I wanted the plump girl to take over as the main lead: Shuchi Singh Kalra

Shuchi’s books have covered various intricacies of feminism and she has become a strong voice among the young Indian women. Her books have enjoyed great acceptance across the country and we recently had a chance to speak to her. Excerpts from the interview:

The Bookoholics: Tell us about your recent book, ‘A Cage of Desires’?
Shuchi Kalra: ‘A Cage of Desires’ straddles many genres but if I had to label it, I think it would come closest to contemporary romantic erotica. It initially started off as a short story published in New Asian Writings anthology. The story received a lot of praise which encouraged me to develop it into a full-length novel. Like all my other books, this one too is also woman-centric but the central theme is far more dark and intense. It’s about a woman’s journey towards facing her inner truth and finding freedom. At the same time, it also explores the depths of female sexuality, toxic love, and emotional abuse. In short, it is about an extraordinary character caught up in an ordinary situation. I’m sure every reader will relate to it at some level.

Her latest book is broody and dark, with complex characters and layered emotions

You’ve written on diverse themes: from embracing one’s body shape to finding love in unexpected places. What is your preferred genre, as a writer?
Romantic comedy is a genre that comes most naturally to me. I’d already written two rom coms, and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and experiment with something different this time. I’d never written erotica before, and it’s only after I started writing it did I realize how challenging it is to balance all the elements and get them right. On one hand, you could fail to evoke any sensuality, and on the other, your writing could end up sounding crass and distasteful. My latest book, ‘A Cage of Desires’ is broody and dark, with complex characters and layered emotions. I hope to experiment with other genres too in the future.

Most people today are dissatisfied with their bodies. It is no surprise then that youngsters are increasingly hitting the gym. How does your book, ‘I’m big, so what?’ break these shackles?
I have always felt that plus-sized girls have been severely underrepresented in Indian mainstream fiction. There are so many books from western authors that have plus-sized heroines but that space was severely lacking in India.

I wanted the plump girl to break out of the stereotypical role of a friend, sister or comic relief, and take over as the main lead – with a strong personality of her own and dreams to boot.

Through Roli, the protagonist of ‘I’m Big, So What?’ I also wanted to explore and bring forth the social and emotional challenges that a person of that size might typically go through, and how it would impact their confidence and self-worth.

Many scenes in the book are inspired by real-life incidents and some are imaginary too.  I tried to get into the head of the protagonist and convey her anger, insecurity, hurt and pain that comes from being someone who doesn’t fit into the society’s ideal of beauty and is constantly under pressure to change herself in order to fit in. Roli’s journey is about finding herself and blossoming from an awkward teen to a confident, self-assured woman. Of course, she has her moments of self-doubt but she also has the inner strength to tide over it and hold her own despite all odds.

How difficult was it to switch from being an optometrist to pursuing MA in literature?
The transition–however drastic– was surprisingly easy. Although I am a student of science, I have always found solace in writing, even as a child. All through my school years, my writing skills were my only saving grace as I had no other talent to speak of. Studying literature came most naturally to me and I enjoyed every bit of it.

After freelancing for many years, when did it finally dawn upon you to write your first novel? What was your inspiration?
I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My first unsuccessful attempt at writing a book was when I was ten. It was a science fiction written in a school notebook, and it eventually got lost somewhere.

As far as writing my first full-length novel goes, a friend of mine was telling me about her sister who had gone on a vacation after a breakup and had landed up in the hospital injured – that’s how the seeds of this story were planted in my mind. As for the title, I saw a random tweet by someone who wrote “I’m so done with men” and I realized that so many women (me included) have gone through that post-breakup phase when we say “I’m done with men” only to go falling in love all over again. It is not merely a phrase, but a feeling that most of us have actually experienced at some point. Since it encapsulated the essence of my story so well, I decided to weave it into the narrative and use it as the title too.

Who is your favorite author and which genre do you most love to read?
There are just too many authors I love! I have been a voracious reader since childhood and I never missed a chance to bury myself in a book. From the Bronte Sisters to Enid Blyton, and Shakespeare to Sophie Kinsella, I’ve loved a whole lot of them. I am currently reading a lot of Indian authors and I think some of them are extremely good storytellers.

Is there any book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?
I grew up on a steady dose of Enid Blyton, and I feel so nostalgic when I revisit them now. My all-time favorites, however, were Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Jungle Book.

We’ve heard you love traveling. Do you think that influences your writing, as well?
Oh yes. Traveling for me is more a need than an indulgence. I avoid mainstream touristy places and prefer offbeat, obscure ones instead because they are uncrowded and have more scope for exploration. Though not deliberate, my travel experiences do make their way into my stories, in the form of places, people, and incidents. The more people I meet, the more fodder I am able to gather for my characters. In fact, the protagonist in my very first book ‘Done with Men’ is Kairavi Krishna, is a young, urban, disaster-prone travel writer. The next book that I am writing is sort of a sequel to my first book, and traveling forms an intimate part of the entire story.

Do you think traveling is the time to enjoy solitude or do you celebrate it as family time?
Although I love traveling with my family, I cherish my solo vacations the most. That’s the only time I am my bare self, dreaming crazy things and generally drifting aimlessly without a plan. I don’t even book tickets or hotels when I’m traveling alone, but I’m never sure of where I will end up and when.

Do you have a message for aspiring writers?
I don’t think I am experienced enough to dole out advice as I am still learning new things every day. But I can definitely say that don’t wait for the perfect moment to write that book cooking in your head. Set a routine, write a few words every day, and FINISH that first draft. Don’t waste time on fancy words and expressions when you are writing – just let the story flow. More pointers:

  1. It’s going to be slow. Very slow. There’s no such thing as instant gratification.
  2. It’s not enough to be a good writer. You have to learn to market yourself well.
  3. Don’t count on books for money, at least until you have a few bestsellers out in the market.

Becoming an author requires a lot of patience and perseverance. It is an unbelievably slow and painful process, at least for most of us. There will be times when you feel like giving up – just remind yourself why you write and keep going at it.