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Home / Interviews / An Interview With Radhika Meganathan | Author Of – The Gurukul Chronicles

An Interview With Radhika Meganathan | Author Of – The Gurukul Chronicles

Hi Friends,

Allow me to introduce Ms. Radhika Meganathan, a young and aspiring author by passion. Recently we got a chance to read her debut book “Gurukul Chronicles” which explores the tale of 3 disciples from Mahabharata. You can read our detailed book reviews for the same at:

Radhika Meganathan aka Smara - with her book - The Gurukul Chronicles

Radhika Meganathan aka Smara – with her book – The Gurukul Chronicles

We are impressed with the book, especially the way the tales are explored, edited and linked and wanted to know more about the author. What could have been better than an Author Interview?! 
So we’ve approached her, and fortunately the things worked out positively :). I am glad that from our team I got a chance to have this Q/A session with her.

Radhika, we are glad to have a conversation with you. As your book is getting both commercial success and critical acclaim gradually, I can see the flow is started, and obviously, you are enjoying it. Can you share your feelings?

I had always considered The Gurukul Chronicles – in short, TGC – to be a young adult story, so accolades from adults have been a pleasant surprise. Most delightful has been the responses from my direct readers in the YA demographic. A friend told me that her friend’s adolescent son, who got TGC as a gift from her, is repeatedly asking her when she is going to gift him TGC part 2. So my friend has been on my head to write the sequels asap. I wish I can just hurry up and write it all once, unfortunately I am a very slow writer. So there it stands.

It is a kind of cliché question, obviously, you are feeling joyous, accomplished and happy, but, each time we are able to follow our passions the way we want to, we feel, inching more towards completeness. Do you think so?

Actually, I hate revisiting my stories after they are published, because I had grown beyond that point and revisiting them only shows me how, er, little I had known at that time. I think every writer is this way! So yes… every successive book you write helps you towards a more complete you, as an author, as a human being. BTW I am not talking about the authors who seem to churn out the same kind of books all the time. I would never do that. I’d be bored stiff (even if they bring me money), you can bet every book of mine would be different and challenging.

Can you tell us more about yourself, your background, your profession and your passions?

Wow that would take a lot of space, I think 🙂 I will try to be as brief as possible. I am a writer, an editor and a workshop facilitator who also plans literary retreats and conduct writing workshops in Chennai and London (I wear many caps, as you can see.)

Studied to be an architect but haven’t practiced even for a single hour, in favour of writing. Won an international fellowship at 24 (sponsored by the world’s largest and longest running children’s magazine, Highlights, based in USA) which changed my life, and put me firmly on the path of young adult writing and workshop facilitating.

My passions, well, in the same order: books, movies, music, holistic health, spicy food. I am a staunch believer in Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. I try to adhere to dharma as much as I can, because I believe in karma. I have made many mistakes in life. I have also done some good things, thankfully. I dream of making a movie some day.

Please tell us something about your pen name Smara.

Believe it or not, it was because the graphic designer for one of my first picture books could not fit my entire name in the cover page design and I said okay alright I will get a shorter pen name? True story. Really!

I then researched online casually and chose Smara, which in Sanskrit means remembrance, recollection, memory. Since I have always had a bad memory (I am the original absent minded professor in my family – and my husband in his, so it’s a miracle we ever get our stuff done on time), I thought it would be ironical to have a name like Smara as a pseudonym. It was quite a few years later, during my research into Indian mythology while writing TGC, that I discovered Smara is another name for God Kamdev. By then it was too late to change it, lol.

What draws your interest towards writing books?

Why I write… well, it’s the only thing that keeps me content with myself, because it’s the only thing I am good at. To be brutally honest, most artists are not so because we chose to be, it’s because we are useless in pretty much everything else!

As to the question of why I gravitate towards books, well, I don’t see it like that. When I get an idea, it quickly becomes clear to me, the canvas that’s most suitable for it – short story, or a script or a longer work like novel. Then I set about working on it. I do write books on commission because it pays. We eat and have outstanding bills just like other experts in their field, so I won’t apologise for saying I like to be paid – well! – for my work!

What are the major challenges you faced when writing this book?

Sticking to a routine habit was the most hardest for me. I think this is where the “tortured artist” cliché stems from, because it’s a tad difficult to fight yourself. Most writers will confess being their own enemy. In my case, I have inattentive ADD and adrenal issues to boot, and I get distracted (or doze off) very easily when I am indoors. I’d stare too long at the white screen on the monitor, and I’d chicken out and find something else to do… so I’d have these half finished manuscripts all over the place, and increasing frustration and fear that became the civious ircle that would hinder my writing process.

It took me a long time to learn that novels are born only when the writer finds the discipline to sit still without bolting, and trusting herself and keep working. Luckily, things got easier once I discovered online workshops (writers need to learn techniques too, from experts, just like any other art), accountability system (in my case, through a writing group) and outdoor writing (CCD in particular is great, just order a coffee and no one would disturb you for the next four hours!). One half of TGC was written during NaNoWriMo sprints and the other half in cafes all around Chennai!

Mahabharata is explored by many acclaimed authors in many different ways. What was your vision behind exploring the 3 stories you’ve explored in this book?

No vision, just the desire to find the truth and perhaps offer an alternate ending. May be due to ADD or the fact that I was an introvert, it was very easy for teachers to label me as a sullen, lazy child. The unfairness! So I was already irritated with them all and when I read about this totally unreasonable old dude who asked for a bloody finger as a gift, I just could not take it.

I kept stewing about it for years and years until somebody, well it was my old editor at Highlights magazine, Marileta Robinson, she told me to just get out of my system, may be write about it. So I did.

Can you tell which scene(s)/ part(s) of the book you enjoyed writing the most / like the most in this book? 

What are you asking! They were all difficult for me! The happiest part was the last page, when I put THE END.

You think I am kidding? I wish I am… and If I did, it has to be morbid humour. I think it was the mother of all starting problems. TGC was my first novel, till then all I had written were comic books and short stories, I had never had any kind of background in literature, and it was all quite a steep learning curve. I am glad I got that part over with!

Can you tell us more about your writing regime? Are you a method writer or an impulsive one?

I am sorry, I have to be honest, I don’t know what those terms mean. I write when I could (when the story is bursting out of me) and when I should (commissioned work). I have written all day, and I have procrastinated all day too. Depends on the deadline, really!

Yes, now you know why my second novel is not yet here. I need somebody to give me a darn deadline.

The book cover plays an important role in bookselling, were you involved in book cover designing process? How much?

TGC’s publisher Vishwakarma (Pune) encouraged me to suggest good artists to them, I am very thankful to them for giving me this opportunity, because from what I know in general authors have no say in the cover design at all in traditional publishing. So I was happy when I was consulted and I immediately suggested my classmate and designer Vamsi Bandaru, with whom I have collaborated earlier in other projects. I am very pleased with his art work, and IMHO he is one of the best illustrators in the country.

The Gurukul Chronicles by Smara (Radhika Meganathan) - Book Cover

The Gurukul Chronicles by Smara (Radhika Meganathan) – Book Cover

We all get inspired by the people living around us and incidents happening around us. Writers take a lot of inspiration from these realities and then mix it with fantasies. While writing mythology there is not much scope, however a lot of imagination has to be weaved in the tale, Can you share any of real incidents which helped you in writing this book?

I have thought hard about this question, and have come up with two answers. No and yes. No, because I think there is no scene that I have directly used, and yes because, well, a writers’ entire repertoire of imagination stems from the reality. What I heard two decades ago might make it into my novel now, not precisely the same details, but perhaps heavily inspired. That’s one of the given’s I’d say in the creative profession, we are always inspired by what’s around us.

Can you share your experience of the journey from writing the book to getting it published?

I was beginning to think nobody would ever publish TGC, because I kept collecting emails that said, we loved your book but but but. Then I submitted it to Pune Literature Festival’s manuscript contest award in 2016 and it won, and the prize was publication. So here’s my bit of advice for aspiring authors – no matter how many rejection slips you have, keep submitting, and include literary contests also in your short list, you never know where good things will happen.

Every book affects its author in some way. How do you think writing Gurukul Chronicles affected you.

It gave me a deep sense of purpose, and self validation. All my life I have been perceived as lazy and sub par and dull (ADD kids tend to acquire this reputation), so it was deeply satisfying, and I am talking about bone deep, folks, here, to know that I do have a talent and I can do it if I put my mind to it. Emotional support and creative company of course is very important in a writer’s life, which I had in plenty from my husband (he is a speculative fiction reader too, and is my biggest fan) and my writing group, who were my critic slash cheerleaders throughout the writing of this book.

Why should one read, Gurukul Chronicles, according to you?

The Gurukul Chronicles is not a rehash or a retelling, but a re-imagined tale born out of questions – Are legends born, or made? Is life easy if you are endowed with special abilities/concessions? Can one be blessed with true joy, even when he is raised in poverty, especially when he is born with the proverbial silver spoon? What role, then, does free choice, upbringing and destiny play in one’s life and future?

Anybody who has ever thought about such questions and has a passing acquaintance with the Mahabaratha, should read my book. You can also read it if you want to know how these epic dudes fared in school.

Seems you are a mythology lover. Can you tell us something about your favorite mythology tales?

I have to say I am more of a speculative fiction fan! Give me a great sci fi movie or film any day. I also love mythology, both as entertainment and as an academic experience. To me, tales from various mythology are akin to lesson plans from a bygone time, something the Gods (or our ancestors!) have left to us to make sense of this world, and to develop the tools necessary to survive in it with grace and honour.

Your love for the nature is visible in the book. What, in your opinion, we should do to preserve it?

Grassroots level, teach and practice energy conservation steps like conserving water, and encourage gardening and agricultural activities to today’s kids. One day the last giraffe or lion will die, and the rest of us will woke and start noticing how everything is going to be affected, including our own survival, so it’s never too late to save nature.

And by saving nature, I mean saving human kind, because ultimatly it is we that need nature, not the other way around! The earth has been here a long time, and will be here for a long time. What we are destroying is ourselves. So we better hurry up and do the needful.

Who are your favorite authors whom you love to read?

Too many to list here, seriously. If you want a name, I do like Stephen King a lot because he ruled/terrified my teenage, and as an adult, I learned a lot from his books – he is kind of my Dronacharya. I won’t say it too loud though, as you can guess, Drona is not my fav person. At all.

What is your favorite book(s)?

I will tell you my top 3 reads of this year though – MISS JANE by Brad Watson, A COOK’S TOUR by Anthony Bourdain and HIGH LONESOME by Joyce Carol Oates, and in young adult books: MEMOIRS OF A BOOKBAT by Kathryn Lasky, THE GOOD DOG by Avi and A WRITERS NOTEBOOK by Ralph Fletcher.

Which are the book(s) you are reading currently?

Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Tharox, Urmila by Pervin Saket, and The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer.

What are your hobbies apart from reading/writing?

I unwind with spa, feline and travel therapy.

What is your opinion about EBook readers and their impact on the generation overall?

I heartily welcome them, as an environment friendly and wallet friendly option. As long as the generation has the (or is made to feel the) inclination to pick one up, I am sure it is all positive impact on them.

Do you love to read traditional printed books more or EBooks?

But of course! I will never stop reading physical books, but unfortunately they tend to age and wither. And I don’t buy hardbacks, so I have hit on a happy medium these days… if there is a significant price difference between the ebook and the paper copy, I buy the ebook. If not I buy the paper copy. Right now this works for me.

Did you grow up hearing moral and ethical stories from parents/grandparents? If yes, how it affected your persona?

I totally did! It was only from my paternal grandmother, but it was enough. I can still hear her voice narrating me the tales from jataka or panchatantra, as I drifted off to sleep, planning to meet all the animal characters in my dream. In fact the stories, and the books that I got to read during my childhood, such as balamitra, chandamama, the epics, they have made me the person that I am today, both as a writer and as a woman.

Do you think that we are gradually losing the tradition of hearing “moral and ethical stories from grandparents”?

I don’t think grandparents and parents of the child live together always, these days, so there’s a logistic problem there… well, if parents have a story hour at least every other day before going to sleep, like a ritual, then the tradition will stay alive, I bet.

Do you remember the first incident when someone asked you for the author autograph for the first time? Can you share it with us?

Not applicable as of now, sorry! I do remember the joy I felt when someone I had just met exclaimed, oh you are Radhika Meganathan, I read your VILLAGE FAIR picture book to my child every day!

Please share your Social Media/web presence, so that readers and fans can follow/contact you.

Sure, here they are.

Please do share anything you want to convey to readers from your end.

Dear Reader,

After reading a book, write a review of it online, on Amazon or Goodreads, ideally both. It does not have to be a positive one, just write your honest thoughts about the book, but write it, because in this business no review is bad, any review is good! Amazon algorithm demands this; more number of reviews helps sell books, so please review as soon as you can.

Thank you so much,
An Author Desperate for Reviews

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