Interview: Archana Sarat author of 'Birds of Prey'
Archana Sarat is an Author and Poet for the last ten years. She shuttles between Chennai and Mumbai and loves both cities passionately. Her works are published in various popular newspapers, magazines and anthologies like The Times of India, The Economic Times, The SEBI and Corporate Laws Journal, The CA Newsletter, DNA Me Magazine, the Science Reporter, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the WRIMO India Anthology, the GloMag Literary Journal and many more. Though she is a Chartered Accountant by qualification, she took up her childhood love for writing as her profession. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from The Writers Bureau, UK. She lives with her husband and two sons.
Tell us something about yourself, you as a writer and otherwise. What are your likings other then writing.
Though I have always loved writing, I chose Chartered Accountancy as my career. When I shifted from Chennai to Mumbai, the reluctance to travel long distance for a job made me choose writing as my vocation. Apart from writing, I love painting and doodling. Two of my canvasses were displayed at Bajaj Art Gallery at Nariman Point. Nowadays, I delve a lot in doodling and calligraphy.
Who and what was your inspiration to write this novel "Birds of Prey"?
A writer does not choose the story. It is the story that chooses the writer. 'Birds of Prey' started out as the story of two strong characters. The plot and structure happened organically. I discovered the story as I wrote the first draft.
Reading the novel would tell us that it is a harbinger that speaks of one of India's impending social evil, why did you choose to speak of this theme?
Child Sexual Abuse is the most ignored social evil that is highly prevalent in our society. Just because it hasn't happened to us doesn't mean it is not happening around us. This is a cause that I have been passionate about even before 'Birds of Prey' happened. So, it was natural that my book speaks about this social evil.
The flow and the technique of narration seems very interesting how did you conceive such a technique? Do you owe it to your Creative Writing course you did from UK?
Frankly, in my opinion, you cannot learn writing through a course or a workshop. There are only two ways to learn writing - (1) by writing a lot and (2) by reading a lot. Right from the time I started writing the book, two strong characters emerged and they both were intent on telling their story. That's why, the narration flows with two points of view.
What did you mean by "Birds of Prey"? Can you share an interesting fact about the title?
Till I completed the first draft, I did not have any title for the book. The title 'Birds of Prey' hit me by chance. I write by hand on ordinary college notebooks and one of them had facts at the last page. The facts in that particular book had the heading, 'What are Birds of Prey?' That is how I got the title of the book. It seemed to fit the theme of the book.
How much time did you take to write this novel and get it published?
The idea for the novel came to me in January 2014. I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2014. After that, I worked, reworked, researched and rewrote the book many times in 2015. After it was chosen by Readomania for publishing, the book went to another round of rewriting and editing. It has been a three-year long journey.
What hurdles did you face when it came to writing, researching, and getting the book published? How did you overcome them?
I was very keen that all the research in the book should be primary research. I did not read books or watch movies to learn and write about child sexual abuse. I read medical examination reports, post-mortem reports and listened to real-life victims while writing the book. This was terribly disturbing and affected my writing many times. I had to distance myself from the trauma and torture and look at it objectively and dispassionately before I could proceed writing about it. That took a lot of time and effort.
We know you are not just a full-time author but also a mother of two. How so you manage your family and writing? What strategy do you use to be consistent in writing?
I am going to quote someone whom I love and admire. Shonda Rhimes, the popular TV writer says this about balancing family and writing, "When someone asks me, how do you do it all? The answer is this: I don't. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids' Halloween costumes, I'm probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby's first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter's debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh's last scene ever being filmed at Grey's Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing. And yet. I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn't want them to know the me who didn't get to do this all day long. I wouldn't want them to know the me who wasn't doing." Like Shonda says, I don't do it all. No one can balance things perfectly and always. However, if I give up writing for my family, that would make me the most unhappy and unpleasant person to be with. I'm sure they will hate that 'Archana'.
Your message for the readers of your book
The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow. It is our duty to provide them with a happy, safe and stimulating atmosphere to grow up in. Be alert. You owe this not just to your kids but to every kid around you.
Any advice for upcoming writers?
The upcoming writers of today are in a hurry to get published. That makes them send out manuscripts that are poorly written and terribly edited. It would help if writers maintain patience, rework and edit their manuscript to make it the best one possible. Also, please read a lot. Read good writing if you want to write good.