Jahnavi Barua is an Indian author from Assam. She is the author of Next Door, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories set in Assam with insurgency as the background. She lives in Bangalore, and is a doctor.
Please find her short story called Birdsong featured on the blog.
Q. You’ve written a novel as well as a collection of short stories. The former requires planning ( outline, synopsis, chapters etc), but what about the latter? Do you plan your short stories, or do they start with an idea or an image, and just unfold?
A. I do plan my short stories — quite precisely, in fact. As any writer of short fiction will know, short stories demand meticulous crafting, perhaps more so than the novel which allows for some meandering. Quite often, I start with a character, a figure which comes to me incomplete, but as I build him or her up, put flesh on bones, an attendant story also unfolds.
Q. In your experience what sort of themes work better for the short story? What themes are you drawn to as a reader, and like to explore as a writer?
A. I don’t know if there is any particular theme that works better for a short story, but as a reader I relish stories of human relationships and I find I am drawn to writing about them too.
Q. Endings – how do realise that a short story has finished?
A. That is perhaps the easier part — a short story, at least for me, finds its own ending. It is hard to describe this but one develops a sense of an ending as one writes along.
Q. What is the relationship between the writer and the reader? Do you have an audience in mind when you tell the story? Do stories take on new meanings/ different nuances with the readers that you may not have intended? You’ve interacted with readers across the world – Is the Indian reader different in reading tastes and sensibilities, and if so, how?
A. For an author, the relationship between reader and writer is a critical one, one that is intimate and precarious, for without a reader there is no writer. As far as I am concerned, I do not write with a reader in mind; I just write and know — rather hope — that there will be some small segment of people out there who will enjoy what I am writing. Yes, I have found that readers unearth meanings in stories that the author would not have thought of, or only considered obliquely. Readers cannot really be stratified by nationality but I do find that readers from the western world have a stronger taste for the subtle and the nuanced in fiction. Indian readers are very discerning and have a wider range of taste.
Q. Are short stories are harder to sell? What advice do you have for someone who wants to write them? How does one deal with rejection?
A. Short stories are harder to sell — publishers do say that but have I have personally been fortunate in being able to publish my short story collection without any struggle. Dealing with rejection is a very personal thing : I would say, keep writing until you are confident of your voice. Publishing in magazines , especially online ones is one way of honing your skills and gaining that confidence.
Q. What is your writing routine like? Do you keep a journal? Do you revise your work several times? When do you like to write?
A. I write at night, the day is too fragmented and busy to consider doing any serious work. I don’t have any journal– it is all in the mind! And I revise a lot in the mind, and not that much after actually writing it all out.
Also, shared below is another Commonwealth interview with Jahnavi Barua.