(Originally appeared in HowToTellAGreatStory.com )
– By Aneeta Sundararaj
I was looking at Suneetha’s ‘Wall’ on Facebook and found it quite interesting reading. I asked her if she’d like to be interviewed and she agreed. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Suneetha Balakrishnan.
Aneeta: Suneetha, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Suneetha: The pleasure is indeed mine, Aneeta.
Aneeta: Let’s start with something about you. Please tell me a little about your history – where were you born, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?
Suneetha: I was born and grew up in Trivandrum, a coastal town at the southern tip of India. This is my hometown and where I live right now. I write for a living and ‘write’ involves various facets of writing including training/teaching. I am a freelance journalist who usually writes for the web and occasionally for the print media. I translate into two languages and train people in Creative Writing and Communication Skills too. I prepare modules for training courses as well. I work generally from home, except for the training assignments. Let me tell you how it all came about. I had always been interested in writing and reading right from childhood. I was one of those kids who would always have her nose buried in a book, day and night. Later, I found that I had a way with words; the writer in me grew and in college I started writing poetry in Malayalam my native tongue. I guess I was a fairly successful campus writer who took part and won competitions. But that does NOT make a writer. I waited to take up languages in my graduation but again middle-class compulsions snatched away that dream. I had to opt for Physics as my major and graduated in that. A job followed and then marriage and family. 21 years passed in the midst of all this routine. I continued reading but didn’t write. I guess the last poem I wrote was the one to my fiancé, when we got engaged to be married. When the forties set in, I had the classic itches of a creative person trapped in mediocrity. I started to feel like a square peg in a round hole and became totally frustrated with work and life. There was no way I could continue in status quo, and fortunately I had become aware of the content jobs which my writing skills were very suited to. In 2006 September, I took the plunge and stormed out of the corporate cabin to join the world of words which had been beckoning me for some time.
Aneeta: Your facebook page states this: I am a journalist/writer/bilingual translator and trainer rolled into one.
Suneetha: Aneeta, I agree that it is a lot of work, but it is a lot of fun too. As I got out of a regular steady job, I needed to not just write as in write but write as work too. The content writer jobs were the first ones that kept me afloat. Soon I graduated to writing journalistic features, since non-fiction was a strong point with me. I was on the panel of Chillibreeze, a content writing firm, which gave me exposure to all sorts of writing including travel, preparing academic modules and even ghost writing fiction. I was also working for a US company MOKA, which created sms content out of spiritual books, and we worked online on a salary. I also started coordinating writing projects for Chillibreeze. All these were learning experiences. The variety of jobs I did took all the boredom out of my life. Then I took to translating because I am a bilingual writer and that too clicked. My fiction started appearing on the web, so it was generally enterprise, enthusiasm and hard work that made me take up all these roles. The Creative Writing Trainer thing happened accidentally and now I enjoy it so much that I have taken training under the British Council for this. I hope to do more of that in future.
Aneeta: I think I’m right in guessing that your interest is in both fiction and non-fiction. If so, please describe three books that you enjoy reading and why?
Suneetha: Yes, I read and write both genres. Maybe I have a slight tilt towards fiction. My favourite writers are Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen and they will remain my favourites. But the choice book-wise would be Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mocking Bird. Jane Austen’s writing prowess always takes me by surprise even when I re-read her for the umpteenth time. In fact Pride and Prejudice is a permanent resident beneath my pillow. To think that she was a person who had barely any exposure to the bad, bad, world but ended up writing on such worldly subjects is something beyond my comprehension. Daphne du Maurier amazes me by her economy of prose and her musical quality of words. Her imagery is astounding and really takes you places. Rebecca’s ambience is unforgettable and haunts you through the read. To think that the book was written almost a century ago! To Kill a Mocking Bird is the most sensitive book I have ever read. The ‘tactile brilliance’ is unique and the book is so utterly visual, so visual it makes me jealous. I hope I can write something someday that comes near it.
Aneeta: Clearly, as you write, I imagine that you have been exposed to a multitude of topics. What is the most interesting topic you’ve ever had the chance to work on and why ?
Suneetha: I love writing on cyber issues. I observe web stuff very closely and write on it whenever I can because these are things that the people who aren’t web-savvy ignore in real life but should definitely know. I once wrote on http://www.thehoot.org on how a craigslist ad on a US website took Indian journos on a ride. I had almost been a part of the ‘sting operation’ by the employees of the website to prove their point against outsourcing, but opted out due to lack of time. It got me a lot of readers.
Aneeta: I imagine that storytelling plays a big role in your work.
Suneetha: Yes, story telling is a part of the Indian tradition. I use that a lot on my writing whether fiction or non-fiction.
Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give those who would like to venture into storytelling?
Suneetha: : I don’t really think I am big enough to give advice but I would like to share one view. Writing cannot happen without reading, and reading means what was written and loved before us. I would go on reading, books from the past and current, whatever appeals to you, not what is mentioned as should-reads.
Aneeta: Suneetha, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Suneetha: Nothing, I think, except that I hope you will read my book when it comes out and write to me with your comments.
Aneeta: I certainly will, Suneetha. Thank you.
Suneetha: Thank you Aneeta, it’s been lovely talking to you.