Thursday, 21 September 2017

Women Writers' Fest 2017 - A Review

I am the kind of person that buys more books than clothes. I don't buy make-up or any of those girly-thingies that most women make a beeline for.

Perhaps, I'm abnormal. Or maybe just a writer, pursuing my dreams. All I need to make my day perfect is a good book, a steaming cuppa and eventually, a few blank pages with a pen and I'm sorted. 

I have attempted to find a publisher for my novel of 84,000 words, that I had penned three years ago. This is despite the fact that I was one of the top 10 authors selected out of more than 2000 entries (from all over the country and abroad) to pitch my book at the Bangalore Literature Festival, LitMart, 2015. 

And now, while my book lies in the back burner for no convincing reason that I can come up with, I've joined a Write-club, (a brain child of renowned author, Sharath Komaraju) in the recent past, where I've been trying my hand at short stories, which has given my writing a new lease of life.

A host of events have been happening in Bangalore in the recent past. 

The bookworm-author in me gravitates me towards all those events related to books and of course, writing. 

The #WomenWritersFest  was one such event that was held on the 24th of August, 2017. 

It was with great enthusiasm that I landed at the BFlat bar in Koramangala. One is bound of wonder why a bunch of women would discuss books and writing in a pub, of all places. But that's exactly what happened.

After all, who needs booze to get a high, when there are books and authors to give you company?

The venue was jam-packed when I arrived. Three of my Write-Club buddies made it to the fest as well.

Here is a short review of each event in the order of occurrence. I have also taken the liberty of letting you know what I found to be the main takeaways for me as a writer, at the end of some topics. 

A] Blogging: 

The first discussion on Blogging had inputs given by the queen bloggers on the panel: Nandita Iyer, Monika Manchanda, Vidya Sury and Charukeshi Ramdurai. The discussion answered many questions of the eager crowd, the more interesting ones pertaining to the monetary repercussions of blogging. 

Main Takeaways: 
The importance of self promotion of our work or brand on social media, despite the brickbats, cannot be undermined. 
Build a thick skin to deal with trolls, social abuse, nitpicks, etc.
Don't stop writing, learn to move on.

B] Mythology: Does gender influence the narrative?

The second topic of discussion was something that most of us identified with. Mythology writers Arshia Sattar, Anuja Chandramouli and Soumya Aji discussed the various nuances of mythological characters that they had recreated in their respective books. They brought out the fact that Valmiki's Ramayana is open to various interpretations and our own exposure to it is based on who narrated the stories to us.

The most interesting part was when it was pointed out that some things that women talk are understand by all other women despite the cultural, country, economic differences that divide them. The same is true for men as well. We, as writers need to be aware of this crucial fact.

Main takeaways:
Stop using common words in your writing. It makes you a better writer, because you look for synonyms when you do that.
There is no single version to a story, because it is always a reflection of the time, characters, etc.

C] Be Seen, Be Heard : Storytelling, Positioning & Networking Workshop

The pre-lunch workshop conducted by Ameen Ul-Haque of the Storywallahs fame was truly amazing. Mr. Ul-Haque who initially seemed the shy guy amidst a bunch of women quickly showed us his true mettle, when he engaged us in interactive writing exercises that involved self-analysis and soul-searching probes. He also gave us encouraging inputs on publishing. 

The real highlight of the workshop was when he ended it with a poem. The classic rendition in Hindi seemed to reach into each one our souls to rejuvenate hope...hope to never give up, hope to carry on till the end, to success. It was apt for the scores of aspiring unpublished writers that had assembled there.

Main Takeaways:
Publishers look for authors who already have a following. Build an audience or readership.
Rejection is part of life. Do not lose hope.
Self-publishing is not about publishing, but about selling. 

D] Finding that funny bone: Women writing humor

After a short rejuvenating post-lunch speech by the Curator for Women Writers Fest, Ms. Shaili Chopra, the next session was underway. This was the most humorous part of the whole day, because it was about, well, humor. 

The queens of comedy writing namely Jane D'Souza, Rachna Singh and Itisha Peerbhoy left the audience in splits. On a serious note, it also brought out the dearth of women humor writers in the country.

Humor is a sign of intelligence. THe feminists in the crowd had a ball when it was revealed that women have a far better sense of humor than men do. Its just that men take more shots at humor, though they are less funnier than women.

The social conditioning attached to women being humorous, such as judgements, reactions, stereotyping, expectations, tendency of living upto patterns, etc were discussed.

Main takeaways:
     Humor is harder to write than we think it is.
Sarcasm versus humor is a tight rope walk. 
Make fun of someone in a way that it is not offensive.
Self-deprecating humor is funny.

E] Graphic Novels: Pop culture or Literature redefined?

The next discussion was something that I could not identify with on a personal level. I was raised devouring comics and novels for most part of my childhood and continued the same recipe through my adult life. 

Graphic novels have never been my cup of tea, which was why I found the session rather boring, no offence intended to the panelists Shweta Taneja, Kaveri Gopalakrishnana, Devaki Neogi, Aditi Dilip and Milan Vohra. We did glean some useful inputs about the amount of sheer hard work that went into the making of graphic novels, which probably explains the elevated cost of the same.

F] Igniting Young minds: Why stories still matter to children.

The next session brought back the waning energy of the audience. The panelists Mala Kumar, Aparna Arthya, Priya Muthukumar and Vidya Mani got most of the mothers in the crowd to pick up their ears and indulge in animated interactions about the importance of storytelling in their children's lives.

Main Takeaways:
Best way of earning for children is through Storytelling.
Tweak the stories in accordance with the changing times and contexts.
Answer the 'why'. Build the concept and context, irrespective of the subject.

G] The Eternal Short story: Why short stories work and how place contributes to the narrative.

This was the session was that I had been waiting for all day, here was the topic of my main interest at last. 

We sat at the edge of our seats, all ears, when the panelists, Shinie Antony, Rheea Mukherjee, Gita Aravamudan and Jahnavi Barua began to discuss the various nuances of  short stories. 

I missed most of the next session, which was a replica of a fireside chat with Priyanka Pathak, author of the (in)famous book, 'Godman to Tycoon' on Baba Ramdev. 

I stepped out for a cup of tea and to my absolute delight, I got to chat with Mrs. Gita Aravamudan for quite sometime. Her work on her book on female infanticide in Tamilnadu and her subsequent book on the topic of surrogacy held me spellbound. 

It was with a sense of fulfillment and elation that I exited the venue that evening. Our Write-clubbers' discussion, spilled over to almost another hour of course (on the pavement, no less).

I'm already looking forward to the next edition of the Women Writers' Fest, 2018. Hope it arrives next year, with more amazing discussions and more authors to glean knowledge from. 

Until then, I continue to write and chase my dreams...


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