THE SEED OF MY LIFE-TREE
The world of fantasy and fiction is increasingly dominating my thoughts. I love immersing myself in my dreams or an alternative world, which can be shaped exactly the way I’d like it to be. In such a created alternate reality everything seems to be possible and I am able to fulfill myself in every area without worrying where this newly chosen path may lead me.
I am also full of admiration for people who deal with creating alternative worlds and lives professionally. Writing is an ideal occasion to invite readers to enter the reality built just for them. Despite the fact that books are widely available and their variety may cause the head to spin, essentially the whole process of creating versatile stories is not as easy as it may seem to be and it demands some talent and passion, as well as skills from the writers to put words together in a way to captivate the readers who decide to enter the world, which they haven’t had a chance to explore before.
I’m pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Jayanthi Sankar – a talented and internationally multi-awarded author, who will invite you to her world and will share the secrets of her work, which was surely born out of her passion for writing.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Jayanthi: I am a dreamer who lives more in the creative worlds of her fictional universe, who often manages with conscious efforts to barely connect to the real world.
Passion Piece: You’re an experienced writer who started her career in the mid-90s. How was your love for writing born?
Jayanthi: We all know that reading makes writers but reading was the seed of my life-tree. Reading transformed my life. The fabulous branches of libraries in Singapore made an avid reader, and subsequently a passionate writer, out of me.
Several years of reading just for the pleasure of it had slowly brought me to a point where I chose genres and authors and by then, a critic had formed in me. I didn’t know that. That critic started to very often distract my reading pleasure, so I had to silence her, and I had to prove to her it is easier to criticize works. Hence, I tried my hand at writing a short story ‘Turning Point’ based on an early morning silly, dramatic dream I had. When it got published in print, it felt surreal.
I could not believe I had opened a new window of my life, but it took me a few more attempts before I thought I could pursue.
Passion Piece: What’s the type of writing you specialize in? And why this one?
Jayanthi: I love experimenting, particularly in fiction. The characters I create teach me as much as any human being or book can do. While I live thousands of lives reading fiction, I can live dozens creating my fictional world. My ever-expanding mind, not satisfied with one life, constantly craves to live others’ lives, many other lives, and I believe it is more or less the same for most of the creative minds. And creating a fictional world gives me that liberated feeling of living innumerable lives in this single lifetime.
I get to know the faraway land. For example, Khaled Hosseini’s Kabul and its transformation from his ‘The kite runner’ and ‘The Thousand splendid suns’, as if I have been to the city many times.
Passion Piece: Your books are well known for favorable reviews. What do you focus on before writing a new book? What key aspects are the most important to you?
Jayanthi: I think lifting my WIP above my previous work/s has always been my golden rule, every time, every book. Other than that, I also set specific rules like I’ve set two for my current WIP, no historical fiction this time, and the novel won’t be half as voluminous as mine are because I think on wider canvas. This is giving me newer challenges and, therefore, better and newer creative experience.
Similarly, for Tabula Rasa, I’d wanted main male characters with male psychology because my previous novel Misplaced Heads turned out to be more feministic and feminine than I had intended. I thought such a challenge will not only make the creative process more interesting for me but it will bring a memorable freshness for my readers. And it really has.
I also focus on different unique ways to tell my story through tools and techniques to create a unique experience for my readers. I love to watch my readers grow as I do and that’s important to me. Whenever I get to hear some of my readers say that my fiction has raised their standards of expectations from books, I feel a sense of fulfillment that’s beyond words, incomparable to the tangible sales and numbers.
Passion Piece: Let’s imagine you meet a person in a bookstore who has read none of your books. He or she is staring at one of these three titles: Tabula Rasa, Misplaced Heads, Dangling Gandhi. Which one would you recommend first and why?
Jayanthi: My readers have identified my works as ‘demanding the readers’ focus’. I must admit they are more suitable for seasoned readers or who aspire to grow as readers. Therefore, I think Dangling Gandhi, with non-linear multi-layered narration, will be a good warm up reads for the other two, Misplaced Heads and Tabula Rasa.
Passion Piece: You’ve been born and brought up in India, but Singapore is close to your heart. What makes this place so special?
Jayanthi: I have lived in Singapore for 32 years, more than half my life. My works reflect Singapore and her people. I am not exaggerating if I say Singapore made the person I am today. First part of my life in various states of the sub-continent had prepared me for the diversity I would experience. When I sit back and think, it feels like someone programmed all out for me, like a path customized for me to tread on.
Passion Piece: You’ve been also published in magazines and ezines. Is there one you would like to appear in specifically?
Jayanthi: The New Yorker!? Or maybe ‘The Guardian’?! Jokes aside, I do have a list of print and ezines that I admire the weekly brandpickings, fear of Monkey, and Splash of Red are just a few that come to my mind instantly as I answer.
Passion Piece: You’re not only talented at writing, but you’re also a watercolor artist. How do these two types of expression correspond?
Jayanthi: Sketching and painting reached me only about 4-5 years ago just the way writing did and I interacted a lot with every medium enjoying the exploration. I realized water color was my closest and we remain the best of buddies. I remain a water color hobbyist because although I like to work with acrylics and palette knives, I’m more confident with brushes when it is water color.
Painting, as everyone knows, can be meditative and rejuvenating. And, for me, it’s a respite from my intensely progressing writing work. It brings in me a change that my exhaustive mind deserves. I’ve also been planning to paint for the book cover of my upcoming novel. It will the first one because so far, I have only painted for others’ book covers, mostly commissioned.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time?
Jayanthi: Nature reserves, gardens and parks of Singapore are amazingly beautiful and many in number for such a small island nation. They are well maintained and regularly revamped. Nature and Music are my choices on my off days and free times. And in music I go mostly for Indian classical or western instrumental jazz like the saxophone rather than pop, while exercising, walking, writing, editing or reading.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future? And, what are the projects you’re currently working on?
Jayanthi: I’ve completed two months and the respective assessments of a few modules of the six-month intensive full-time training in health sector that I’ve carefully chosen, not only to fulfill my long-time desire to serve and give back to the community but also to pull myself out of the largely reading and writing world I’ve created for myself.
It’s a paradigm shift, and I wanted just that. I love this back school and the new journey, and this training ends in May. The clinical/ hospital attachments begin somewhere next month and I’ve been going through the 10 immunization jabs over the last few months, after the 3 Covid related, to be completed in the coming months.
My world of writing and reading continues. The novel that am currently rewriting falls into the genre of socio psychological might be ready for this year end (2021).
And the other of magical realism, possibly for publication for next year, is only at the ideating stage now, and therefore I’m unclear of how it will churn to the surface although I am excited, waiting for some magic to happen.
I might also announce again the call for submissions for the global Anthology of short stories, postponed last year. There are two other books, not fiction, shaping slowly, but not any soon.
The number of books in my TBR list is increasing constantly and I will have take time also for that.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I just can’t wait for your next novels to come!
See you around!
Photos by: Yan Zhangyi aka Nicholas, jstudio, Singapore
Jayanthi Sankar’s ‘Dangling Gandhi’ was the winner in fiction: short story in 2020 International Book Award – American book fest. The Literary Titan award was another international award it bagged apart from several shortlists and nominations. The title story Dangling Gandhi (results out this month) shortlisted by Twist & Twain as one of the 21 short stories out of the 165 worldwide entries. Tabula Rasa is her third book, and the second novel. She has been in several international panels of literary festivals such as (Asia Pacific Writers & Translators) APWT 2018 at Gold coast, Singapore Writers Festival, Seemanchal International Literary festival, Asean – India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival. Her previous novel, Misplaced Heads, was on the Eyelands Book Awards 2020 final list of historical fiction in Greece. It made its mark – as an outstanding postmodern historical fiction. Also a watercolour hobbyist, she lives in Singapore since 1990.