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It was an awesome time reading all the entries of the ‘Think Like a Queen’ writing contest, and choosing is always hard, as talent is everywhere!  But after great deliberation, our judges have finally settled upon one entry which triumphed over all the others to rise as the winning entry of the contest. The winning entry is How to Feel Remorse by Mira Saraf. 

How to Feel Remorse by Mira Saraf

A woman discovers a monstrous side to her husband. Can she bear the consequences of who he really is? How will she choose between her love for who she thought he was, and the awful truth?

Editor’s Note: How to Feel Remorse is a well written, well paced story on a hard-hitting subject. Keeps you hooked and doesn’t shy away from delivering a strong message. Congratulations Mira!

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Juggernaut had a chat with Mira about her story.

Your story is the winning entry of the contest. Please tell us more about it, and its inspiration.

A big part of the inspiration for this story came from my own feelings of anger and frustration towards the senseless violence against women we read about all to regularly. I originally wrote it about ten or fifteen years back, but revisited it a few months ago, right after the horrible crime on that 8-year-old girl in Kashmir. What struck me about this, the Delhi gang rape of 2012, and many of these barbaric crimes that have been splashed all over the news, is the apparent lack of remorse the assailants seem to exhibit.

Yes, we can execute them, yes, we can torture them, castrate them, do any number of things that hurt them physically, but it won’t make them understand why what they did was wrong. They seem to think that mutilating another human being is perfectly acceptable, in the name of a cause. For these deviants, physical punishment is a band-aid, what we need to change is what’s inside – shift the moral compass so that they would associate these acts with the sense of shame that they should feel after subjecting someone to such brutality.  It seems that incarceration is not enough of a deterrent: to create a society that is safe, we need to change the way people think.

 

Do you have any particular rules or rituals you follow as a writer?

I’ve been told that I should maintain a strict routine, but I find this difficult because of the lack routine in the rest of my life. I have a full time job that involves lots of travel, but I have also heard about this struggle from parents as well – you need to fit writing into whatever slots of time you can get to yourself.

I’ve also never been able to maintain strict guidelines around how long I should write and how many words I should produce. Some pieces or passages are much more emotionally exhausting than others, so often times I find my threshold will be much lower if I find myself internalizing more of the subject matter. But I keep my creative process relatively rule free and try to do the best I can with whatever hours and minutes I manage to get to myself.

I have maintained journals for the past 16 years. In this, I do lot of free writing – just random scribbling about whatever is happening in my life, or my frustrations or worries. Although I am not able to do it every single day, I make time for it most days. It is this journal I turn to when I am extremely angry or sad, or frustrated: it is my therapy. When I’m in Mumbai, I wake up early for yoga, so I try to do some free writing then to start the day on a mentally clear note.

I generally keep my creative projects for the evening time, because that’s when I’m able to give most to a story. I devote as much time as possible during weekend afternoons and evenings, but in an effort to maintain some semblance of a social life, occasionally have to forego this time. On the occasions during work trips, where I do not have much to catch up on in the evening, I try to get at least a few hundred words in on whatever I’m working on. I have been at trade shows in Germany and have forced my eyes to stay open till 2am in order to finish a story for a contest or a project.

I read a lot, even when I’m writing (which is something that many writers avoid). I read a wide variety of genres, some of which are very different from what I’m working on. I find that nonfiction can be extremely inspiring in creating fiction – not just biographies and memoirs – but even books on history, religion and other subjects.

However working on more than one project concurrently with my limited amount of free time is a challenge, because then I tend not to do any of them justice.  

 

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What got you interested in becoming a writer? Where do you go for inspiration?

I have written for as long as I can remember. I started with poems that made no sense, but as long as they rhymed I really didn’t mind. I wrote animated accounts of school trips and some small attempts at fiction. I was a daydreamer as a kid and often dreamed up stories (with pretty flimsy plots) in my head. By the time I was in high school I had shifted to blank verse poetry, which, while certainly more logical, was still pretty bad. I recently revisited my journal from my last year in university which, amongst the angst of a young woman who did not know what on earth she wanted to do with her life, is peppered with early attempts at creating novels. My grandfather encouraged me to write; it was his wish that I become a writer. My father writes regularly as well, so I had plenty of inspiration growing up. Sometimes my inspiration comes from daydreams, but often it comes from the world around me. I find human beings fascinating: personality quirks and emotions like anger, guilt and shame provide rich and fertile material for tales. That’s what makes us relate to a story – the emotions and reflections of ourselves we find within the characters and scenarios, even if very obscure and unconscious.

 

What’s that one piece written by you which is your all time favourite?

I wrote this random science fiction post-apocalyptic humour story called The Fever for a WriteIndia contest in 2015. Although I’ve edited out the original prompt, I’ve never really done anything with it in terms of publishing or submitting it anywhere (the two-year window has long since lapsed). Still it makes me chuckle every time I read it. I let go of everything in writing this one and just decided to be silly, so it was one of my favourite pieces to write, and it’s certainly one of the only ones that’s not all dark and serious.

In it, the earth has been evacuated except for a few rogue bands, and global warming and other environmental disaster has rendered the planet inhospitable to life. Mutant creatures roam the earth, and the entire planetary population has moved to Mars. This is the story of two hapless individuals who are sent on a mission to post-apocalyptic earth, and what they encounter. One of these days I’ll submit it somewhere!

 

Your bestselling authors and books list. Why do they make it to your list?

Oh goodness, this one is long. I read almost everything and anything, except romance, and am pretty easily entertained. I don’t have one specific list of authors – but for books here are a few of my favourites (in no particular order):

  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • No Country by Kalyan Ray
  • Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  • Hangwoman by K.R. Meera
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
  • Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie
  • What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  • The Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

 

Any writing tips you’d like to share with fellow writers?

Although I’m not a full-time writer, and still have a lot to learn, I’ll share some of the things that have helped me. Write every day, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. Writing should not be self-conscious. It should come from a place of honesty, a truth you’re not afraid to explore, but should never aim or try to be anything in particular – as a reader I always know when an author is trying too hard and it’s distracting. Also never feel bad for the times you fail to write or meet a deadline – give yourself some leeway – you’re not a machine!

Your first draft is always terrible – that’s something one of my writer friends told me, and it has stuck with me ever since. Don’t expect to pen out a masterpiece on your first round, the real writing happens in the rewriting. With time, it has come to be my favourite part of the whole process.

Read. Read things you enjoy and don’t think you will enjoy, read authors you agree with and disagree with, and be open to other points of view because that’s how we grow. Reading well written stories makes us better writers, and also inspires us to keep at it, day after day after day.

Don’t doubt yourself (I’m personally the worst at following this advice!) But seriously – don’t! If you’re writing from an honest place, you will definitely have an audience, and you will likely also have people who don’t enjoy your work. That is okay, they are just not your target.

Learn to take criticism – you don’t have to agree with it, but you’ll find your beta readers a lot more willing and able to give you feedback if you are open to what they have to say. Nobody wants to read someone’s work if they know they will have to gloss over or tiptoe around the parts they didn’t like.

Last of all remember just to have fun. Writing, like any other creative expression, is gruelling and tiring, and quite often emotionally draining. But at the end of the day it is a labour of love and sometimes I find I have to remind myself of that. The more we enjoy the process, the more the reader will enjoy the final product.

 

Mira Saraf was born in Canada, grew up in New Delhi and has lived in Singapore, Montreal, New York, Florence & Toronto. She works for a family business, and is an avid reader, semi-professional day-dreamer, formerly-closeted Instagram poet, inconsistent runner, world traveler (lately more often in her imagination), clumsy yoga enthusiast, foodie, and writes to maintain her sanity.

 

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