The fabulous SheThePeople asked me why I write

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“…Writing gives me joy like nothing other than my little family can. This year, I have been fortunate to have worked on two projects that have been a thrill – my book of short stories ‘Strange’ which is out now, and my opera for the Welsh National Opera which goes on tour in Britain in 2020. Both completely different, both challenging in their own way, and a complete delight to me, both in their fashioning and in the final product.

In the context of the opera, writing has also enabled me to score a first and pave the way for others after me. With the writing of this opera, I am reliably informed, I became the first and only South Asian woman writer to have written a libretto for a major international opera house, and the central characters in my opera will be the first modern Indian characters to grace the international operatic stage. Writing, therefore, has allowed me to strike a necessary blow for diversity and equal opportunities in the arts!

But writing is as much about the sheer joy of it. I have had so much fun writing the short stories in ‘Strange’, letting loose with my imagination, my arsenal of words, and mischievously twisted ideas, and then taking a chisel to them in the end to hone it to as near-perfection as I can, that I hope my enjoyment shines through these stories and warms the reader. Because that too is why I write – to share my pleasure in our weird and wonderful world.”

(Please click on pic to read the rest – another brief paragraph!)

Spectre: An excerpt from my unfinished new novel

 

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(Image from net)

As the train pulled out into the countryside north of Nottingham, rolling and frost-topped on that winter’s morning, I finished sending messages to the three adults who might wonder about me in the course of the day, and fell asleep. I knew I had an hour in hand, with crooked-spired Chesterfield and a clutch of mining villages to cross, an alarm set on my phone just in case, and no wish to think of anything at all till I got there. The train chugged through landscape I enjoyed even in the harshest weather, because harsh seemed to suit the miniature towns we passed, some of them decimated by plague or war in the past, with that lingering drama heightened by the chill. But the unsettling motion of the train, the early morning murkiness, and the whiplash of rain against the windows meant that I was soon dreaming troubling dreams ~

I walked up to the little house I had lived in for years with my former husband. It was the same in every way but that the already disproportionately large attic looked larger still, and the smaller lower floor was positively mincing. It loomed over me now, seemingly salivating where the upper windows dripped rain. When the door opened, I thought it must be my husband, but the figure hung back in the shadows till the moon came out (how was it so late? I had started for Sheffield at the crack of dawn). But when he finally stepped into the light, I saw that he was no longer a man but half-wolf, slavering and sniffing with its gaze fixed on me. I tried to run only to find my feet cemented to the garden path. Had a slick crawled over as I watched with my heart in my mouth? I screamed but no sound emerged. And then as he leaned into me, his face coming closer and closer to my own, I could see the red of his pupils, and smell his feral breath. Till I woke with a start to realise it was the conductor’s face hovering over my own. He had a concerned look on his face and a wagging beard, as he politely informed me that my time had come. Or perhaps he said that about my destination.

Was it the whiff of scruffy beard that had occasioned the unpleasant dream or the trepidation with which I approached this visit? Too late now to turn around, I thought, as I gathered my things and still feeling woozy, even frazzled, disembarked. Nothing really changes, I was able to smile to myself as I worked my way through the pigeons and pedestrians to grand Sheffield Library near which I meant to catch my tram. It loomed imposingly behind the sheets of rain. Still the place of calm I recalled but there was no time for that today. The world around me would quieten down, I knew, as I pushed to the suburbs and people and places thinned, but the turmoil inside would only increase as I neared my destination. As I walked on, the rainswept stone looked as grey, and the concrete blocks of the seventies as unwelcoming as I remembered them. Steam rose from the streets to wrap round the rushing pedestrians, all in a hurry to get somewhere, climbing farther to cling to the tram lines stretching overhead, like snow cleaves to cobwebs.

If that looked a cold embrace, the welcome I might get may be poorer still. I steeled myself for it as I found a window seat for my ride. Not that I wanted a warm welcome, like a homecoming bride ~ god forbid. All that had been left behind a long time ago. But the possibility of nastiness, or violence which it might well descend into (hadn’t it so often before?) made me anxious. And before I knew it I had unconsciously shredded the tram ticket in my hands and had one more worry – that I would be thrown off the tram for ticketless travel! Wouldn’t it be the perfect excuse to go back home then, to the warmth of my family? I could do that anyway, couldn’t I? I didn’t need to ride back into the past and revive it first, I entreated, perhaps just myself, as I watched the pebbled-dashed houses of the suburbs, winter-bare trees, and far fewer people, glide past my tram window.

Could any good possibly come of my mission? Of course not, a cheerful voice piped up behind me. Startled and then pleased, I craned around to smile a thanks. But she wasn’t talking to me at all. Her companion in a Tartan coat that leaped out of the grey of that Sheffield dawn, nodded an affirmation. Of course not, they said to each other, one must never rush into anything. Imagine, exclaimed the Scotch-brite lady, if you bought a garish dress that was all wrong for you! Exactly, agreed the woman who had spoken first, one must approach life and its trappings with caution. That’s what I should do, I muttered, go back now while I still could. But the tram lurched to a stop, reminding me with a sharp tug to my stomach, that was no longer possible. The past was here, rearing up, and with it I would have to engage.

My reluctant steps however only allowed me as far as the café halfway up the hill, and there I found myself rehearsing at last the lines I would say to my ex, even those which I hoped he’d say back to me. “But you see what you’ve done to me?” “Not just the injuries you inflicted then, but now, so many years later?” And finally, “Why did you do it when you claimed to love me?” And in the best–case scenario playing out in my head, he would acknowledge my pain, “I am sorry. I should never have done it. It was inhuman behaviour. Let me set it right, now.” But even in my head, this rose-tinted cloud would pop within seconds, leaving behind the certainty that what would really happen, the real best-case scenario, would be the door slamming in my face.

Would it still be the blue door with luminous stained glass that we had bought together with such hope (or at least, I had hoped), the one we taped over when he’d sent his fist flying through it, I stopped to wonder? Then, I rolled a softer line of questioning around in my head, “Could we talk about those years? Something has happened and I need to know about the times you…” but how does one even say that, about the things he’d done to me, without sounding angry and strident, and well, violent because violent things have violent sounds, don’t they?

Didn’t we talk about violent words that sound violent just the other day, Steph? I found myself typing, as I waited for my coffee to cool a little. “Yes,” Steph got back lightning quick. “How letting loose verbally invariably led to physical aggression? Yes, yes, we did. Reliving it was hard but I’m glad we did it together”. The memory of this exchange, of dark matters though it was, made me smile. But I must have more than smiled. I must have made a sound that carried enough for the waitress to be suddenly watching with pursed lips. Or did I just look wrong? I was wearing the same dark coat as everyone else and the same chunky boots, but of course my round, brown, beaming face and jet hair would stand out in this neighbourhood, it always had.

 

 

 

“Shreya’s agility in traversing tortuous psychological terrains, never belabouring her point or being judgemental, held me in suspense till the very end of each tale. I was absorbed, engaged and disturbed by the stories”: Another great review for ‘Strange’ in a Calcutta magazine

 

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“Shreya Sen-Handley’s latest book, Strange Stories, a book of 13 short stories was launched in Kolkata a couple of months ago at Starmark. It follows her first book, Memoirs of My Body, released in 2017. Shreya is now engaged in opera writing in partnership with the Welsh National Opera that will tour the UK in 2020. Clearly, the writer, originally from Kolkata and now living in the UK is on a roll. Her ability to write in such diverse genres with such confidence and finesse is quite remarkable.

Memoirs of My Body was a bold book where Shreya spoke of her sexuality, the wanted and unwanted attention she received, with brutal honesty; Strange, while not autobiographical, is as bold in the range of often unsettling stories she tells with audacity. Shreya does not shrink from the seamier side of life and treats her often very dark characters with subtlety and sensitivity.

Each story, some set in India or among the Indian community in England, is pithy and in the short span of the telling takes the reader through many unexpected twists and turns in the plots that left me unsettled, not knowing where the tales would end…”

Please click on image for the rest of this original, astute review by author Jael Silliman!

“The Wise, Mad Folk of Gotham”: I explore the origins of Batman’s home city in popular newspaper Livemint last week

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“Goat-ham, ma’am?”

I looked around wildly. I could have sworn I had stepped into a newsagent’s and not a butcher’s. The racks of newspapers and magazines, the high shelves of alcohol and cigarettes, and for the children wandering in, a freezer of ice-lollies, were all there. But no Mr Freeze. No Penguin. And surely the farthest thing from the Joker was the man behind the counter.

“Not GoTHam, but Goat-ham,” he grimaced, “goat town is what it means. You won’t find Batman here. Nor adventure. It’s a quiet English village.”

Quite another crime-fighting icon, Miss Marple, might have had something to say about the dark and dangerous things that happened in little English villages, I thought as I stepped out with the children into the mellow autumn sunshine. But it was the caped rather than the cardiganned crusader we hoped to spy in the foxglove-filled nooks and green-wreathed lanes of this Nottinghamshire village.”

(Click on pic to read rest of story!)

A (nearly) full-page interview, on ‘Strange’ and more, in a Calcutta broadsheet! (notice how I’m rubbing shoulders with megastar Amitabh Bachchan?)

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Nottingham based Author, columnist and illustrator Shreya Sen-Handley got rave reviews for her first short story collection, ”Strange’, published by HarperCollins. That this book also managed to impress internationally acclaimed writer Ruskin Bond has further raised expectations. Shreya, who is writing a libretto for the Welsh National Opera, and a travelogue for HarperCollins, has got her platter full at this moment. In a freewheeling interview with Samay Paribartan,
she opens up on the relevance of short stories in this modern era, her latest projects, the waning habit of reading, master craftsmen who kindle the zeal to weave new engaging tales and her idea of observing people before giving them life through words. Excerpts…
Your book on short stories ‘Strange’ has been well-appreciated. Even, Ruskin Bond described it as ‘masterful’. Share the process of coming out with such a captivating collection.
I began writing short stories in 2013 or so, so quite late in my writing career. I’d been a TV and print journalist for around twenty years already at that point, working with the likes of MTV,CNBC, BBC, The Guardian, Times of India, The HIndu, The National Geographic, and more. But I had always enjoyed reading short stories and suddenly one day I wrote one, and found it immensely enjoyable. Readers really took to it too and it ended up being published in Australia and broadcast on their radio. This encouraged me to write some more and each one I wrote went on to be published, shortlisted for prizes, and so on, both in India and abroad. But even then I didn’t really think of a putting them together as a collection till HarperCollins and I started working together on my first book, a memoir through the prism of the female body, called Memoirs of My Body. They loved the stories I had already written and wanted me to write another dozen with all the flow, rhythm, invention, insight, and clever twists of the first few, and so ‘Strange’, my first collection of short stories was born. 
You’re going to tour big cities of Britain as part of writing a libretto for Welsh National Opera. What’re there on your bucket list?
I have written a libretto for the Welsh National Opera. I am told I am the first South Asian female to have done so and that is of course a huge honour and terribly exciting in terms of the road ahead for all of us as well. The Welsh National Opera is headed by Prince Charles and one of the major opera houses of the world so our opera will be staged at some of the grandest venues at some of the biggest cities in Britain, and eventually maybe even abroad. I can tell you it will be going to the hometown of the Beatles , Liverpool, the Welsh capital, Cardiff, the huge multicultural melting pot that is Birmingham, and more. So it is really for the National Opera to decide where it goes, but I would of course love for it to travel to India, especially Kolkata!
Tell us about the projects that are in your pipeline?
I have a third book coming out with HarperCollins, a book of travel stories, possibly called The Accidental Tourist, possibly out next year. I have had travel columns in the National Geographic and The Hindu and written many a travel story for other big publications as well, and it feels like the right time to write a longer one but with all the elements my readers have always enjoyed – the humour and whimsy and vivid descriptions that transport. I am also writing a novel which international publishers have shown an interest in already though it is at a very early stage. This is a psychological and medical thriller. It is rather intense and I am taking my time over it. I might also be editing an anthology in Britain, there is also a play in the pipeline, about the partition of India, also in Britain, and there may be another opera too! Plus all my other work including illustrations and the teaching of creative writing will, fingers crossed, also continue!
We often hear that the habit of reading is waning. Would you buy this belief; what’s your viewpoint?
Fewer people read books, this is true, because there are so many other distractions. But people still read and the children who do get into it, read more widely and seem to draw more from it than we ever did. So reading is thriving, if in pockets. And when life is so packed full of things to do as it is today, books need to cater to the changing needs of readers, not by “dumbing down”, nor does writing have to be any less beautiful or in-depth as a result. Which is where the short story comes in. They are perfect for the windows that we have nowadays to read something beautiful, engaging,surprising and thought-provoking. Short stories are such brilliant compact journeys just right for the modern world but they don’t haunt you any less when you finish – just like any other longer piece of good writing. And that’s another reason I wrote Strange, and why many more good short stories should come into being – it’s just what the modern reader needs!  
Being a celebrated published author how do you assess the medium of kindle edition of a book?
While i prefer the smell, feel and look of a “real book”, the Kindle has its uses, especially when commuting or traveling. It is a matter of personal preference and so I say, let both flourish, and reading will too, as a result.
Name the authors who continue to inspire you even now with their craft?
There are so many, far too many to mention. Right now I am revisiting a PG Wodehouse story alongside Philip Pullman’ latest book. I am also waiting eagerly for the next book in Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning Wolf Hall saga. I have recently developed a renewed respect for the old masters of the short story form – Roald Dahl, O Henry, Maupassant, and more – having followed in their footsteps recently. There are many more writers, both old and new, who continue to inspire me to try my hand at new and wonderful forms of writing. I have read more theatre recently, having accidentally become a playwright/librettist myself. I shall be taking home a ton of books from India too (as always), having just spoken at the very popular Times Lit Fest in Delhi, and discovered many titles I felt an urgent need to read immediately!
We go through different phases in our lifetime. How do you overcome stress, failures and other negativity?
I think it is love and wonder, which might sound crummy till you realise it is what keeps most of us going. All kinds of love- romantic, familial, platonic, or even the love you encounter for your art – it all helps me carry on in the face of obstacles. But so does the love that I invest in things because that gives you just as much purpose as the many types of received love that sustain us. And that sense of wonder that you must never lose as you grow; the need to discover and explore new things of all kinds- stories, art forms, places and people. All of these together gives my life direction and helps me overcome the obstacles in my way. And there have been many obstacles along the way, but equally there have been a hundred reasons to keep trying. 
Since you’re a well-known columnist, author and illustrator you also spend considerable amount of time in observing people. What are the things that catches your eye or keeps you hooked?
Oh that really is one of my favourite activities! Watching, listening (including earwigging as the English call it – essentially listening in on the conversations of others!) and then surmising, embellishing and inventing to create whole stories out of snatches of experience and fleeting encounters, that’s got to be one of the best things about being a creative person! That deductive and empathetic leap that we make, and must make, to connect to the world, absorb what it has to offer and then fashion art out of it, is what makes every day such a treasure trove of inspiration. And so much fun! I don’t know that I look for anything in particular because some of the best stories come from the most unlikely sources and when you’re least expecting it, though of course the eye or ear may be drawn to the unusual, but if you keep watching and listening, never discounting anything as potential source for a cracking story, inspiration will come to you! 
By Sarnavo Das, in Samay Paribartan

‘Strange’ on live British TV (again)

 

 

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‘Strange’ makes another appearance on British media. This time on popular local TV station Notts TV’s tea-time show Ey Up on November 12, where both my books, the recently released ‘Strange’ and the award-winning ‘Memoirs of My Body’ published in 2017, have received a very warm reception and lots of air time.

From the start to the 39th minute, with ‘Strange’ on from around the 32nd…https://nottstv.com/…/ey-up-notts-tuesday-12th-november/