Friday, 9 May 2014

'I am definitely a small fish in this ocean, I hope I learn to swim' says Sowmya Aji in a tete-a-tete with Vanya's Notebook

A passionate and a head strong woman who loves to read, watch cricket and take care of her 3year old kiddo apart from being an assistant editor in Bangalore Mirror, this is Sowmya Aji’s way of living! A book in Oxford Top 10 list for quite some time, she is here to make a mark! ‘Delirium’ an interesting, nail biting read is surely ready to give the readers goose bumps! So, let’s see what Sowmya has to say about herself and of course…. Delirium ….

Vanya’s Notebook- Sowmya Aji! Well, you have a very interesting and uncommon name. If not anything then I am sure readers would be attracted to your name. Talking about names, your book ‘Delirium’ is a very unique name in itself. What were your thoughts when you chose the name for your book? How much success, according to you does a name give to a novel?

Sowmya—I find it very difficult to name my books or my short stories. Somehow, it’s very difficult to come up with intelligent ones like The Monk who sold his Ferrari or even something simple like The Three Mistakes of my life. I was just trying to capture the state of mind all my characters are in, except for the minor ones and felt that they were all in the state of Delirium which means not really conscious of what they are doing or a state of nervous excitement. The name is really important and initially my publisher HarperCollins was not very convinced that Delirium was the right name. But as my commissioning editor Neelini Sarkar put it, it kind of ‘grew on all of us’. I hope it catches the attention of the reader.

Vanya’s Notebook- Why all of a sudden this idea of a romantic thriller?

Sowmya—It’s been in the works for a while. In fact, I got the idea in 1998 and started to write. I wanted to set it around the 1996 India-Pakistan Match in Bangalore, which is what the book opens with. That match, which bowler Venkatesh Prasad turned around for India after Amir Sohail insulted him, is part of every cricket lover’s memory and history. I just did a ‘what if’… as in what if a TV reporter falls in love with a cricketer? What if there is a cricket scandal on the scale of the match fixing one at the same time? And from them, the book evolved.

Vanya’s Notebook- Your book has a character, the main male protagonist Avinash Katagi as a vice-captain of Indian cricket team who is quite a charmer as far as I have read! Was the character, his charm specifically, in any case similar to our Vice captain? Virat Kohli I mean!

Sowmya—Ha ha! When I wrote the book—completed in 2004—Virat Kohli was probably still in school! It’s not based on any actual person, its imagination! And while we are at it, Kohli is aggressive not charming, surely! J

Vanya’s Notebook- As far as I know, you write mostly about politics culture and all, cricket not being in your genre; how much research did your book need?

Sowmya—I am a cricket fan, used to be a fanatical fan. So I would read avidly and also had to interact with cricketers a bit and cover them during my TV days in 1996-2000. The way the TV industry functions is authentic for those days, and all the actions are set around 1996. I had to research a lot to ensure we didn’t get anything wrong technically and otherwise those days. For example- mobile phones had just made an appearance and were too costly to use. My cricketer hero had to own the hottest car in those days which was a Pajero... All that!! Cricket is not something I cover for work, but I do keep track of it always J and yes, I did speak of some cricketers of those days for background, but informally. The book is set in 1996 and all actions including cricket is authentic for that period.

Vanya’s Notebook- The second main character, Anjana, of your book is a Journalist just like you! Do you have any connection with Anjana? I mean, how much of you is Anjana or how much of Anjana are you?

Sowmya—I have tried to make Anju as distinct from me as possible, but she does share several of my traits. She loves coffee, hates to wake up too early in the mornings and things like that. The voice all through is also mine, and my friends tell me it’s very much like talking to me, to read the book. But the choices she makes, her actions and decisions in this book are very different from what I would do in the same situation. It’s imaginary and that’s why it’s fun! Incidentally, Anju is the main character, she is the narrator and the whole book is from her point of view. Avinash Katagi is the second main character.

Vanya’s Notebook- What is writing for you? And what if you meet someone like Avinash to woo you in real life?

Sowmya—Writing is probably my escape valve. And no, I don’t think I would like Avinash Katagi in real life, except for some of his traits like reading poetry.

Vanya’s Notebook- and the novel- Delirium are two sides of the same coin! One from Avinash’s point of view and the other from Anjana’s; which part was more interesting to write? Which was the most relatable to you?
Sowmya—I have enjoyed writing both. I hope Delirium becomes successful enough for me to turn Avinash’s blog into a full-fledged sequel J Anjana was easier as it’s a woman and a fellow journalist. AK I had to explore a bit more and research a bit more. I found it very interesting to try and think like a man J I hope I’ve succeeded…

Vanya’s Notebook- Has Avinash’s blog been a part of your marketing strategy? And what are your other marketing strategies?

Sowmya—I have been working on facebook and Twitter. My hero, cricketer Avinash Katagi has a FB page where he responds to questions, comments on on-going cricket matches, spouts some poetry of his own and so on.. There is also another page for Anjana Narendra, my heroine, the TV journalist. she will also answer questions and talk about the book and about AK, besides there, I have a page for the book itself, Delirium by Sowmya Aji, where all details of the book, the reviews and updates are posted. I am also planning to post a few sample pages there. There is also a twitter handle @AvinashKatagi, where Avinash comments and chats; I am hoping to do a Twitter chat with readers and interested book lovers at some point. I also have a personal handle @kolminchu

Vanya’s Notebook- When every second person is writing a book a few talented people at times loose the market and fail to get what they deserve! In such a market condition, how tough was it in getting a publisher?

Sowmya— It was incredibly tough, I finished the book and went to Delhi with two manuscripts (I have another unpublished novel ready in a different genre) and did the rounds of all the publishers. Nothing came of it I don’t think they even looked at it. Sometime in 2012 I accidentally met Neelini Sarkar of HarperCollins and asked her if she would take a look at the manuscript. She agreed and when she did, she said she had finished the book in one go! That has been the standard response to whoever has read the book. So, Neelini took it up and Harper Collins put it into the market on Dec31, 2013 and did a launch here in Bangalore at the Oxford Bookstore on Feb28. NDTV star reporter Maya Sharma and Former India and Ranji cricketer Vijay Bharadwaj released the book.

Vanya’s Notebook- And after everything you got Harper Collins! Yes, a big name it is! How was it working with them?

Sowmya—The experience of working with a major publishing house was interesting. I was not aware of how much work they handled on a day-to-day basis and it gave me an insight into how big the Indian Publishing industry has become. I am definitely a very small fish in this ocean, and I hope I learn to swim!

Vanya’s Notebook- Now that your book is out (finally) and hitting the stands; of course getting such a good response, reviews are pouring in, your book is in huge demand(top 10 in oxford), how are you feeling?

Sowmya—Feels great, I am so happy that so many people feel it’s an easy read and a page-turner, which have been the most common responses that I have got. I am glad that what I wrote has been received so well. I enjoyed writing it and am simply thrilled that so many people have enjoyed reading it J People are also telling me it will make a great film. I hope so and am keeping my fingers crossed.
“Did it go as your expectations?”
“I am still hoping that it will do better, but am happy with what has come in Delirium’s way so far” J

Vanya’s Notebook- What is Sowmya Aji in real life? Describe her in a few words! I mean, your hobbies, what you like to do etc!

Sowmya—I spend most of my time reading and day dreaming… most of my ME time, that is. I am mostly busy with being mom to my 3year old and my job as an assistant editor at Bangalore Mirror. My friends, however are Absolem, Elizabeth Bennett, Hamlet, Gimli, Katniss Everdeen and Dangny Taggarat.. J My passion is cricket and I still follow it as much as possible. I used to play in my college days. My other hobbies are films, theaters, music, dance and knitting J
“What about your next?”
“I have a novel already completed, called The Wall. It is an adult fantasy, with mythological, historical, social and political plot-lines, for which I am looking for a publisher. I am also working on another mass market novel like Delirium, which I have tentatively titled Cinders. And I am hoping to write the delirium sequel from AK’s point of viewJ

Vanya’s Notebook- Words for your readers and Vanya’s Notebook!

Sowmya—Writing is a very lonely professional despite all the friends in the head. Feels great to reach out to readers through your blog, which is itself very diverse and interesting. I saw short stories, poems—including by you—and I think it’s a great way to celebrate the joy of writing. Am very happy to have had this chat with you and with your readers J it made me think about what I have done so far, and what I intend to do. It’s the nice part of the lonely life J

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