After exciting childhood dreams that vacillated between astronomy, zoo keeping and diving with great white sharks, Khushnuma eventually settled for something a tad tamer-advertising. Six years ago, while on a sabbatical, she rediscovered her love for writing something more than creative briefs and PowerPoint presentations. Advertising and writing apart, she is extremely passionate about animal welfare, sustainability and of course, regular sabbaticals. Read an excerpt from her work, 50 Cups of Coffee here. Read the review here.
NAW- Tell us about your book 50 Cups of Coffee. When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
It happened on an impulse. I had never planned to write until that one evening in 2011. I was out with a friend who was narrating her dating experiences. For some odd reason, she thought the crazier the experiences she narrated, the easier it would be to convince me to jump on the arranged-dating bandwagon too. Unconvinced but highly tickled by her bravery (she had been on 50 coffee dates) I offered to pen these down. She agreed and the rest of the evening was spent discussing title options and style. A clichéd mushy ending was off the table from day one.
I have always enjoyed writing whatever little I do at work, but this casual suggestion unleashed an all-consuming passion which I indulged over the next few years.
NAW- How did you go about writing the book? Can you give us an insight into your research while writing the book?
The initial chapters were based on this friend’s experiences. As word got around, more friends and their friends helpfully plied me with their misadventures. Everyone seemed delighted to have found an empathetic ear to share their dating ‘howlers and horrors’ with.
Each time I thought the stories couldn’t get more bizarre, they did. Many could qualify for Ripley’s Believe it Not. Which was great for me –crazy stories made for excellent writing material.
While a large part of my process was curating stories, there was some desk research as the book progressed. The more I heard, the more I felt compelled to read up on concepts like marriage, relationships, the impact of fairy tales, the concept of a Prince Charming, the growing number of singles worldwide, ‘love’ in the animal kingdom, etc. Intrigued and quite fascinated, I wove my views and findings into the relevant dating stories.
NAW- The topic chosen for 50 Cups of Coffee is quite a clichéd one but you’ve turned it into a hilarious account which works quite well for the book. But why not take some unexplored topic for a debut book rather than a well-explored theme?
There seems to be a lot more conversation about dating and dating concepts today than it was when I started. I recollect doing some basic research to avoid duplication but I didn’t find anything similar to what I was working on –real-life stories spun together with humor, without a conventional, linear narrative.
I hadn’t planned on becoming a writer that summer, which is why I guess there wasn’t as much strategic calculation regarding the genre or topic at hand.
NAW- Please name your favorite authors. What are you reading right now?
My love for animals, predisposition to humour and that they were the earliest authors I read, make James Herriot and Gerald Durrell my top favourite. I keep going back to them once in a while. The other favourites would be Paulo Coelho and Richard Bach.
The plan for the year is to explore different genres and styles. I’ve recently discovered Gary Larsen and a few other cartoonists whose work I thoroughly enjoy. To land humour within a limited canvas is admirable.
I’m currently alternating between Catch 22 and Our Story Ends Here (by Sara Naveed).
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How easy or difficult was it selling 50 Cups of Coffee to an agent/publisher?
Tough would be an understatement. Getting published is an exercise in patience, being thick-skinned and listening to feedback without losing your vision – all rolled into one.
Impatient as I was I sent out the first three-four chapters the minute they were done. (As per most publisher guidelines, that’s all you need for your initial submission.)
Amidst the rejections and no responses, a handful of editors were quite helpful. They enjoyed the premise and the writing and offered constructive feedback. It’s probably due to their initial interest that I never truly gave up.
Despite their being interested, things never moved. And four years after that first submission there was no publishing house untapped. By then I had two rejections from Penguin in my kitty. Different editors.Around that time I was attending a book launch and I heard a Penguin representative was in the house. Twice bitten and still not shy, my colleague and I spent the rest of evening trying to chase her down. To cut a long story short, my manuscript ended up in my current editorRoshini’s inbox, and she liked what she read.
I learned a critical and reassuring lesson that day—a rejection letter is not symbolic of an entire publishing house rejecting your work. It’s one editor whose sensibilities didn’t match yours. That’s all. Never stop trying.
NAW- Why writing? How easy or difficult is the writing job compared to other trades that you have dabbled in?
To me, writing is a safe place. You can push creative boundaries or express facets of yourself you might not otherwise, without having anyone judge you. (This privilege obviously vanishes once your material is sent out into the world).
Not only cathartic, it can at times be an effective medium of self-discovery and/or gaining clarity too (regarding others or even a situation you might be grappling with).
For me, writing is easy once I get into the groove or decide what I need to focus my energy on. Luckily it is, to a small extent though, also a part of my role as a communication strategist. But I guess it wasn’t enough. Even after a long day at work, I couldn’t wait to get home and work on the manuscript.
NAW- Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I had initially planned on a sequel to 50 Cups of Coffee. I even have a title ready. However, today I seem to have many more disparate ideas vying for attention. I’m still trying to gauge which have depth, are unique and will hold my interest for long. I wish it were as easy as the first time round.