Shweta Ganesh Kumar started as a TV journalist, then worked with an NGO and is now a full-time writer. HAMSINI RAVI
Shweta Ganesh Kumar’s debut novel, Coming up on the Show: The Travails of a News Trainee told the story of Indian broadcast journalism through the eyes of a fresh-out-of-college girl, and quickly made its way to the Landmark Bestseller’s List last year. Her second book, an epilogue to the first and the second in the trilogy is being launched in May.
In this freewheeling chat she talks about Indian journalism, at large and her writing.
How did you move seamlessly from one medium to the other?
I’ve always been a writer; right from the age of five, when my mother sent one of my scrawled short stories to a newspaper contest. I’ve always wanted to reach out to others with stories and narrations of real life incidents.
My decision to become a TV journalist stemmed from this. Two years into the field, I realised that I wasn’t able to tell the stories I wanted to. I always wanted to work in developmental journalism, but my story ideas were not the kind to send TRPs skyrocketing. So I decided to move to an NGO.
It was tough in the beginning;I had to stop writing to pictures and lose the habit of taut, to-the-point sentences. This was much more descriptive and I could be as passionate as I wanted. I could also lose the stranglehold of forced neutrality; often as a reporter, I longed to speak up for someone who was obviously a victim, but editorial policy and journalistic ethics did not let me do so.
The transition from a communications role to that of a full-fledged fiction writer was the hardest of all. I had just moved to the Philippines with my husband and it was the peak of the recession. In the absence of a fulltime job, I had written a couple of travelogues for an Indian a newspaper. Some positive responses later, I seriously started to consider writing as a full-time profession. It was a difficult decision, considering that there would be no fixed income and no holidays, but I know today that there is nothing else that would make me happier.
Tell us about your writing?
I always start with a working title. Once the book has a name, I work on rough character sketches and then put down the number of chapters I want. Next, I jot down a skeleton plot for each chapter. Once the last one is in place, I start from the beginning. While I always end up writing the story as initially planned, I often find myself adding incidents and other details I had not thought of initially.
After finishing the first draft, I usually let the document lie for a month or two before approaching it with fresh eyes. Meanwhile, I also send out chapters to my mother and my husband, for their inputs.
Having been a television journalist, are your books based on your experiences?
My books have factual elements. The incidents I write about are based on my friends as well as my experiences in television, but there is also a huge chunk of imagination in it.
As a first time writer, what kind of responses did you expect?
When it came out, I was so thrilled to hold a published book in my hands that I did not have a lot of other expectations.
I wanted to the book to be read and enjoyed but I did not imagine it would do as well as it did.
Yet, it sold more than ten thousand copies within the first two months of its release and also made it to the bestseller list in many bookstores across India. I received emails from readers, from India and the United States of America (where it was released much later). It was these responses that motivated me to work on *Between the Headlines’ as fast as I possibly could.
Give us a glimpse of the final book of the trilogy?
The final book is very much in the conception stage; as in I don’t even have a working title yet. The book will take a hard look at the world of activism where many newsworthy causes are ignored as channels run behind high TRP’s and advertising rates. It will look at media channels from an outsider’s perspective and also debate whether viewers actually have a say in the news they watch. I am aiming for a mid-2013 release.
Hamsini Ravi is Project coordinator, Hollaback
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