“99 per cent of writers need to do day jobs and other activities to pay their bills and steal time to write the books that they long to write” - Sudha Menon, an author, actor, writing coach, festival curator and an expert speaker
It is said that the joy of discovering new things is sometimes wordless. However, when an author practicing it, the joy finds its way to shine through her words. Be it Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India or Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to Their Daughters or Gifted: Inspiring Stories of People with Disabilities or Feisty At Fifty, Sudha Menon has never disappointed her readers. Her writing is not just motivational but also introduces us with the emotions that we tend to forget in our day-to-day struggles.
Sudha is a motivational speaker and has conducted innumerable workshops on women's leadership across the country. She was a speaker at TEDxPune 2013 edition and has even shared her insights on platforms such as CII, IiECON and BITS, Pilani.
In a conversation with us, Sudha Menon spoke about her fantastic journey from a journalist to an author, to an expert speaker and about her newly found passion for acting. Read on about her inspiring tale!
You had a successful career in journalism, but you quit it and became a full-time writer. Please share about that moment which changed your mind?
I became a journalist at the age of 21 and that gave me everything - my identity, joy, passion, fulfillment and liberation from the solitary life I had because I was a painfully shy and a reclusive girl. But by the time I completed over two decades of journalism, it began to feel like I was sleep walking through it. My mojo was gone, the thrill of chasing news stories was disappearing, and I was not enjoying it anymore. Then, one day, something happened at the workplace that conflicted with my idea of everything that was fair, and just in the world and without a backward glance I walked away from that job and career. My parents had taught us early that nothing is more important than integrity, honesty and self-respect and I followed my instinct when I walked away from my job.
In retrospect, it was the best thing that happened to me. In the last ten years, I have written 5 very popular non-fiction books, founded my ‘Get Writing and Writing With Women’ writing workshops, found my calling as a speaker on women’s leadership, diversity and inclusion, and discovered several other facets of my personality. Very recently, I have turned actor and model and am immensely enjoying that new role too. I have discovered that getting out of our comfort zone is the only way we can be the best version of ourselves
What is the biggest struggle of an author/writer/novelist today in India?
The biggest struggle is to find a publisher who will love your work and publish it. There are hundreds of books being written every month across the country, and most of them struggle to get noticed by publishers. So many books go straight into the slush pile because interns or overworked newbie book editors are reading it at the publisher’s end. The challenge is to stand out enough for someone to notice your manuscript and treat it with the same love that you wrote it with. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found brilliant editors, an agent and publishers to publish my book with no struggle whatsoever.
That said, the struggle for most writers is also that of making their writing sustainable. As it stands now, publishers pay peanuts to authors and royalties are pathetic. 99 per cent of writers need to do day jobs and other activities to pay their bills and steal time to write the books that they long to write. A handful of writers get paid the bulk of the budget that publishers have for authors. Something has got to give!
You are known for writing about sensitive topics. Considering this, all your books have been successful. What is that most important element/thing for an author to focus on while working on such books/works?
For a book to make an impact, reach out and touch hearts, it is important that the author writes what moves her passionately and profoundly. A book will only ever have authenticity if the author writes on her topic with honesty and integrity. Sometimes it can be brutally honest or painful, but that is the only way it will work. No shortcuts!
Literature plays a huge role towards the growth of the country, considering culture, youth, etc. What do you feel that what kind of literature India needs currently?
I think India is at the crossroads now, and we need stories of love, inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and humanness. And we need diversity. There are way more men than women or other genders. Also, publishers need to find and give a platform to newer, fresher voices and bring different views/perspectives to our world.
eBooks have been in trend. Is it a pro or a con for the literature industry? How?
If you love books then all sorts of alternatives are good - e books, audio books, all these broad bases the consumption of books, make it more accessible to a wider audience. Having co-authored a best-selling book, ‘Gifted’ on the lives of differently abled people has made me more aware of the different needs of different people, and I often wish publishers created more braille books. Those who are hearing and visually impaired can benefit from braille, and the fact is they are starved of intellectual pursuits and good reading material.
Movement for equality of women’s rights has been a long battle. Being treated the same as my male counterparts, not better, just the same. Equal opportunities and social rights for women… education, employment, etc. How far has this equality game reached or is successful? Can you suggest ways in which this can be achieved?
To suggest that we have reached equality of gender is far, far from the truth in any area of our life. The good news, however, is that the topic is at least on the table for discussion, a handful of corporate houses, a few good men and women are working hard to make this world a better, more equal place for women.
At the simplest, most basic way, gender equality can become a way of life for us if we begin treating our children as equals at home.
Are you a feminist? If Yes, what does FEMINISM mean to you? If no, what makes you not believe in FEMINISM?
I am an unapologetic feminist. I know no other way. To me, feminism means standing up for other women, being supportive of other women and men who work to support other women. It means the freedom to live a life of my choice, on my terms. It means not having to plead, compromise or have to fight for what rightfully is my right. And no, feminism is not male bashing at all!
What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
To stand up and be counted, to have their voices heard, to be unruffled by forces that seek to drag us back hundreds of years with their regressive thoughts and vision. Women will also need to watch out as the constant refrain to be perfect in all aspects of their lives gets stronger. What they need to remember is that their lives are to be lived on their terms. They get to choose the life they want- marriage, motherhood, career or all of it. It is important for them to remember their identity does not necessarily come from any of these.
What is the driving force behind everything you do?
The need to learn new things. I am a constant learner; I am curious about things and am restless by nature. I get bored easily. And this leads me to try new things out frequently. In the last ten years I have reinvented myself from journalist to author to writing workshop founder, festival curator, public speaker and an actor and there are dozens of things that are still left undone! It is exhausting physically but mentally I feel alive and joyous when I am doing things.
List down your favorite top 5 must-read books for literature lovers.
I can tell you what my favorite books are:
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- One Foot On The Ground by Shanta Gokhale
- Listen To Me by Shashi Deshpande
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- The Namesake By Jhumpa Lahiri
- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
- Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
- Thorn Birds by Colleen Mccullough
These days, every other person wants to an author. What is that one quality, if a person has, then only he/she should think of writing as a career?
A curious mind, great imagination, an insatiable hunger for reading and the discipline to put in endless hours of writing.
Please share few tips and tricks for aspiring authors?
To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader of books. Read across genres, be a good listener of the stories of people, meet authors whenever possible and fill up your life with experiences of different kinds. Become a generalist and learn everything about birds, bees, trees, food, travel, whatever comes your way. Someday all of these will turn up somewhere in your writing!
Please share some details about your upcoming book, and when will it hit the stands?
I am working on two books currently, but these days publishers have Non-Disclosure clauses with authors and so, I am unable to share the topics with you. Both the books will launch early 2021.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you? Is it important that we have one?
As cliched as this sounds, women do hold up half the sky and it is unfortunate and outrageous that we don’t get our half of anything - opportunities, empathy, compassion, understanding, adequate remuneration for our work and credit for our achievements. I think International Women’s Day is wonderful and much needed. Come on, we live in the times of Selfie Day, Boyfriend Day, Donut Day and such other ridiculous stuff. Then why not a day for women?
For me it represents a day we get together, share our stories, pat ourselves on the back, form a sisterhood and talk about the stuff that concerns us. It represents a call-for-action, catalyzing stuff that needs to happen!
Apeksha News Network congratulates Sudha Menon for her contribution and commitment towards the society with her works as well as words and wishes her all the best for her future endeavors!