Vineetha Mokkil is a writer based in New Delhi, India. Her short stories have been published in Santa Fe Writers Project Journal and Why We Don’t Talk, and in the Asia Writes Project. Her debut work- “A Happy Place” was published by Harper Collins. It is a collection of 16 stories and a very good read. Do pick up a copy.
NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?
I would say it started pretty early. In my childhood, I was fascinated by stories. I would read any book that was in the vicinity, pester the adults in my family to tell me stories and tag along with them to bookstores hoping that they would buy me books. The more I read the more I wanted to read. Somewhere along the way, most readers begin to dream of being writers themselves. When my stories began to win prizes at college and university-level competitions, I felt more confident about my dream.
NAW-Tell us about your book ‘A Happy Place and Other Stories.’What is it about?
“A Happy Place” is a collection of 16 stories which explore the complexity of modern living. They are set in Delhi (except for one which is set in Kashmir) and the city plays an important role in their telling. No matter where we live – Paris, Berlin, New York, Delhi – aren’t we all in search of an ideal “happy” place? It is this search that drives the stories in my collection. I am fascinated by its possibilities and pitfalls.
NAW- What made you go for a short story collection? Was it difficult to convince a publisher of the book’s merit as publishers in India usually prefer a full length novel?
The stories in this collection were written one at a time over a couple of years. They were not designed to fit into a collection from the start. When some of them got published in literary journals and magazines, the idea of compiling them into a collection began to look like a possibility to me. I have to thank the fine people out there bringing out small magazines and journals which embrace quality writing and quirky themes. They gave me the will to put together this collection.
After a fairly long search, I found an agent in India who was optimistic about the collection’s prospects. It is true that the short story is not the first choice of publishers. But it would be a terrible tragedy if that stops good writers from trying their hand at short fiction.
NAW- What is the central theme that binds all stories together? How did you get the idea for the stories?
The central theme is the ups and downs of urban existence. All of us know it is not an easy maze to negotiate. The stories in the collection trace the trajectory of individual lives in a churning metropolis. There is darkness and light, horror and heartbreak, brutality and moments of redeeming tenderness. They are a prism through which the reader can view urban life and get under its sleek skin. Delhi – where I currently live – is a city filled to the brim with stories. They seep into me without waiting to ask for permission.
NAW- What drew you to writing?
No thought or feeling or response to the world feels real unless I write them down. Writing to me is the only way to make sense of a mostly incomprehensible world. It is true that it is really hard work and it makes huge demands on you. The writer’s path may be paved with rejection letters and naysayers who rush in to point out the foolishness of pursuing this dream. But the magic of words and the music of language have the power to drown out the cacophony.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
My body is made up entirely of restless bones. I have a long list of places on the map to visit and explore. Whenever I have the time (and money), I travel. May be I was a gypsy in my last birth!
NAW- Are there any literary influences that you would like to name?
All the writers I read and like influence my writing. Some inspire me to refine my style and to smoothen the rough edges, others make me want to write with more clarity and precision. There are some books in particular which have opened my eyes to the extraordinary power of the written word – The English Patient, Bel Canto, Ragtime, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, The Handmaid’s Tale, Maps for Lost Lovers, Half of a Yellow Sun, The God of Small Things, White Teeth, The Orphan Master’s Son, to name a few.
NAW- If not writing, what profession would you have pursued?
I would have loved to be a musician. A singer or guitarist may be, or a composer. Or a photographer. Or a filmmaker who composes the soundtracks for her own films!
NAW- Tell us how your first work got published? How difficult (or easy) was it finding a publisher?
The story whose title this collection shares (A Happy Place) was first published in the Santa Fe Writers Project Journal. It is a fine publication which showcases writers from different parts of the world. I sent out the story to the journal when I finished work on it. I didn’t know if I’d hear back from them or if they would relate to a story about a young nanny who works for an American couple in Delhi. Waiting for a response was agony. But then I heard from the editor in a couple of weeks and I was so surprised to hear that the story had been accepted for publication. That gave me the confidence to plan a collection and sent it out to publishers. It was difficult to find a literary agent to take on a short story collection. But eventually I did manage to find one in India.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I am working on a novel right now. It meshes together two strands – a story set in contemporary Delhi and one set in Tibet in the 1950s. The narrative explores the impact of political cataclysms on personal lives. It takes a close look at a rapidly globalizing India and its discontents.
Also, there are a few short stories whose beginnings I’ve been carrying around in my head for some time. They need to be developed and given a middle and an end.