Author, poet, songwriter and a bureaucrat, it is our honor and privilege to welcome Neelam Chandra Saxena recipient of Rabindranath Tagore International Award for 2014 on M&J, who is in conversation with Filmmaker and Author Ganga Bharani.
“Neelam has been nominated in the list of 78 most well-known authors in India by Forbes for the year 2014.”
1. M& J: Most of our readers know you well. For the rest, who want to know about you, can you introduce yourself?
NC: I am a bureaucrat working with Indian Railways. Writing is my passion and I have authored seventeen books till now. I write in English as well as Hindi and try various genre such as novels, short story, poetry, children’s books etc.
“She is a record holder in the India Book of Records with highest number of books published in a year.”
2. When did you start writing? How did it feel when you had your name printed in your first book?
I began writing ever since I remember. I think writing is an extended part of me. I did get published even during my school days in a local newspaper. However, writing mostly remained personal to me and it occupied only the pages of my diary. I began sending my write-ups for publication only in 2008 and since then there has been no looking back.
My first book was published in 2009. It was a short story collection for kids and I did wish at that time that there would be many more. I only prayed that my writings always maintain a sincerity and that they would be appreciated by my readers.
3. More than 600 of your short stories/poems got published in various magazines. You have written lyrics and won awards. How do you manage time? Can you share with us your one day work-writing routine?
All artists are moody creatures and I suppose, I am just one of those weird creatures. I can never follow a routine or pattern. There are days on which I write for more than ten hours and there are days on which I don’t write at all. It all depends upon how inspired I am that day and how free I am for writing.
“Neelam and her daughter hold record for being the first mother-daughter duo to write a poetry book for the book ‘Winter Shall Fade’ in Miracle World Records and India Book of records.”
4. You have written a book with your daughter. Can you tell us about her? How old is she? Do you sit with her to make her write? In what way do you guide her?
My daughter, Simran Chandra, is sixteen years old and aspires to be a Doctor someday. Writing is her hobby and she is quite good at it. And no! No one has ever written if forced to write! When she was a kid, I used to read out to her and narrate her one new story almost everyday. As she grew older, she discovered that she loved reading and we would discuss every book that she read. Slowly, she started writing too and we (my husband and I) found it interesting. Her teachers also felt that she was quite good in literature and she was encouraged in her school also. At present, she is my greatest critic. She reads me and gives me the most genuine feedback. I remember that for one of my novels, she made me erase five chapters!
The book written by us is Winter Shall Fade and is a poetry book. Those who love reading poetry can see her talent of writing in the book, which is available on all online stores.
5. Being a very well-known writer yourself, will you suggest writing as a career to your daughter? Why?
What career my daughter is entirely her choice and I will never either suggest her to do something or not to follow any career choice. I can only explain her the consequences of all options as per my perspective, but she is free to follow her own choice. However, she prefers to carve out a place of her own based on her merits and will never like to work under my shadow, even if her choice is writing.
6. Most parents today don’t want their kids to take up non-conventional courses or career. What’s left with the kids is engineering or accountancy or medicine. What’s your say on this? Do you think the budding writers should quit and take up writing full-time?
When I haven’t yet taken a decision to quit my professional career as a Railway bureaucrat, how can I recommend anyone else? There still is a long time to go before the publishing industry in India gets organized. Till then, writing full-time is a bad choice.
“Neelam has also written lyrics for ‘Mere Saajan Sun Sun’ – Shankar Tucker.”
7. Lyricist? How did this happen?
I am a poet and writing songs goes with it. In fact, one of my song books titled ‘Geet Gaata Chal’ is releasing this January. It just happened that Shankar Tucker was looking for a lyricist and someone connected me to him. He liked my work and we collaborated.
8. What’s your thought on self-publishing? Everyone has a story to tell and hence, they write and publish. Does this affect the quality Vs. number of books ratio? Does this dilutes the good books from being seen by their potential readers?
Self-publishing has its advantages as well as disadvantages. It is good for a well-written book that didn’t get a publisher. However, with so many self-publishing houses coming up and not maintaining the quality of books, it is a disaster. For every one good book, there are twenty average or below-average books. This marks a distrust in the reader’s mind about other books too.
9. There were times when writers received royalties for their work and even paid when their manuscript was selected by publishers. Today, writers pay a huge amount to publishers to get their work published and earn nothing in return but reviews and readers. Do you think this is a healthy trend?
This is the reason I don’t recommend people to leave their jobs and take up full-time writing, unless you get very good publishers who genuinely pay you what you deserve. Luckily, I never paid for publishing. However, initially, I did accept contracts which paid me a fixed sum. Of course, after having established a name for me, I get good royalties now, but there will still be a publisher or two who will ask how much money I am ready to spare for book promotions. Naturally, I reject working with them. However, the point to be considered is that the condition of publishing market is really deteriorating. If I can be asked this after eighteen books, then think of the new writers! It certainly is a very unhealthy trend and I seriously wish I could do something about it some day.
10. We are sure you are going to try your best to beat your own record of the most number of books in a year, in 2015. Can you give us a glimpse of what’s in the pipeline?
Well, I am not sure about the record part. I write. Records sometimes follow. But there will be times when they won’t. I only wish to present quality books to my readers. I have one short story collection in English and a song collection in Hindi planned for January. Besides this, one novel, two more short story collections, one Hindi poetry collection, eight illustrated books for children are already in the pipeline. I am also working on another interesting novel which should be completed this month.