Interview with novelist Sheeba Shivangini Shah
Sheeba Shivangini Shah is the author of three published novels, and her fourth one will be out soon.
1) You’ve already written three novels: Loyals of the Crown, Beyond the Illusions, and Facing my Phantoms; can you briefly tell us about it?
My first, Loyals of the crown was more of a juvenilia. I guess it started out as random notes that I would read out to friends but then one fine day I realized I had written an entire Novel. Stories of women, the extraordinary women have always inspired me that is so clear in all my three novels where I have created theses larger than life figure, women. Women who are furiously passionate and daringly ambitious. Loyals of the crown is a period fiction that delves in depth into the cause of the Kot Massacre but for me it was much more than relaying the events that finally led to the Massacre: for me it was narrating and even understanding the woman inside the younger of Queen of King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Then again, Beyond the illusions, although seems more of a psycho- sexual-spiritual quest based on tantrism for me, was again another journey into the mysteries of the feminine. My third novel, Facing my phantoms is a family saga that focuses mainly on the two protagonists who are again two extremely passionate women from two different generations.
2) So what made your write? How do you define yourself as a woman writer?
Writing for me was never a choice. It is for me, an important element that makes me defines me rather and gives meaning to my life. I write so I live, I live so I write, kind of thing.
As for defining myself as a women writer as you ask, there is no demarcation between male and female writers.
Writer’s, in general, belong to that eccentric category of humans who have always felt that they do not belong to any community or society. Writers like other artists have some malfunction in their brains that makes them these weird outcasts with extremes of mood swings. Similar symptoms of that of a bipolar, I guess.
Apart from the fundamental characteristics of the freaky writer, I think I am very irregular, extremely unpredictable and definitely a lazy writer.
3) Has writing stories changed you, your personality, identity, and perspective? How people reacted when your first novel was published?
Indeed it has changed my personality. I was once a very social person now I seem to like my solitude. Too much of socializing begins to haunt me and then I have to flee away from people and friends. I prefer to be on my won and dream, fantasize and wonder off into a world of my own.The initial reaction of people when my first novel came was an evident shock. Now they are used to it, I guess.
4) Was it easier for you to get published from Pilgrims’ Books? Have you had any deal with them for publication and royalties?
For my first two Novels, it was not all that difficult . I handed my manuscript they liked it and they published it and yes, we did sign a formal contract and I do get a sum of royalty once in a while, never mind if it is the only pittance. As long the story is out.
5) Your five favorite women novelists and novels.
I wouldn’t say, I read only female writers. I read what is good, something that touches me, stirs my own creativity. And of course, I seem to pick up books that have very extraordinary protagonists, mainly women.
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
Anthony Trollope: Can you forgive her
Gustave Flaubert : Madame Bovary
Anita Desai : Cry the peacock
Margaret Mitchel : Gone with the wind
Hilary Mantel : Wolf hall and Bring up the bodies
(the list could go on)
6) What is writing to you? Your style or genre? How about your fourth novel?
Writing is a journey an exploration of the ‘within’ and the “without ”.
I’m working on the rewrite of my first Novel, Loyals of the crown and then, I have a fiction based in Bombay that is still in the pipeline.
7) To write should one need a room and house? Your approach on financial availability (support) for fiction writing particularly?
Indeed, finance comes as an enormous setback to most fiction writers.
There are many creative writers much better than the ones already published, but I see these not taking writing as a full-time profession due to lack of funds. There writing is limited to a hobby and is never consistent.
As for me, as every other writer would say, I write fiction because I am stifled by stories, characters, words, emotions. I need to pour my heart out else I would go crazy. I have been privileged enough not to depend on the earnings from my fiction , if I had to, I would be on the roads begging for alms.
The business for Nepali writers writing fiction in English is pathetic. One can hardly depend on it.
8) As most of the novelists sought international publishers, why you have chosen a national one? Can you share us some of your tips on editing, writing, and getting published?
My first two novels were published by Pilgrims and my third, Facing my Phantoms by Rupa, a publishing house from India.
I opted for Rupa perhaps because no publishing saw any business in my book here in Nepal, I guess and I’m confirmed that I will get another International Publisher for my fourth Novel.
Mainly because no Nepali Publishing house will see it profitable enough. They can not be blamed. No one wants to read us; Nepalese writers writing in English. Few readers, no market, no business so we go to outsiders.
9) With your novels published what have you achieved? In what way you’d like to be remembered. Do you think your novels have contributed something essential to change the current state of women in Nepal? In short, can novels change (impact) societies?
Personally, I have not achieved much. There is so much more yet to achieve. Of course, I am known today as one of the few writers writing in English here in Nepal. That apart, the hunger remains to do better and keep excelling in my art. I do hope, my Novels have impacted some women out there.
There have been many women who have in some sort of way related themselves to my protagonists. And, I strongly feel that Fictions creates a trend that in due time becomes a way of living. We sort of begin to emulate what we read.
My characters especially, the women are very strong and exceedingly ambitious and rebellious too and I think , in a society like ours, especially so in my cast and community (thakuri) women are not as open-minded as they would believe themselves to be. They are still caught up in that tricky mesh of 'essle ke bhancha ra usle ke bhancha' (what this person will say and what that one will!) and even 'hamro parivar ko chori buhari haru le arru ko jasto chaal chalan garnu hudaina' (daughters and daughter-in-laws of our family will not behave like other girls).
I myself have borne the brunt of these images and repressive but very rampant cult. I have two daughters of my own and I have made it purpose through my writings to attempt to make a fairer society for my daughters.
10) Your message to aspiring women writers.
Write ambitiously, write daringly, write furiously , write honestly and most importantly write passionately.