The Accidental Author: Meghna Pant

Writersmelon-Meghna-Pant

Meghna Pant is an award-winning author and journalist. After winning critical acclaim, prestigious awards and immense love from the readers, she is all set with her new book of short stories – The Trouble With Women that is now available on the Juggernaut app.

Know more about Meghna Pant, her very challenging yet exciting journey and a very impressive body of work in our special series – Author’s corner.

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I was 19 when my first short story, Aberration, was published online, on a website called freshlimesoda. The plot and characters stayed with me for months before I gathered the wherewithal to finish the story. But the discipline of writing, its stark loneliness, does not usually appeal to the young and skittish. Plus, I had been a nerdy 90 percent student through my ICSE and other exams; I was expected to do well in the world.

meghna-pantBy my mid-20s, I had already quit a lucrative job in corporate finance – post my MBA degree – to pursue a dynamic, though fluid career in broadcast journalism. There was no window in my life to take another risk and become a writer. As it is, with no training or degree in literature, I was an outsider to writing. Besides, where was the money? So, I continued working as a financial TV journalist, but I couldn’t stop writing. During the day I’d exist in the world of bears, bulls and white knights, filling hours with a job with which to pay the bills, but during every free minute I’d write like a maniac and immerse myself in the creation of a micro-parallel life on paper. To improve my art I took several writing courses in New York. I read anything I could get my hands on. I worked non-stop for years. I became so consumed by my writing that I could no longer sit through a movie or a TV show, or go out for dinner or parties, as I’d feel guilty about wasting time. My social life dwindled to ten per cent of what it used to be, and I’m lucky that my deepest friendships were formed before I started writing so I still have a strong support system. If I did manage to go out, I’d be so busy observing people and making mental notes that I often forget to enjoy myself.

I once had my laptop tip over and cut my upper lip (I’m a horizontal writer), and I didn’t get up till my T-shirt was bloody because I was in the middle of writing a crucial scene. That is mania, love, passion, obsession. That is writing.

Storytelling is a talent because it requires empathy, sensitivity and a level of social intelligence, all of which are inherited for the most part. But writing is a craft, an almost basic level of skill, and it can be developed with practice. If you can perfect the skill, then when inspiration strikes or that perfect story comes your way, you’ll know exactly what to do with it. So I wrote. I drew inspiration from my life. I was born in the beautiful hill station of Shimla, where a part of my first novel One and A Half Wife is based, but spent most of my life in Mumbai. My IRS parents worked and travelled all around India, so I’ve lived in or visited almost every part of the country. My studies and jobs have taken me from Zurich to Singapore to New York and Dubai and given me a wonderful platform to immerse myself in different cultures and to travel to almost 30 countries.

It also helped that, despite no formal training in writing, I read a lot as a child. My home was filled with books. This included Enid Blyton, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, Somerset Maugham, Ruskin Bond, Shakespeare and RK Narayan, the typical fare that Indian children growing up in the 80’s and 90’s were given to read. I got glasses at the age of twelve because my head was always buried in a book. I recall that the first all-nighter I pulled in my life was when I stayed up till six in the morning reading Gone With The Wind, and till date, I don’t think there is a book as perfect as that or a character as finely etched out as Scarlett O’Hara. Margaret’s largesse is inimitable. In recent years I’ve enjoyed reading Rohinton Mistry, Leon Uris, Aravind Adiga, Alice Munro, Kamila Shamsie, Manil Suri, Ngozi Adichie, Elif Shafak, among others.

I kept writing. Writing a novel is a soul-wrenching all-consuming process that demands you to put the rest of your life on hold. That was challenging, but writing in itself plays a small part in getting published. After a fair share of rejections, my short stories began to be published in reputed US literary magazines.

ohwThe idea for a full-length novel, One & A Half Wife, came only in 2010, and that’s around the time I also started putting together short stories that would come together in the collection Happy Birthday! The hardest part of being a debut author for me was to find a publisher. It took me a full year of research to figure out how to get published! It was also difficult to make a breakthrough, as publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a week, but One And A Half Wife (Westland, 2012) was picked up within two hours of sending it out, and once it did well, publishing Happy Birthday (Random House India, 2013) became a tad simpler.

Since my two books came out within fifteen months of each other, I woke up almost every day to reviewers, friends, and readers saying they loved the stories. I remember crying tears of joy because I couldn’t believe that authors I grew up reading or revered – like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Jerry Pinto, Jeet Thayil, Ashwin Sanghi and Namita Gokhale – gave my books fantastic reviews.

One And A Half Wife – my debut novel – won the national Muse India Young Writer Award and was shortlisted for other awards, including the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It was on the bestseller list across many bookstores. My debut collection of short stories Happy Birthday was longlisted for the world’s biggest short story award, Frank O Connor International Prize 2014, and till today I get messages from people around the country who are moved by the stories. I recently won the 2016 FON South Asia Short Story Award, which was exhilarating as a keen short story writer. I quit my job to write my new short story book The Trouble With Women (Juggernaut, 2016) that is available on the app and my forthcoming novel Men Without God. I’ve dipped into my savings made over the last ten years to be able to afford this, but it took the success of two prior books for me to take such a risk. That said, real writing, that raw savage beast that you walk with, comes with the axe of insecurity, of a little madness, hanging above your head. So if writing consumes you and it’s all you see yourself doing, then let no desk job distract you. If you’re a little less insane then build a secure financial foundation before taking up writing full-time.

I believe the biggest roadblock in our life is our own fear, in whatever we endeavour to do. Whether it’s a job, traveling to a new country, falling in love, we become our fear. Therefore, I do what I know, what comes to me, and don’t think about what I can get from my writing career, but what I can give.

Did you Know?

Meghna is also known for having abridged the world’s longest epic, The Mahabharata, into one hundred tweets that The Guardian (UK) quoted as ‘wonderfully descriptive and paced’. She has previously worked with Times Now, NDTV and Bloomberg-UTV.  Meghna is an active feminist who curates a monthly panel discussion on feminism called Feminist Rani and interviews top female leaders across different fields on her show First Lady on FirstPost.

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