Sumaya Samarasinghe – Photo By Vikram Bawa
It is rare to find people who are completely comfortable with who they are and the image they project to the outside world.
Incredibly successful, tough, bright, blessed with fabulous looks and a killer personality; Shobhaa De is one them and nothing seems to prevent her from speaking her mind. On a visit to Sri Lanka for the post Galle Literary Festival activities, De chatted about her career as a journalist and a novelist which are without any doubt owed to talent, incredible hard work and a level of professionalism and dependability seldom found today.
Q: You are a graduate in Psychology and your first job was as a journalist, what made you branch into writing novels?
A: I was the founder editor of three successful mass circulated magazines, two of which remain market leaders even to this day — Stardust, Society, Celebrity. I am such a magazine junkie, I can’t let even a single magazine go without flipping through it! One of my daughters Avantikka, is the associate editor at Hello! India — so, in some way my passion for the world of magazines continues!
I am still a working journalist and columnist — I write four national columns a week and enjoy a vast readership of nearly 350 million people. I blog. I am on Twitter. I write for several international publications. As a thought leader, I love the responsibilities and challenges of my job/position. I have never ‘switched’ careers — writing remains writing, in a form. One moves with the times…. writing novels was but an extension of what I was doing at the time (writing and editing).
Today, I am an author and a publisher. I have my own imprint. It’s called The Shobhaa De Book. It is a co-branding exercise with Penguin Books. It was launched in April 2010, and has generated a huge amount of excitement. I am looking forward to a great list.
Q: In several articles, you are referred to as ‘India’s Jacky Collins’; what do you feel about that categorisation? And have you ever tried to branch out and break your image?
A: I have left that foolish description behind more than 20 years ago! It was a lazy tag thrust on me by Anthony Spaeth for a profile he had written in TIME magazine. He had over focused on the glamour angle and the tag stuck!! Today, with nearly a 100, maybe more Phd’s on my books, coupled with the fact that the best universities in the world have my books as course material; That my books are in translation globally…. and that I represent modern writing from the subcontinent at international Lit Fests is recognition enough. Who cares what the internet says? That’s the internet! One lives with it.
Q: Do you feel that the subject matter discussed in your novels was not openly approached before?
A: In the 21st century, no subject matter is too ‘hot’ to handle. But when my first novel was published, it did generate shock waves. I found it tame then, and I find it tame now! Asians can be idiotically prudish at times.
Q: Do you think writers write for a specific public? For example how much do you think European or American readers can really understand the issues you are talking about?
A: I am writing about my own realities… on my own terms. I do not belong to the ‘catered’ books class. I really don’t give a damn whether Americans and Europeans understand the issues. I am not here to provide a suitable sub text. Just as they don’t provide one to us! But going by the sales of my titles across Europe and in America, my guess is, they ‘get it’. And if they don’t , too bad. Their loss. I have a huge constituency back home. I am not looking at wooing the West.
Q: I noticed that you use blogging. For you what is the purpose of using this method of social networking, is it to express your opinion and listen to what others have to say?
A: It is the most democratic form of communication, and I love my space in the Blogosphere. It is a great way to share ideas, and yes — to listen to what the world has to say. I learn a lot through the comments posted on my blog, which by the way, is not a monetized blog, and I don’t censor negative comments. It is a fair and equal space for healthy debate.
Q: This may get you into trouble, but who are the authors who inspire you and could you tell us which Sri Lankan authors have really moved you in the past decade!?
A: I never shy away from trouble! I am seriously in search of fresh, new voices from Sri Lanka. I am saying this as a publisher!
Q: You are in the public eye and of course this makes you the target of criticism; how do you handle negativity?
A: With a smile and a shrug. As the cliché goes…. if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. I like the heat…. and the kitchen!
Come and listen to Shobhaa De on Wednesday, July 7th at Galle Face Hotel, Jubilee Room (7pm).
Tickets available at Barefoot bookshop or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org