My guest for a pre lunch aperitivo and chat today is the lovely and wonderfully talented Renita D’Silva.
She loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her shorts have been published in The View from Here, Bartleby Snopes, This Zine, Platinum Page, Paragraph Planet, and have even been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology.
Renita’s novels, Monsoon Memories
are available in paperback and e-book, and have received myriad rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Her third novel, The Stolen Girl, will be published on 12th September 2014 (my late grandmother’s birthday).
Welcome to Italy, Renita, and what can I offer you? A glass of Prosecco? A spritzer? A Bellini? Or perhaps some Pinot Grigio or Bardolino?
Thank you so much for hosting me. I’ll have a glass of Prosecco, please.
Ooh, I’ll join you (pours two glasses). Cheers!
Make yourself comfortable, darlin’! We’ve known each other for a while now since we met on Twitter. I’m honoured you’ve agreed to this interview and would like to start by asking, ‘What inspired you to become a writer?’
I have always wanted to write. Writing completes me. But it was only ever a hobby until my children came along and I gave up work to become a full-time mum. When my youngest started nursery, I had a few hours to myself and decided to indulge my creative calling by enrolling in an Adult Education Creative Writing course. That was the first time I dared to share the stories that had populated my head for so long with others – and they loved them! That gave me the courage to send a few of my stories off to magazines and submit to competitions. They were accepted and it went from there …
You’re such an amazing writer, Renita, with a beautiful voice. This is the review I wrote on Amazon for Monsoon Memories, and I meant every word:
I loved this book, quickly becoming engrossed in the story. Like the delightful eleven year-old protagonist, I wanted to solve the mystery at the heart of the narrative. Renita D’Silva cleverly drops clues, but doesn’t give away too much too soon, teasing the reader right up to the end. Beautifully written, Renita’s Monsoon Memories takes you straight to India through the wonderful descriptions, evoking the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this fascinating country and giving you an insight into the culture of Catholic Indians. But it was the characters that engaged me most. I became deeply attached to them, and I’m looking forward to Renita’s next novel.
Can you tell us something about your second book, The Forgotten Daughter?
The Forgotten Daughter is the story of three disparate women: Nisha – a statistical consultant who sets great store by facts – who finds out that she was adopted, that her whole, carefully ordered life has been built upon a lie; Devi, a spirited young woman who rebels against the constraints of her mother’s stifling love and the restrictions of a culture that suffocates her; Shilpa, a poor woman living in a village in India who does what she thinks best in exceptional circumstances but in retrospect regrets her choices. All three protagonists are embarking on journeys: Nisha in a literal sense, to find her roots and in the process, to unearth the person she really is; Devi on a journey of reconciliation with her estranged mother; Shilpa, on a journey towards acceptance of the choices she made in her life – often with devastating consequences.
I’m reading it now and I’m absolutely loving it. How does The Stolen Girl differ from your first two novels?
The Stolen Girl is set equally in India and in the UK, unlike my other books which are set mostly in India. I had to do a lot of research for this book, much more so than with the other two. Also, The Stolen Girl is structurally different from my other books in that, although the other two flit between the past and present, The Stolen Girl is divided into parts which distinctly demarcate the past from the present. It explores two very different women and the decisions they make, which unleash a tsunami that rocks their world, the deluge of resulting waves drowning their futures.
Wow! Sounds fantastic and right up my street, as they say. In your writing you seem to gravitate towards family dramas, the secrets we keep from those closest to us and how they affect everyone involved. Have you thought about trying any different genres?
Not really, no. I am intrigued by people, by identity, roots, what makes us who we are. I like the thought that an ordinary person whose life is headed along a regular path can make an about turn based on one choice. One bad turn. I also like how the choices a person makes can echo, reverberate into the future, like an earthquake causing aftershocks both big and small. I like how as humans we are all flawed. We try to do our best but sometimes, our best is not good enough. Sometimes, our best turns out to be the worst thing we could have done. I like delving into what makes us tick. I suppose I will continue to explore that in my books.
Which is why they’re so successful. I’d love to hear about your writing process, and I’m sure my readers would too. Can you give us some information about how you develop your plots and characters? Also, what has been your greatest writing challenge so far, and how have you overcome it?
My stories start as pictures in my head.The pictures take root and over time, they are embellished with detail. I strive to depict in words these images that crowd my head and nag at me to tell their story. And if, whilst reading back what I have written, I can see the picture in my head bloom on the page via the words I have written, then I am happy.
All my books involve multiple narrators and alternating narratives. I like the way different stories converge to one point at the end of the book. So I do a very broad sketch but I don’t like to plan in too much detail. I like my characters to take me by surprise as I am writing the story; I like them to grow a backbone, to stand up to me and say, ‘I wouldn’t do that, this is what I would do.’ It gives me such a thrill when the characters have developed so much that they have their own voice and they tell me what to do rather than the other way round. After that the book takes off, it is out of my hands and in theirs.
I think my greatest challenge so far has been writing and completing The Forgotten Daughter, my second book. Even though I had hoped my debut, Monsoon Memories, would see the light of day, when it actually was published and liked by readers, I panicked. I did not know if I could write another book – though of course I wanted to. I worried that it wouldn’t be good, that the first one was a lucky fluke. Also penning the first draft of The Forgotten Daughter was my first time writing to a time frame. I worried whether I would make the deadline. And I tried to incorporate all the bits of feedback from readers regarding Monsoon Memories into the first draft of my second book. On the advice of my publisher and editor, who didn’t give up on me after that disastrous first attempt, I took a step back. Thought hard about what I really wanted to write about. The second draft was better, although not by much. It took three drafts to mine the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it.
Thanks for being so honest with us, darlin’. Please tell us about your road to publication! Is there anything you did that you’d do differently with hindsight and, what advice can you give those of us aspiring to be published?
The process of publication was a huge learning curve. I come from an IT background and did not know any publishers, agents or authors. So, when I penned “The End” on my first draft, I googled what to do next. The one suggestion that stood out, that was reiterated many times, advised new authors to get a copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook and send off their manuscript to agents who represented books like theirs. And that is what I did. But I was impatient and sent the manuscript off before it was the best it could be. I got some very positive feedback with a few agents requesting the full manuscript but they all came back with, ‘Get back to us when you have worked on it.’ So I worked on it and sent it off again and this time they said it was good but that they were not taking on new authors due to the recession. I had all but given up when I saw an ad for Bookouture in Mslexia, the magazine for women writers. And so I sent my manuscript off to Bookouture. And they said yes!
My advice to aspiring authors would be:
- Do not send your manuscript out before it is the best it can be.
- Try not to let rejection get you down. Everybody gets rejected., J.K. Rowling got rejected umpteen times before Harry Potter was unleashed on the world.
- Believe in yourself and keep trying. The published author is someone who has picked himself up after each rejection and persevered. With the advent of the e-book and Indie publishing, there has never been a better time to be an author. It only takes one publisher to say yes and they are waiting just around the corner. Believe in yourself and do not give up!
You’re an inspiration, Renita. You say you love stories. What books do you enjoy reading most?
I read widely and variedly, across genres. I like books that take me by surprise, that hold me in their thrall from the first page until the last. Favourite authors: Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Arundhati Roy, Chimamanda Ngosi Adichie, Markus Zusak … The list is endless, fluid, constantly growing and changing.
I know what you mean. Same with me and I’m sure with many readers. On a personal note, what do you get up to when you’re not reading or writing?
I work at my daughter’s school and tutor at home in the evenings and on Saturdays. Any spare time I get, I spend with my family.
Juggling work, writing, and family life must be difficult and I’m full of admiration for you. What are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next stage in your writing career?
I would love to continue to write and entertain readers.
I wish you every success, Renita. It’s been an absolute joy chatting with you. Thanks for dropping by. Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that might surprise them about you?
I hate wearing jewellery. I do not mind spiders but am terrified of lizards. I love winter best, the colder the better…
Thank you so very much for hosting me today, Siobhan. It has been such a pleasure.