Her path to getting published wasn't as rocky as most others have experienced. Doesn't that say a lot about the book she wrote? Possibly the first Indian author to write on the lives of Army wives, that too, with a humourous take to it, Aditi Mathur Kumar's first book Soldier & Spice is a laugh riot and one of my favourite reads of the year. Here is a conversation with her:
Congratulations on such a huge success of the book! Frankly, I was surprised at how much I was enjoying reading it, right from pages 3-4. How did you manage this!?
Thank you SO much! It really is great to hear that a reader enjoyed reading it, that my work is worth someone’s time. I kept the narration in first person – present tense and I think it works well with the story. Also, the easy, conversational style is something I enjoy reading very much, and I tried to keep the writing that way. I decided long back that this isn’t going to be for someone who wants a serious, life changing story. My writing style is casual, conversational and funny (I hope!) and I wanted to stick to it. It seemed to have worked, no?
Did you frame the characters based on your friends and yourself, or built them on a fresh mould? Did a lot of Pia’s escapades come from your own life?
It is actually a mix of real people and imaginary characters. Pia, my main character, is a regular girl so her character resembles a lot of us. Mrs. Sengupta’s dry humor is inspired from this creative head of the ad agency I used to work with, and Nose Hair is imaginary, except for the fact that her name originated after I met a real, well, nose hair. Eww, I know.
And the situations in the story, the experiences and the incidents are inspired from the stories of numerous Army wives I’ve met over the years, combined with a few of my own.
Untouched topic, in a way. How high was the anxiety?
Yes, as far as I know, the Army wife life is an untouched topic in India so far. I was mainly excited, you know, in a yay-I-thought-of-it-first way. I knew my book might not have a mass appeal, and only people related to and / or interested in the Army life would read it at first. But surprisingly, even civilians with no fauji connection whatsoever are reading it and liking it, thank God! However, the anxiety of rubbing people the wrong way was also at the back of my mind. Especially when the entire process was complete and all I had to do was to wait for the release date, I was a little worried about the reaction of the Army to the book. But luckily for me, all the Army wives I know have loved it. The ones I didn’t know, and had read the book, have made efforts to find me, get connected and congratulate me in person. So yeah, it is wonderful so far.
Tell us something about your struggle with getting published. We have a fair idea that it isn’t a cake walk. But how was the real deal for you?
Ha ha, would you believe me if I said it was really a cake walk for me? Let me tell you how. I had just finished writing the story and was doing nothing about it for a few weeks because – horror stories about the publishing industry were scary. Then, one day I decided to try my luck with Westland (easy choice, I was reading their Secret Of The Nagas at the time). Within two days they requested for the entire manuscript, saying they liked the sample chapters. In about a couple of months I signed the contract. I did not send it to any other publisher, and everything happened so quickly that I hardly got time to think about it. Honestly, the horror stories about the Indian Publishing industry seem unreal to me now.
I won’t call Soldier & Spice a chiclit. Rather I find it a mixture of multiple genres. I know people have referred to it as a regular chiclit. Are they being fair?
Ah, the scandalous chiclit label! Personally, I have no issues with chiclit. I am someone who reads almost everything, and I enjoy Meg Cabot as much as I love Kazuo Ishiguro. However, once a book gets this label, people tend to underestimate the book, the author and also the reader. To me, this prejudice is nonsense. If a story makes you want to read more, makes you laugh, cry or think – I think it is a success. Yes, quite a few readers have referred to Soldier & Spice as chicklit, but the same people have also enjoyed reading it very much, so my work here is done. :)
Any brickbats which really hurt, yet?
None so far. I’ve been lucky, all the reviews have been good and kind. One reader wrote to me saying that the simple language and lack of insight bothered her. But then, she also wrote that she enjoyed every page and wanted a signed book. It kind of balances out and that is okay, I think. Hee hee.
How and when did you decide to be a published author? Was it always a plan, or did you start thinking on the lines when you thought you had a plot with you.
At the cost of sounding clichéd, I always wanted to be a published author. I am addicted to reading since I was a child, and would dream of having my name on a book cover some day. I blogged and wrote for a few websites, but the book was a serious matter – I wanted to write about something new and interesting, and when the idea for this story came to me, I knew this was my chance.
Is it difficult to write with a full time mother? You are an army wife. So while there is a lot of help around the house, there are equally many social engagements to attend. How did you time it all?
As a full time mother of a hyper active toddler, it is impossible to write a thing. Thankfully, I wrote the story when I was about six months pregnant and even the first edit was done before my daughter was born. Yeah, I unknowingly timed it really well.
(For the second and final edit, I had to call my mom to come stay with us so that I could get some work done)
What next? New genre; or you would want to stick to comedy?
I think I’d like to write a sequel to Soldier & Spice, Pia’s next year(s) as an Army wife. I would also love to write a serious, dark story. Let’s see.
Who do you read, who are your favourites?
Like I said, I read almost everything. I have been reading from the age where I didn’t know what was “considered” good or bad and where the only I decided if I would keep a book or chuck it (theoretically, of course. I never chuck books, I’m a hoarder)
A few favourites are Gabriel García Márquez, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Nick Hornby, Sophie Kinsella, Kazuo Ishiguro, J.K.Rowling, Neil Gaiman, John Green, Khaled Hosseini and some more but now I’ll stop.
People pass snide remarks saying anyone can be a reader now. True to an extent, because there is a lot of average and below average reading material out there, but one cannot deny that there are some really talented writers. Does this perception affect writers in any way?
I think it’s a matter of taste. There are books that are frowned upon by the classic literature lovers, but those books are selling extremely well. I am not saying that sales should be the only parameter to judge a book, but there has to be something in them that appeal to a certain group, right? Also, it is often a matter of moods. You might not particularly love a certain book as a sleep time, relaxing read but the same book might be a great plane-journey read. No? Well, it happens to me. As a writer, it is very important to know that not everyone will like your work. I have a eh, can’t please everyone attitude and I’m sure it will come in handy when I meet someone who didn’t like Soldier & Spice even a little bit.
Any to-dos for wannabe authors?
Start writing that story; don’t wait for the perfect time in your life, or the perfect opening line, or the perfect “writing-mood”. Just start. And finish it. Seeing it through is the most important thing. Rest will fall in place before you know it.
Follow Aditi on twitter at @adicrazy and on her blog.