Robin Brown (RB): What does the word ‘transformation’ mean to you? How did you approach this theme in your work?
Swara Shukla (SS): It is a pretty interpretive and connotative word. When I saw the call for submissions, the word worked so well as a thematic idea, especially as a fiction writer.
As for my approach to it in the story, I equated it with ‘evolution’, mostly in terms of taking a small first step towards change. I quite like exploring this internalised idea of getting to a point where you are ready to actually take a step towards something, however small. I saw that point as a transformative epoch for the character and wrote a story about getting there.
Being or feeling stuck is part of the process, and I feel it is important to acknowledge that because our celebration of ‘strength’ often comes at the cost of being critical, or judgemental, or derisive of the equally-difficult journey towards acceptance – and it can be intensely terrifying, slow, and never-ending. I think, in our simplistic dichotomy of strength and weakness, we overlook the nuances and complexities of everything in-between.
I like boiling down potentially grand ideas to more innate, character-based or episodic points. A character struggling, failing, and eventually managing to break out of denial and move towards acceptance is as transformative as say, the physical transformation of a building to a furnished flat (I have never been great with analogies).
I quite like exploring this internalised idea of getting to a point where you are ready to actually take a step towards something, however small.
RB: How important is it to have dedicated space for your work? Why are platforms such as these important for writers?
SS: A dedicated space for our work is a step towards inclusivity, a more accessible outlet to express ourselves creatively; as far as storytelling goes, we all could do with more of that. The Selkie seeks out marginalised voices. For me – it’s always been the more the better. There is merit in every story, every story has something to offer. A diverse range of dedicated spaces is crucial in ensuring as many of them get showcased as possible.
Coming from Delhi, I have always been pleasantly surprised about how accessible and close-knit the storytelling space here in Scotland is, especially amongst young and upcoming writers from different cultures and countries. I have always found this sense of fascination, interest, and intrigue amongst my creative writing peers here towards my culture, and that has enabled a reciprocal response in me towards understanding, comprehending and engaging with different cultures here. I never really had that back in Delhi, so it’s a pretty singular sentiment that makes me feel all the more attached to this space. But speaking on a larger scale, these little conversations and questions about different cultures, I think, go a long way in breaking often-wrong stereotypes. My friends and peers here ask me a lot of genuinely curious questions that have highlighted to me some glaring stereotypes, and honestly, it is rather fun busting (or confirming) some of them!
These little conversations and questions about different cultures, I think, go a long way in breaking often-wrong stereotypes.
RB: How would you describe your creative process? Do you find it uplifting or exhausting?
SS: My immediate answer would be a bit of both – but I don’t really see them as separate or mutually exclusive terms. I think I feel both those sentiments together and in their entirety. I do find it quite exhausting to get a few hours of writing in – mostly because it involves spending at least an hour staring at the screen gathering strength to put my fingers to the keyboard. I think that effectively sums up my creative process too; thinking about writing the whole day, deciding when to do it, and eventually overcoming some really strong and inherent hiccups and hesitation to even begin writing. I sat on this interview for so long because I haven’t done one like this before and even beginning to write my answers took a lot to get to. It is very exhausting, but I feel uplifted at the end of the process, more positive about myself and inordinately stronger. I never really set any goals or word-counts; it can sometimes take me a whole day to get five hundred words out, and I feel uplifted even with those.
My creative process – if I can call it that – is extremely arduous and even terrifying a lot of the times, and a large chunk of it doesn’t even include any putting the metaphorical (sometimes, literal) pen to paper (guess that is one stereotype I do live up to, another one being copious amounts of caffeine). I come out of it feeling something that I can only describe as a strong mix of upliftment and fatigue; I feel completely, utterly exhausted, and completely, utterly uplifted. Best of both worlds, right?
It is very exhausting, but I feel uplifted at the end of the process, more positive about myself and inordinately stronger.
RB: What other writers do you admire most?
SS: Meena Kandasamy! She is a contemporary Indian poet, and an absolute gem. I admire her especially for her book When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, which explores marital rape – a very significant concern to mention because India doesn’t recognise it as a crime. I also love how she has written it, it is almost academic and intellectual in tone. She mixes academic undertones and powerful poetic imagery to frame a meta-narrative framing the narrator’s (and the author’s) process of writing as a form of resistance. I absolutely love how she brings form and content together, it makes the book even more impactful and harrowing. Her book was included in the creative writing course at Glasgow last year; I think she has also done lots of talks and readings here in Scotland.
RB: How do you measure success as a writer? What do you hope to achieve with your work?
SS: Oddly, this one is really difficult for me to answer. Of course, I jump with joy when I get published somewhere; but then I also recently heard back from this magazine telling me that even though they felt it was a bit short for them, they found my writing atmospheric and the set-up intriguing; and that if I considered building it more, they’d be happy to read it. That email made me happy, and also motivated me enough to consider looking at the story differently and thinking of ways to build it. I would call that a success too. When an author from Glasgow found me on Facebook to tell me that she liked my story in Gutter Issue 18 – I think that made me as proud, if not more, as I was during the launch. Even you sending the email with these questions, appreciating my story and asking for a potential interview felt exciting.
So, I don’t think I have an idea of how I might measure success as a writer, and I definitely can’t speak on anyone’s behalf. When someone appreciates my work enough to engage or want to engage with it in any way, I feel buoyed and inspired by that. And I think that would also answer the second part of the question; I hope to make an impact with my work, and it could be a dozen people or just one reader who finds it stimulating enough to initiate a discussion and explore further. I think if you can make someone curious enough about you as a writer, that is definitely an achievement.
When someone appreciates my work enough to engage or want to engage with it in any way, I feel buoyed and inspired by that.