Third In The Series: “Meet The Author” – Sheila Kumar

You would have seen her articles in whichever newspaper you take in. Be it the Deccan Herald, The Hindu, The Times of India or the Hindu Metroplus. As a free-lance journalist, she reviews books, restaurants, events, and writes about a wide variety of topics that catch her fancy. These range from “On Ageing”, to “The Nilgiris.” Not that they are linked except in minds like mine since I spent my childhood in The Nilgiris and now can more readily relate to issues associated with ageing. But we won’t spend too much time on that! Even though a disclaimer is not strictly called for, I must tell you that Sheila’s husband, Col. Sunil Kumar, Indian Army, (retd) and I go back a long, long  time, when we were kids together at the Lawrence School, Lovedale, hence the hang up on The Nilgiris and the Army and stuff like that.

Today, we have something far more interesting to talk about. I would like you to meet Sheila Kumar. She is an accomplished writer who has worn many a hat, which I will leave her to describe to you in her own way. As she maintains, “Good writing will stay the course.”

Her book “Kith and Kin- Chronicles of a Clan” a collection of short stories set in Kerala has received wide acclaim. Here are two of the many favourable reviews of the book, the first by Winnowed, and another in the Timeout, Mumbai.  You can order her book easily from Flipkart. Don’t you love that cover? Your mind takes you back to  the green paddy fields and the blue backwaters of  colourful Kerala, which is the backdrop for some of the stories of the Melekat clan.

Through this interview, the third in the “Meet the Author” series in this blog, I would like you to hear what Sheila has to say about her writing and about herself.

1         Tell us a little bit about yourself. To what extent did your life as an Army wife fashion your thinking and outlook. Was it an advantage or a disadvantage? What led to your becoming an author?

I was an army brat before I became an army wife. My life became somewhat compartmentalized: there was the wife of Capt.,  then Major,  then Colonel Kumar, clad in chiffon and pearls, going about her various quasi-official duties  as an army wife. And there was Sheila Kumar, somewhat wild, somewhat wacky, avid reader, avid theatergoer, avid word wielder. Actually, army life had little or no impact on my far- from- secret life as a writer.

I was a published writer at the age of 12….it was a given that I would end up a writer. Of what, was yet unclear at the time but that too fell into place eventually!

2. Who were some of the authors you admired? Who, in some sense, influenced your writing style and choice of subjects?

It’s a Holy Trinity, the authors I admire: Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse and Ayn Rand. It’s all about their style, substance and context. However, truth to tell, none of the three has actually influenced my writing style. I write because there is a compulsion to write. I don’t pick my choice of subjects, they pick me to tell their stories.

Adwoman with HTA/JWT/OBM; journalist, features writer, book editor, army wife… it has been many hats through the years.  At some level, I’m sure that has shaped my writing, just as it has my life. I am an instinctive writer. I write and watch what I write take a definitive shape of its own. Nine times out of ten, I’m happy with that shape.

3. You have a hectic schedule as I can imagine. How do you find the time to pursue your passion for writing? What would you recommend to so many people out there who would love to write but fear they “don’t have the time.” How different is it for example to write a book as distinct from writing articles for the newspapers?

Writing is more than a passion for me, it comes to me as easily as I breathe. So, making time for writing is akin to making the effort to breathe. I hold the crown for the laziest person I know (!)  and it is a crown I am loath to give up. Despite that, I meet all my deadlines, I write about anything and everything that catches my fancy.

I’d say that all those years in journalism does give one an edge: the language gets more fine-tuned, the turns of phrases gets more adroit, everything one puts down on paper or the computer, gets a thorough makeover.

I’ve always preferred feature writing to reportage, so when I started to write a book, playing kingmaker and creating a motley set of characters…and they don’t come more motley than the Melekat clan in my book! … was good fun.

4. Tell us briefly about your book. What prompted you to choose this theme?

I’ve been a journalist (with The Times of India, with Femina, with Delhi Times, and now as a freelance) for many years, carving out a niche as travel writer, food writer and book reviewer. `When are you bringing out your first book,` people would ask me; everyone was certain  that I would author a book, many books, perhaps! Well, for years there was no book inside me. And one fine day, there was. The book  had a gestation period of six months in my brain, then the words came pouring out. And Kith and Kin, my first book, a collection of short stories linking all the characters to one central Kerala clan, was done inside seven months.

Let me tell you about Kith and Kin The stories are a funny, wry, sad, bold and timorous take on life. What happens to the Melekat clan happens to people everywhere. Life throws all sorts of things at us; the real story lies in how we deal with the onslaught.

Is any part of Kith and Kin autobiographical? Only in the broadest sweep. I will quote Zadie Smith here: it is not autobiographical but it has the intensity of the personal.

Kith and Kin has been reviewed by just about every major newspaper and the reviews have mostly been good. I don’t for a minute take that for granted…I give thanks instead!

5. What would you say as parting words of advice to new authors, budding authors and the many who would love to see their work in print?

Write. Keep writing. Write, rewrite, polish your work and send it off to publications. Every book has its reader and in the process, has its publisher, too. If it’s good.  I firmly believe that, in the long run, only good writing will stay the course. The rest will fall by the wayside…some moments in the sun and then, oblivion. Where quality publishing is concerned, the doors have opened wide but it is still a by-invitation-only event.

My blog: is a repository of some of my published work.

Thank you, Sheila and we wish you every success for “Kith and Kin” and the books we will see from you in the future.



Have You Heard Of The Diagram Prize?

Until this morning, I hadn’t. That is I hadn’t heard of the Diagram Prize. A small item in today DNA newspaper caught my attention. It said “Judge The Book By It’s Title.” It went on to speak of an annual award run by the trade magazine, The Bookseller for the oddest title of the year. Apparently, in the race for this year’s award are titles like, ” Was Hitler Ill”, “How Tea Cosies Changed The World”, and “Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop.” Continue reading “Have You Heard Of The Diagram Prize?”

Characters in “Lucky For Some, 13.”

If you have read my second thriller, “Lucky For Some, 13” released in December 2012, you might like to try this quiz I have put together for you about the characters in “Lucky For Some, 13” on Goodreads. 

In earlier posts, I have introduced you to some of the characters here and here.

But where do these characters come from? The author’s mind and what he/she has observed over time. You may remember someone you knew years ago or someone who you met recently. It could be someone you know or merely some one you caught a fleeting glimpse of. That’s what makes crafting a character so fascinating for me.

Here are some snippets and thoughts that went into my mind while creating these characters:

  • At a wedding reception, I saw an American lady with mehndi on her hands and dressed in a sari. She actually carried it off very well and you will find some of this in a description of Alice Hatchman.
  • To make Mohini a stronger character, I had to tone down Dash’s character in describing their relationship. He has his own strengths but they do not include physical combat!
  • Many of the aspects of life for the “support staff” in luxury apartment complexes such as the drivers, nannies and the like come from my own observations and stories I have heard.
  • I like to think that all my characters are totally believable and there is nothing unrealistic about even one of them. I lay great emphasis on having credible characters, be they in ” good” or “bad” roles.

If you haven’t read “Lucky For Some, 13” yet, order it from Flipkart, where it is currently sandwiched between titles by Lee Child and Karin Slaughter to be #631 out of the 17857 titles listed in the category: Suspense & Thrillers.

Editing “Let The Dead Stay Dead”

A writing project I am currently engaged in is the editing of my third thriller, “Let The Dead Stay Dead.” I found it quite fascinating to return to this manuscript which had been put on the back burner in October 2012. You may recall that I had written the first 50,000 words for “Let The Dead Stay Dead” during NaNoWriMo of 2011. Continue reading “Editing “Let The Dead Stay Dead””

Jaswant Singh on Jinnah

Thanks to Jaswant Singh, former External Affairs Minister of India for writing ” Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence” a scholarly treatise on what actually happened before the calamity of the Partition of India way back in 1947. The publication of the book ( Rupa & Co 2009) stirred up a great deal of controversy. Singh was expelled from the BJP- in which party he had grown to be an admired leader. There was a school of thought that he did wrong in praising Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Actually that makes for an interesting debate which is the central theme of the book.

Continue reading “Jaswant Singh on Jinnah”