BENGALURU : Sharanya Manivannan is the author of the short-story collection The High Priestess Never Marries, which won the 2015-16 South Asia Laadli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity (Best Book – Fiction) and was shortlisted for the TATA Lit Live. She is also the author of two books of poetry, Witchcraft and The Altar of the Only World, and a picture book for children, The Ammuchi Puchi.
What was your trigger for writing the book The Queen of Jasmine Country?
The Queen of Jasmine Country is about a teenaged poet in the ninth century Tamilagam named Kodhai, who has no idea that she will one day be revered as the goddess Andal. I often feel that there is a great distance between our interior lives and our perceived or projected selves.
And for an artist who uses her own emotions as a palette, making art is a kind of bridging of that gap. So who was she really – this young woman from over a thousand years ago? What filled her nights and days, and led her to write such intense, vivid poetry? This is what my novel is about – going beyond her legend, and reading between her own lines.
Have you always seen yourself as a writer?
Since the age of seven, yes. But I’ve seen myself as a reader for even longer!
What has been your inspiration as a writer?
I’m primarily interested in silences and stories that are hidden within the seams of the ones we know.
Does your writing draw influence from vernacular books?
More so than books, I am interested in folklore and so-called alternative narratives. That which does not make it into the canon. For instance, one of my previous books, The Altar of the Only World, drew from many regional Ramayanas, some of which were not in text format. The Queen of Jasmine Country is structured on Andal’s own poetry, the Tiruppavai and the Nachiyar Tirumoli.
With the digitisation of books, have you moved to reading books on screen?
I got a Kindle about a year ago and I love it. But I equally love paper, still.
What is the process you undergo while writing? When do you write, do you follow a particular schedule, how do you deal with writer’s block?
Writer’s block is a fact of my creative life, and I can go a couple of years or more without significant new pieces. A big part of my process is not fighting this, but accepting that like all things in nature creativity is also cyclical. When I do write, I am completely immersed.
Do you go back to your old writings? How does it feel to re-read what you had written years ago?
I tend not to re-read, and in fact only do so when I have to do a public reading. I think every artist must be kind to oneself and accept that growth is a jagged thing, and so our feelings about published work can change.
How difficult or easy is it to get published? Have you had to modify or change the content of your book for it to get published?
Writers who read widely and submit their work to magazines and anthologies and weather the rejections that come stand a higher chance of having their books published than writers who do not. There is no easy or difficult here – it’s only a question of persistence.
Who’s your first reader? And who are your biggest critics?
I usually share my finished work with a small circle of friends first. I think people who are uncomfortable with feminine energy, its subtleties and powers, tend to dislike my work.
Do you think marketing plays an integral role in the success of a book?
Unfortunately, this is true. I really wish that readers knew some vital stats about the publishing industry – such as how little author royalties really are, and how many books sink because of a lack of marketing (which is not a writer’s skill at all). Perhaps knowing these facts would change our reading culture.