Chai Pe Bulaiya (Part II) : Meet Renita D’Silva, author of Monsoon Memories


      Let’s meet the lovely and warm  Renita D’ Silva , best-selling the author of Monsoon Memories and The Forgotten Daughters in Chai pe Bulaiya segment today.

     Tell us a little bit about yourself. Also include some pet peeves, crazy/fun stuff about yourself …
I grew up in the picturesque village of Kallianpur near the coastal town of Mangalore. I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering but worked in IT, quitting software altogether when my kids came along. I now live in the UK, in a little town just outside London. I love my family, reading, writing and cooking, in that order. If given the chance, I would live in a library or a bookstore. I once spent the night in a railway station when I missed curfew for my hostel, and that experience has made its way into one of my books. My daughter says that I laugh at things that are not even remotely funny. I love public transport and I especially love it if trains/buses/planes are delayed because that means more reading time.
2.       Tell us about your book/books
I have written two books so far. ‘Monsoon Memories’ was published in the UK and the rest of the world with the exception of India in June 2013 and it was published in India by Harlequin in Feb 2014. ‘The Forgotten Daughter’ was published in the UK and the rest of the world with the exception of India in Feb 2014 and was a bestseller in the Women’s Literary Fiction Chart on Amazon UK and made it to the Kindle Top 100 in the UK and Canada. 
I am intrigued by families and the secrets we keep from those we love the most in the mistaken belief that we are protecting them.  Secrets and how keeping/unearthing them affect the dynamics between families feature heavily in both of my books.

 ‘Monsoon Memories’ is about journeys. The journey to forgiveness and acceptance.The journey of discovery, the unearthing of a secret that has been slumbering for more than a decade.Shirin lives a dry life in London and misses home desperately but cannot visit because of something that happened in her past.  Then there is Reena, an inquisitive eleven year old girl who finds an old photograph depicting her father, her aunt and a stranger and embarks on a quest to uncover who the stranger is, inadvertently setting into motion a chain of events that will affect her life in surprising ways. It is a coming of age story for Reena, and a coming to terms tale for Shirin.

Monsoon Memories in India:
Monsoon Memories in the UK:
Monsoon Memories in the US:

‘The Forgotten Daughter’ is about the quest for identity and delves deeper into the fraught minefield that is the relationship between mothers and daughters. It is the story of three disparate women, Nisha – who finds out via a letter left with her parents’ will that she was adopted, Devi – who is fighting against the constraints imposed on girls growing up in a small village in India, and Shilpa – a woman who grows up in poverty.

In ‘The Forgotten Daughter’ too, the three characters are embarking on journeys – Nisha in a literal sense, to find her roots and in the process, to find herself. Devi is on a journey of reconciliation with her estranged mother. For Shilpa, it is a journey towards acceptance of the choices she made in her life – often with devastating consequences.

The Forgotten Daughter in the UK:
The Forgotten Daughter in the US:
 3.       What inspired you to become a novelist?
I have always wanted to write. I love stories, and when I am not reading them, I am creating them in my head. Life, however, had other plans for me for a while. Hence, I worked as a software engineer for a bit, giving up when my kids came along. When my daughter started nursery, and with my son already in school, I was free for a few hours to indulge my passion: writing.  I enrolled in an Adult Education Creative Writing Course and started writing stories that I actually shared with other people instead of just inventing them in the privacy of my head. I discovered that my stories were liked, a few of them got published in magazines and anthologies and won competitions and that gave me the encouragement to start writing my novel.

4.       Is any character from your books based on anyone in your real life?
Not anyone in particular, no. I think like all authors, I am riveted by people, by what makes them tick. I love witnessing snatched moments in people’s lives. I like eavesdropping on bursts of conversations and conjuring the rest.I am a people-watcher; I collect nuances and conversations and create stories around them. I suppose what I am trying to say is that my characters are an amalgamation of the people I watch. I borrow characteristics from various different people and people them in my characters.
5.      Who are some of your favorite authors?
Oh there are so many. The list is constantly growing and changing. Harper Lee, Arundhati Roy, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Khaled Hosseini,Maggie O’Farrell, ChimamandaNgosiAdichie, Markus Zusak to name but a few.

6.What are the best and the worst parts about being an author?
The best part of being an author is receiving feedback from readers all over the world, hearing how my stories have affected them. I love that part of the process.The worst part is the self-doubt. I am constantly having to battle the inner voice in my head that keeps telling me that what I have written is rubbish. Usually this voice nags till I have reached around a third of the work in progress,by which time my characters have grown enough so as to take over, to shush the negative voice and dominate my head with their desire to express their views, tell their story.
This is another one of the highlights of being an author, when the characters that I have devised grow so much that they want to tell the story their way. They do not let me sleep, they give me no peace until I have told their story in the way they want it told. Usually this goes completely against what I had devised for them, but it is the right thing for those particular characters and that particular tale.
7. Tell us about your writing / editing process. When do you normally write? Any lucky charms that you believe make you write better? 😉
I do not have any lucky charms as such.J I juggle two children and three part-time jobs so I write when I can, squeezing writing into snatches of borrowed time here and there. Having said that, I get a window of roughly an hour and a half each morning between dropping my daughter off to school and going to work and I try and write then, warding off the distractions of social networking sites and the internet for the most part. However, I am thinking about my story all day while going about my other chores, so when I do sit down to write, the words flow easily as if they have been waiting for this moment, to be fed onto the page.
My first draft is usually stream of consciousness writing. I write without checking or rereading, not caring about spelling, grammar, punctuation etc. I just focus on putting the words on the page, the story that is nagging to be told onto paper. On subsequent drafts, I read, reread, edit. I work on the characters, their development. I fine tune the story.

8. How do you unwind after a rigorous writing session?
I read. I cook. I catch up on housework and spend time with the kids.

9. How did you feel when you received the author’s copy to your first book?
It was a truly amazing feeling, the fruition of all the years of effort, like how a child feels on Christmas morning, I suppose, when what she has wished for fervently all year comes true. I have written about it here, a paragraph right at the end of this post:

10. What pointers would you like to give to aspiring authors? How easy or difficult was getting published for you?
I had instant success with my short stories and I thought getting my novel published would be just as easy. The mistake I made, in retrospect, was to send my manuscript off too soon, before it was the best it could be. I got quite a lot of feedback: ‘Plot is weak’; ‘Cannot identify with the main characters’; ‘Structure doesn’t work’; ‘Story needs tightening’ and so on. I took all the feedback on board and sent it off again. This time, the feedback was unanimous, ‘We like your story but cannot take it on because of the recession, the current deplorable state of the market.’ In the end, I did succeed, but there were so many hurdles along the way that I almost gave up countless times.
Based on my experience, here is what I would say to aspiring authors:
a)      Believe in yourself and your writing.
b)      Do not send your manuscript out before it is the best it can be.
c)       Try not to let rejection get you down. Easier said than done, I know. But remember, everybody gets rejected. J.K.Rowling was rejected 12 times before her manuscript was accepted by a small publishing house and Harry Potter was unleashed on the world.
d)      Don’t give up. The published writer is one who has picked himself up after each rejection and tried again. With the advent of the e-book and Indie publishing, there has never been a better time to be an author. Remember you only need one person to say yes and he or she is waiting just around the corner.
11. What’s on the menu next?
I am currently working on the first draft of Book 3. Watch this spaceJ
Thank you so very much for hosting me on your wonderful blog, Bhargavi. It’s been a real pleasure.

Thank you so much for your lovely answers, Renita. Looking forward to The Forgotten Daughter’s launch in India. You’ve got yourself a huge fan 🙂  

Here’s a sneak peak into Renita’s Monsoon Memories..
Madhu was washing clothes on the little granite stone by the well, in the shade of the tamarind and banana trees. The heavy thud of clothes hitting stone guided Reena there.
Deepak had tried countless times to get Madhu to use the new washing machine he had installed in the bathroom. But Madhu was having none of it: ‘I wash the clothes, rinse them and then scrub them again. Will that square little box do that? I am not using any fancy machines when my hands will do.’ Since then, the washing machine had sat forlorn in the bathroom gathering dust and chicken droppings where the hens perched on it when being chased by Gypsy, the gleaming white exterior fading slowly to dull grey.
Reena sat on the cement rim surround of the well and watched Madhu. Her sari was tied up, the pallu tucked tightly into her waist. Her worn apron was wet and hair escaped the confines of her bun and collected in greying tendrils around her face. Every once in a while she used her arm to push it away, leaving wet soapy smudges on her face. She had finished scrubbing the clothes and was wringing the water out of them by rolling them into a tight cylinder and then bashing them very hard against the stone. The bar of Rin soap that she had used lay on the stone beside her, bleeding dark blue water onto the streaky granite surface. Gypsy, who followed Madhu wherever she went, lay curled beside her feet. She looked lost to the world, except for the deep growl that escaped her every once in a while and the little twitch her nose gave when a fly landed on it. Do dogs dream?Reena wondered.
Every so often the spicy, scented breeze stirred the tamarind and banana trees, releasing a little flood of raindrops that had adhered to the leaves. The garden in the front courtyard which Madhu diligently tended was in full bloom, and Reena breathed in the sweet honey aroma of the hibiscus and jasmine flowers mixed in with the earthy smell of rain-washed mud. Bees buzzed, butterflies flitted and a fat frog stirred in the grass next to the well. Reena sighed, for just a moment loath to disrupt the peace and stir up old secrets. The moment didn’t last long, however.
‘Madhu,’ she said, ‘I’ve got something to show you.’
Madhu jumped, startled. Gypsy barked. ‘Gypsy, shush. Rinu, you gave me a fright. How long have you been sitting there?’
‘Not long. I like sitting here, watching you. It’s peaceful.’
‘What’s that?’ Madhu rubbed soapy hands down the sides of her apron and extended wet fingers to receive the photograph Reena was holding out to her. Reena watched as she squinted at the picture, as her smile stilled and her face lost colour.
‘Where did you find this?’ Madhu asked.
‘Oh, you know…’ said Reena vaguely, deliberately nonchalant, even though her heart was pounding.
Up until now, though she had wanted to find out more about her lookalike, wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery, a part of her had thought that it was all in her head. The adults would pooh-pooh her wild theories as just that. There would be a perfectly simple and straightforward explanation. 
 Although she’d hoped to have stumbled on something, now, as she looked at the myriad emotions flitting across Madhu’s lined face, as her breath came out in long sighs, as the smile fled her face to be replaced by grief, Reena wished she had never found the photograph. She wished it had remained hidden in that old woodlice-ridden album. For the first time, she considered the fact that the girl might be dead. But that didn’t make much sense either. Why hide her photographs? Why forget her? In Reena’s experience, the dead were revered and remembered all the time, even more than the living, she sometimes thought. There was a seven-day mass after the funeral, a thirty-day mass, a yearly mass, framed photographs adorned with garlands taking pride of place next to the altar…
Again she found herself asking the same questions. Why the secrecy, the conspiracy of silence?
Madhu used the pallu of her sari to wipe away the tears streaming down her face.
Reena was horrified. She had never seen Madhu cry. She didn’t know what to do. Guilt, sharp and painful bound her to her perch on the rim of the well. Try as she might, she couldn’t seem to move to comfort Madhu.
The frog hopped away in wet sticky plonks, drawing arches in the air. Gypsy stirred and ambled up to Madhu, licking away the salty tears which kept on coming.
‘Shoo, Gypsy,’ Madhu murmured, patting the dog’s flank. ‘I saved it in a safe place, but couldn’t remember where I had put it. I looked everywhere, but in the end had to accept it was lost. And now…’
So the photograph had been Madhu’s.
Madhu ran her fingers gently over the girl’s face, her hair.
And Reena understood why the picture was worn.
‘She had lovely hair, thick and long. I used to plait it for her in two long braids, and tie it up behind her ears. She always made sure I used matching ribbons.’ Madhu smiled. ‘She sat so still while I oiled it and combed it, no matter how knotty it was, no matter how much it hurt. And I talked to her the whole time. She was my favourite, you know. It was a secret—hers and mine.’ Madhu’s voice broke.
Reena waited until Madhu had composed herself somewhat.
She hated herself for doing so but she had to ask. ‘Did she die?’
Madhu blanched. Years of living in a Catholic household had rubbed off on her and she made the sign of the cross, her puffy, red-rimmed eyes sprouting fresh tears. She spoke so softly that Reena had to strain to hear. ‘No. Thank God, thank Jesus, no.’
Oooh.. that was delicious! I am hankering for more.

Connect with Renita..
My website:
Twitter: @RenitaDSilva

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