Smt. Azhagunila is a Tamil writer in Singapore. A prolific public speaker and a distinguished toastmaster, she recently published her first book ‘Oranju’ which contained several of her short stories that she had written over the last 2 years. The book has been well received in the Singapore Literary Circle and has got some excellent reviews. Here is an interview with the author.
When did you write for the first time?
I was a voracious reader for a long time. In 2004, soon after my first child was born, I had taken a career break. Once, after my baby fell asleep, I was relaxing in my 22nd-floor apartment’s balcony in Malaysia. The sky seemed closer and the stars that I saw seemed to tell me a story. Some of the stars began to resemble people known to me. I added some fictional patterns on those characters and the result was a very interesting article called ‘Myself and the stars’. I had sent that to ‘Kumudham Snehidhi’, a Tamil magazine, and that got published. That was the first time I wrote and that was the first time I saw my writing in print.
Later I had written a humorous article by name ‘Navagraha Nayaki’ ( Queen of the Solar System ), again for the same magazine. That article too was well received.
When was your work first recognized?
I was first recognized for my work in Singapore when I had taken my second break from career after my second child was born. That was for a short story that I had written by name ‘Urimai’ ( right ) in response to a call for short stories by Singapore Tamil Writer’s Association. I got the consolation prize for the story. I think until then competitions motivated me to write ( laughs ).
What makes you write? What is your genre?
I don’t have any fixed genre. I think I observe the happenings around me and mark them in my mind. Later, I jot down those thoughts in a Word document at home and as and when I feel the urge to write and my creative streak gets activated, I write to finish. Eg: In ‘Oranju’ there is a story called ‘Otraikkan’ ( One eye ). I had seen a one-eyed cat somewhere near my home in Singapore and that brought a flurry of thoughts from all over the cosmos. I had made a note of that and later when I thought about the cat, I felt the urge to pen a story around the cat, resulting in ‘Otraikkan’.
Though I don’t stick to any particular genre, I like to write humor. However, I think, short stories don’t lend themselves to incorporate humor and might seem artificial. Let us see.
When do you write? Do you have specific times in a day to write?
No, I don’t write in any particular time of the day. I begin a story probably during a night and complete that over the same night. If the creative streak stops, I would have to carry that over to the next day.
What are your writing tools? Do you carry a notebook around?
No, I just record my thoughts in my mind and transfer them to a Word document once I reach home. Other than this, I don’t have specific tools or aids for writing.
Who is your inspiration for your writing?
Initially, there were none. Nowadays, I would think of Tamil writers Jeyamohan and S.Ramakrishnan as my inspiration.
Would you give up your profession for writing?
In the current situation in Singapore, I wouldn’t sacrifice my profession for writing. ‘I can’t afford to sacrifice’ would be a better way of saying that.
Is it possible for professional writers to flourish in Singapore?
In the Tamil context, I would think not. You need to have a profession that helps to pay your bills and lead a life. Writing, in Singapore, is more a passion than a profession. It is even more difficult for women writers as they have to take care of the family and write at the same time.
What is your advice for budding writers?
Read, read and read. And once you have read enough, get inspired and start writing. Inspiration does not mean one can copy a leading writer’s style. Drawing inspiration is different from copying. There are many who try to imitate famous writers. One has to read those stalwarts but develop a distinct style for oneself. Imitation will not take people forward.
What are you working on now? Are you planning another short story collection?
Right now, I have started writing for Serangoon Times. Let me see if the articles make a collection and lend themselves to be brought out as a book – a non-fiction one focussing on the heritage of Singapore.
On behalf of ஆ..பக்கங்கள், I wish you all the very best in your future projects. Thank you for your time.
P.S.: The book ‘Oranju’ can be purchased at the Tamil Book Center, Serangoon Road, Singapore.