Another post in our ongoing series: an interview with author Susmita Bhattacharya. Read her short story ‘Comfort Food’ online in Structo magazine issue eleven.
Can you say a little about where ‘Comfort Food’ came from?
‘Comfort Food’ came from a personal experience. My husband had just quit the merchant navy and come ashore to work in a ship management company. We moved to Singapore and suddenly we were plunged into a world of business, making deals and buying ships. Rather he was, and I stayed home, waiting long hours for him to return home from work.
Then one day, he was taking a prospective ship buyer to a business dinner in a very posh restaurant. Being a vegetarian, my husband didn’t want to put off this Chinese man by not eating meat, and maybe jeopardizing the deal. (We’d never met a vegetarian Chinese person, so wasn’t sure if he would feel insulted. Or maybe I convinced him that way so that I could offer my presence!) So I happily stepped in to accompany them, and I must say, I had the most amazing deep fried prawns dipped in egg yolk among other such culinary delights that night!
The food bit in the story is real, but the rest is fiction. But I think also the protagonist’s state of mind kind of reflected mine as I was very lonely in that very busy city.
How did you find the process of writing The Normal State of Mind compared to your short fiction?
The novel of course was a completely different process to writing short stories. When I write short fiction, somehow I always think of the ending. And then I work backwards, and shuffle ideas around in my head before putting pen to paper. When I first started writing short stories, it was always in longhand. But the novel was always typed on my laptop. Now everything is on my laptop. I only write shopping lists in longhand, sadly.
The novel was written in several parts, over several years. Short fiction, I write the first draft in one go. And then of course I go back and keep working on it until I am satisfied, or tired, whatever comes first.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a collection of short stories ready. They’ve been published in several different places in different formats, and I think it will be good to have them all together in a collection.
I’m working on a novel, and also on a few essays. Ever since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction relating to illness and medicine and found it really cathartic. I’ve been writing about my cancer journey, but want to take it further and explore non-fiction through my personal experience.
The new novel started off from a short story I wrote for ElevenEleven, the literary journal of the California College of Arts. The story is called ‘Where do dreams disappear’, and I follow the life of a young girl who is married off to her best friend’s father. That is the beginning. I don’t know how it will end, as I am still in the thinking process after chapter three.
I am also working on several query letters to agents, as I think it is time I need to get organised and give all the time and effort one needs to put into the writing process without having to worry about the other things.
Read more about Susmita Bhattacharya and her writing at her blog.