WOW | People
Bindu Subedi, Neelam Karki Niharika, Sulochana Manandhar Dhital and Shiwani Neupane are recognised names in the world of words. Pabita Dahal of WOW talks to them about their journey as writers, what inspires them to write and why they do what they do.
Compiled by: Pabita Dahal
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
Bindu: Though I was just 17 when my stories and poems started to get published in magazines, I only felt I became a writer when my first book was published. I had not become a writer just on the basis of these short stories and poems. I was 47 when my first book ‘One year in Japan’ was published. It was my deep inner desire to write that I consider to be the source of inspiration in my journey to becoming a writer.
Neelam: It was always a dream since I was in sixth grade. I wrote my first novel when I was 19 years old. I am always inspired by Parijat.
Sulochana: I wrote my first story when I was in grade six. But it was in 2038 BS when I was an underground activist that I realised I wanted to become a writer. I started writing my first book in 1994. It was a collection of stories called Jhyaalkhana in Newari). I was 38-39. The stories are based on true stories that take place in the society in everyday life. Hence what women go through in this patriarchal society was the inspiration behind the book.
Shiwani: I was writing from a very young age. I recall keeping small diaries during grade two, but it was only when I was in the fourth grade and I read the diary of Anne Frank that I realised even little girls could be writers. I think I wanted to write a book since then and attempted many short books in the aftermath. My inspiration comes in bursts; sometimes it is overflowing and some days I spend hours just staring at a piece of paper.
What are some of your works that you are proud of…
Sulochana: Jhyaalkhana is a story collection, Raat is a poetry collection, Tejaswi is a book based on how my relationship evolved with my father-in-law as an inter-caste daughter-in-law.
Shiwani: I am quite proud of my second book Crossing Shadows and how it makes people feel. I had a friend who called me after reading Crossing Shadows who said, “I don’t know if you already know this but Oh My God, this is what you are meant to do. This is your calling”.
Describe your style of working
Bindu: My style of writing is guided by my mood as well as convenience. For example, sometimes I can write spontaneously without much effort and sometimes it takes me more time to write. Mostly, I write in the evenings or at night.
Neelam: I don’t follow a specific pattern. I juggle my writing between being a mom, wife and family person. My best time to write is late in the night or early morning.
Sulochana: It all starts with an idea that I want to work on. I have a vision and I try to work towards achieving it. I can only write in the mornings, or when I am home alone.
Shiwani: I am not interested in anything too wordy. I like reading and writing simple prose.
Do you stay true to your thoughts or try to deliver what your readers may want?
Bindu: What the readers may want does not bother me too much. I follow my own process of creation. But yes, readers do matter because I know what kind of readers I am writing for.
Neelam: It is a loaded question. Literature is about talking about feelings of a plethora of characters. Hundreds of writers try to touch as many lives as possible with their work but in essence, it is the monologue of the writer. Simply put writers don’t particularly write to please anyone but if readers don’t feel connected in story, then writer cannot build readership.
Sulochana: I am more original and that is perhaps why I am not a mainstream writer. All my works speak for what I feel and who I am.
Shiwani: I don’t try. I usually know who I am writing for – for example my shift has been from young adults to a fiction for adults, but I don’t plan my writing to please my readers. I write as inspiration comes to me.
How much research goes into a book?
Bindu: Basically, I am a fiction writer. What is important for that is not so much research as the process of grasping human aspects in the depiction of characters, and being sensitive to the environment. I write when all these elements inspire me.
Neelam: It depends on several factors such as plot, characters, theme etc.
Sulochana: I carry out research based on need. The time frame varies. My works are mostly meditative, poetic, drawn from personal experiences.
Shiwani: Some writings require little research but others, I need to know everything from what a small village in Gorkha looks like to common slangs and use of language particular to a place.
Where do you derive your characters from?
Bindu: I draw characters from around me. It’s a bit like kwanti, the combination of many types of beans. In the same manner, I draw characters, put them together and give them life through writing.
Neelam: For work based on history such as Yogmaya or Cheerharan, writers don’t have much freedom. But in case of books like Arki Aaimai it is based on a fictional plot with characters coming from society.
Sulochana: Everyday people from the everyday world.
Shiwani: My characters are direct constructs of people we may encounter every day. However, I read a lot (news, fiction, non-fiction) and some of my characters are based on real life stories and even fictious characters. But mostly, I find that it is easiest to base characters around my own real-life experience. They tend to be more authentic.
Any new books you are working on?
Bindu: I have returned after travelling to seven European countries. I am writing all that I have seen and noted during this trip. It was an intimately felt experience. That may become a book or a collection of memories.
Neelam: I am working on number of possible plots and research but nothing final yet.
Sulochana: I am trying to revive an essay collection that I wrote 28 years ago when I was in China. What’s also in the pipeline is Ama-pathshala; a book based on lessons I learnt in the recent years after my mother fell terribly ill.
Shiwani: I have been working on a new book for the last few years. However, I have not been as disciplined as I should be and for a lot of last year, I didn’t write anything at all.
What is it like for woman writers in Nepal?
Bindu: The position of women writers is good in Nepal in present times. Now women have started writing freely with a sense of confidence. I have read the works of women writers in the past also. In comparison, I think women are doing very well now.
Neelam: I see a lot of talented new comers in the field. The necessity is to keep working persistently and carry forward the legacy of the older generations.
Sulochana: When I started out the numbers was limited. But now it’s different.
What are the challenges of working with publishers?
Bindu: This is an important question. The answer may not be pleasant because however good the quality of women writers, it is not easy for them to get access to the publishers. On top of that, getting information about royalty and number of books sold is more difficult for women.
Neelam: So far I am blessed with very good people to work with. I have heard different stories but I am yet to experience one.
Shiwani: I am not exposed to international publishing of books yet, but in Nepal, I was quite lucky to work with a good publisher. I think paying writers on time or paying them at all is the biggest unethical practice of this business, and this transcends publishing to journalism of all mediums.
How do you find the representation of female characters in current Nepali literature?
Bindu: More local and regional influences will be discernible in writings in the days to come. Women characters will be presented as more confident and eloquent.
Neelam: Literature is considered an image of the society. As change happens in society so will the characters.
Sulochana: The representation is getting better. Stronger characters are emerging. I look forward to characters that can fight against injustice instead of characters that are tolerant of injustice.
Shiwani: Representation of female characters is not bad at all! However, I wish to see more diversity among writers. A girl from Kathmandu like me, while I have the access to a great education and good writing skills, I know little about what it is like to live up in the mountains or belong to a particular ethnicity. Even in fiction, it is necessary to have a certain degree of truth. I cannot speak for other writers or their bursts of inspiration, but my female characters will continue to be lead protagonists and they will likely be based on my own experiences of growing up in Kathmandu and living abroad for so many years.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Bindu: I love to read. Reading and writing compete sometimes.
Neelam: I am mother of two boys and home maker; there is always enough to occupy my time.
Shiwani: I am a full time businesswoman. I run a major industry. I double as a political analyst, and am involved in many organisations to give back to my community. When I am not involved in all of these, I read. These days, I have started training in classical singing as well.