Shinie Antony’s new novel, The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, is the story of Rudrakshi Sen, also called Roo, an introverted, middle-aged English teacher who lives with her semi-blind and chronic mother. She spends most of her days consumed in the grief of her husband’s death, convinced that maybe theirs was a happy and conventional marriage. A cultivated, aloof manner helps her in distancing herself from anyone she knows. But when Kumar, a man younger than her appears out of nowhere, she is irrevocably attracted to him and begins an affair knowing full well that all affairs have a messy ending.
Also, a prolific short story writer and editor, Shinie says The Girl Who Couldn’t Love was inspired by, “All those women who look bland on the outside but are feverish thinkers, with so much of their cerebral activity veiled from the outside world. Maybe even amoral women who lead questionable but such passionate lives.”
But what does it take to create flawed characters whom readers can also empathise with? The author feels that no character is flawed in her/his own eyes.
“Only the prevailing sense of right or wrong paints a protagonist good or bad; a writer has to bring in a sense of insidious justice to who she/he is writing about.”
“So that’s what narration is all about – for every reader to become Humbert Humbert and fall madly in love with Lolita. Only the prevailing sense of right or wrong paints a protagonist good or bad; a writer has to bring in a sense of insidious justice to who she/he is writing about.”
Shinie says that initially, in terms of sheer length the book wasn’t technically falling into place. As a short story it was too long, and as a novel it was too short. She was insistent on making the prose as sparse yet evocative as possible, “I was determined to under-say, those who read the first draft found this too reticent. So, the number of words became a fight. I had to fill gaps in the storyline but with lesser and lesser words.”
Since she writes both short stories and novels, when an idea strikes, how does she decide which form to pursue? Shinie adds, “Each story comes with its own length, its own word count.”
Shinie Antony is Chetan Bhagat‘s editor among many other popular authors, so does the experience of working with an author whose books have become overwhelmingly successful, also affect the way she looks at her own writing?
She says, “I am not only Chetan Bhagat’s editor but also a few others’, so going up and down with each one’s sales will leave me yo-yoing endlessly. Telling your story your way is what matters, anything else is dishonest and formulaic.”
Also, an avid reader who “moves through books with alarming speed”, I ask her if her writing in any way reflective of her personal experiences and observations?
“Honest conversations – with both the writer/talker and reader/listener tuned into each other totally – make my day… It is a mental workout that partially feeds my curiosity about people.”
“Everyone has a story and it is interesting what we relate to; the gaps in our understanding and knowledge define what we grasp from others’ work/talk. Honest conversations – with both the writer/talker and reader/listener tuned into each other totally – make my day. I get a high out of one intense talk with someone – be it a friend or a character I meet in a book – in a day. It is a mental workout that partially feeds my curiosity about people.”
And her word of advice to any aspiring writer?
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