Thursday, March 23, 2017

Meeting with Shilpa Menon - Author of Scars Do Heal

We have with us Shilpa Menon. We have already reviewed her book Scars Do Heal few months back.

So Shilpa, can you tell us about yourself?
I am from Mauritius, a tiny, beautiful island nestled off the Indian Ocean. I was born to a family of 5th Generation Indian origin.  My father is a historian and a diplomat. He served as the High Commissioner of Mauritius to India prior to his retirement. My mother is a language educationist with specialisation in Hindi. 
I did my Cambridge schooling at Mauritius at the famous Mahatma Gandhi Institute. Subsequently, I went on to pursue my graduation & post-graduation in Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. After my graduation, I got a bursary to do my masters which entailed detailed research in a sought after subject – industrial scaling water treatment. My research was specifically in the crystallisation and precipitation department of the chemical engineering faculty. My thesis was on the improvement and optimisation of the Slurry Precipitation And Recycle Reverse Osmosis process -  a process used for treating the effects of scaling from water that comes out of mining activities. South Africa was more like a home to me, a place where I lived for nearly a decade.
What were you like at school/college apart from studies? What are some day jobs you have held?
While I was doing my under graduation, I had already decided that I would earn my post graduate degree on merit and that I would not ask my parents for further funding. I worked hard to land up with a bursary from the waste water research commission of South Africa. So my collaboration with them led me expand on my research topic. 
During my masters I took up tutoring for undergraduate students as an additional source of income to meet my financial needs regarding accommodation etc. After my masters, I embarked on a PhD program, but before I could get the groove of it, I got an offer to work with Shell Petroleum. Then came a moment to choose between work and to start my own stuff. After much thought I took that plunge as an entrepreneur. I am a first generation entrepreneur from my family.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors? Which author inspire you the most?
I read a lot! Reading is next to religion for me. At the end of the day if I have not learnt something new I feel quite disappointed. Reading always fills that need of mine – the quest for knowledge, wisdom, and entertainment. I do not limit myself to the source - so it can be a novel, a magazine, the newspaper, any brochure etc. I also like to read about information in any field. When it comes to novels, Jojo Moyes, Sydney Sheldon and Graeme Simsion inspire me a lot. I enjoy their style of writing. The book I am currently reading is Achieving Oneness with the Higher Soul by Master Choa Kok Sui.
When did you start writing? 
I was always fascinated by writing. During my schooling days I used to enjoy writing articles for the school magazines. During my stint at engineering I had the chance to write quite a few articles which were widely published in scientific journals. So writing was something that came naturally to me. I have also been and continue to be an avid reader. When I found my purpose to write, the drive to author a novel was but automatic. 
What inspired to become an author?
The Nirbhaya Episode of December 16, 2012. How a band of evil committed such a gruesome act on an innocent girl in south Delhi on a private bus - six of them, one of whom turned out to be a juvenile. As the details of the episode came out in public, the news shook not just the conscience of this country, but it lit a fire in the hearts of many across the world. The henious manner in which she was violated was beyond comprehension. With her unfortunate death, the government was rather forced to act to then come up with a legislation covering this subject matter. 
This was, in brief, the Nirbhaya episode and many reactions and actions unfolded after her death. But a big question remained unanswered in my mind. How many Nirbhayas will it take for the conscience of this nation to wake up? How many more will be subjected to such gruesome assaults? And what about the many Nirbhayas who prefer to hide in silence, and about those who end their lives than to suffer social stigma? How many Nirbhayas are hushed and forced to suppress their untold  voice ? Will crime against women ever come to an end? These were questions that I pondered over and what transpired was a question I had for myself – What can I do to strike a chord with people on this subject?
That is how I found a reason. I began interacting with victims who had endured and survived sexual assault. It didn't take me long to understand the depth and severity of their sufferings and that became the driving force for me to write scars do heal. 
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I personally feel writing is very therapeutic and rewarding. Also, I have been getting an overwhelming response from my first novel, Scars do heal. I have some fans who are really looking forward for my second novel. The love and feedback I receive from them combined with my passion to write is what actually fuels me to write. So, yes I am very keen to consider being a novelist. Why not? It would be in fact a blessing to add another feather in my hat.

Get a Giveaway copy of Scars Do Heal

Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
I believe that life is short and unpredictable, so I believe that it should be our genuine endeavour to work towards achieving our goals and to live out our dreams.  Like they say, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ likewise, I am of the belief that 'where there is a passion, there can be no excuses'.
When I found my purpose to write my first novel, the drive to author a novel was automatic. It wasn’t an easy task though. Caught between running my export business and my priorities as a mother. When I started writing my son was about 3 years old, so my writing did demand a lot of discipline and I had to effectively manage my time in a manner that my writing didn’t infringe upon my work-family harmony. I used to write when my son was asleep. I made it a habit to write every day, determined to complete my book. Although I did not have any deadline to finish my novel, the purpose of my writing was so strong that it kept me going. 
Now that my son is going to school I dedicate a couple of hours for my writing daily. It requires a lot of self-discipline and focus. Also, I have to thank my husband and entire family for their support and constant encouragement. 
Can you describe your current book in few lines? What’s it about?
Scars do heal is the story of Sonal Kapoor, who is a reserved, hardworking entrepreneur running a florist boutique in London. She fights a paradoxical battle between her responsibilities at work and her only family there - her mother. And caught in between these is a story of Sonal's past - a terrible event that got her to flee India. Scars from her troubled past continues to manifest in multitude of ways, reminding her constantly about that horrific event. 
Serendipity happens when Dr. Ryan Percy enters her life and Sonal is challenged in ways she had never imagined. Ryan turns out as everything from Sonal's quintessential definition of the man of her dreams - BUT, Ryan too comes to the party with his own baggage from the past. A pivotal piece in the jigsaw of their lives appears to be missing. The novel revolves around their puzzling lives and towards the end, readers find an answer to an intriguing question - Do they complete or destroy each other?
How much research did you do for this book?
Initial research into the topic of Rape Trauma Syndrome lasted for around a year. In that period I interacted, on a confidentiality basis, with victims who had endured and survived sexual assault to understand their day to day challenges and the main areas of insecurities. The second part of the research was an in depth learning about the psychological aspect of Rape Trauma Syndrome in depth - how it impacts the general quality of life, its various stages and the different mechanisms by which survivors cope.
It took me around six months to formulate the plot and write the story. Once the manuscript was ready, it took around eight months to get through the editing, design of the novel and publishing. 
What was the most difficult thing about writing your latest book?
Writing fiction was a first for me. I could have written an article on the subject that Scars do Heal covers, but I felt when people read a story they would be able to relate better with the protagonists, hence I made this attempt to convey my views to a reader through this novel. 
The entire journey of writing has been a very enriching experience for me. I think i have surmounted  a huge learning curve starting with the concept, the story flow, the research, the actual writing right through to the eventual book design, publishing, release & distribution.
I always had a flair for reading and before i wrote my book, I would usually have flipped through pages in a novel so casually without really thinking about the efforts that would have gone into writing even one snippet - that from an author’s viewpoint.! 
Writing made me view a piece of writing from an author's perspective and that taught me a great deal. Besides that, coming up with a gripping story line, maintaining a particular style of writing was a challenging task - especially to bring out expressions and emotions through words. 
It also taught me to be patient and to value the sources of inspiration around. Whenever I would run into a writer's block, I would take a break and resume with a new beginning. 
And since I was writing from my heart, I actually found writing very therapeutic and enjoyed it thoroughly. 
On the whole, the journey as an author has given me a sense of great satisfaction that I was able to use the power of words to express myself and write a social message at the same time. 
Can you share your book trailer with your readers?

When did your book released? 
19th December 2015
What are you working on at the minute?
I am busy with my second novel. The main characters from Scars do heal feature as side characters, so there is a kind of continuity. But I am writing it in a way which makes my second novel a stand-alone book. 
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t let pressure affect your writing; believe in your style of writing no matter how different it may be; be disciplined; and always write from the heart. 
Links for your book readers
Get a Giveaway copy of Scars Do Heal


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