author.
This interview was conducted in Bangalore, India.

Alaham Anil Kumar: How did a medical professional stray into writing?

Madhavi N. Gunasheela: Sometime in April 2012 on a dull work day, I decided to kill time by penning a few lines and before I knew I had written a short story. I showed it around to my two daughters and immediate family members which raised quite a few brows. My mother wanted me to write one more and before I knew it, I had a compilation of short stories.

AAK: Many first time authors base their work on their own personal experiences and immediate surroundings. Would it have been easier to have written a book based on your medical experiences?

MNG: Many would have expected a doctor to write about the medical profession. Or being a woman, I’ve been asked why I chose to write fiction instead of writing on gender issues. It sure gets my knickers in a twist as I don’t understand why writers have to be bracketed this way. But yes, in a way, the 14 stories in this compilation have been woven around my travel experiences and out of my own imagination.

AAK: Why did you choose the genre of short stories as it is not currently considered a publisher’s favourite?

MNG: Well, honestly I did not know it. This is exactly the reason why I had to self-publish after two well known publishing houses sat on my work for almost a year. When I pressed them for an answer, they said there were no takers for short stories and rejected my draft. It was so maddening. But, on the contrary I have got a very good response and readers who have actually read my work have told me they are looking forward to another short story collection from me! This proves the marketing theorists wrong.

AAK. Why did you choose to self publish?

MNG: I did not choose to but was forced to. I also found that self-published books are not distributed by well known distributors and that I have to engage a team of publicists, book marketers and social media strategists to reach out to hordes of readers whom I know will love to read such works.

AAK: Those who have read the collection say your style of writing reminds them of the legendary R.K. Narayan, especially the detailed description of characters and the remarkably different endings to each tale which comes as a surprise.

MNG: Well, it’s an honour to be compared to the great man. RK Narayan’s works have certainly inspired me but I guess I have this ability to describe characters and situations in finer detail as I have a lot of time on my hand.

AAK: The short stories span different genres from sagas to comedy to horror in both rural and urban settings and even span continents you have never been to. For example, a short story set in Africa – a place you never visited.

MNG: Well it’s a work of fiction and all one has to have is fertile imagination. As long as historical facts and accounts don’t get mixed up or wrongly interpreted, any work of fiction should be respected. I have read an Indian author who set his story in Greece and admitted he never even visited that country! An international backdrop emphasizes the coziness of the global village and shrinking boundaries of a world that we currently live in.

AAK. Did you have an inclination for writing early on considering the fact that your debut has been when you are in your late forties?

MNG: I don’t think age has anything to do with writing. Yes, I used to write a lot during my formative years. But I guess writing too, like old wine, matures as one ages. Anything more would become too personal as I don’t fit the stereotype of an author as seen by glamorous publishers, probably a reason why my work was rejected even before a few pages were read.

AAK. Can we safely conclude that you have found a new calling?

MNG: Certainly. I am already working on my second book and hopefully more readers will read my first book when they hear about the second!

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Anil Alaham Kumar
Alaham Anil Kumar is the founder-director of Literary Speaking! which organises the International Writers and Readers Festival in Goa. The company holds literary festivals across India and connected events at schools. Kumar earlier co-founded the Bangalore Literature Festival.

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