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Women Authors Cope with the Pandemic

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Covid-19 has created unique challenges for women. Preliminary research conducted by the journal Nature Research shows that women in academia are publishing fewer journal articles than they were before the outbreak. To get an idea of whether the same could be true for women authors in general, PW reached out to some who are also mothers to learn how the lockdowns have affected their work.

Prior to the pandemic, a study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women in the U.S. spend an average of two hours per day more than men on domestic responsibilities. This is due in part to the fact that women are more likely to have partners who are also employed, to be single parents, and to have elder care responsibilities. Additionally, the division of domestic labor often comes down to who earns more, and women are consistently paid less than men.

This issue has been compounded by the pandemic. Though data on women’s publishing rates in academia is clear-cut, gendered data on book publishing rates is harder to find. However, women in both fields face the same challenges: the extended shutdowns of schools and childcare facilities mean that parents, and especially mothers, have had to take on homeschooling and extra caregiving responsibilities. Hours of the day that were once devoted to work have been spent trying to keep children educated and entertained.

Alessandra Minello, a social demographer and professor at the University of Florence in Italy, studied publishing rates of women in academia and found that they typically submit fewer studies than their male counterparts. Minello works on a project called Smart Mama, for which she and another researcher recently interviewed 38 academics who are mothers in the U.S. and Italy. They found that these women had to prioritize childcare and teaching duties—both of which they are more likely than men to be responsible for—over publishing.

Minello fears that young mothers beginning their careers during the pandemic will struggle to obtain higher degrees and receive grants as a result of publishing less, which will affect advancement in their fields. She suspects that mothers who write trade books, though less likely to be responsible for teaching duties, will also slow their writing as they are forced to prioritize childcare.

Marcy Dermansky, author of Twins and Bad Marie, is a single mother to an 11-year-old daughter. Dermansky used to schedule her writing time when her daughter was in school, but that changed when schooling shifted to home. “It was just pretty much impossible to work, because she required a lot of help,” she said. “I think it’s always hard for mothers in writing with childcare, but the pandemic has made it exponentially harder.”

Spending time helping her daughter with e-learning meant Dermansky hasn’t been able to make much progress on her upcoming novel. “During those months, I didn’t even try to work,” she said.

Vanessa Lillie, author of Little Voices and For the Best, is currently working on her third book and has found that she is a month behind where she thought she’d be. Lillie has a five-year-old son and previously worked while he was at school or soccer practice. Her husband, a lawyer, spends much of his days on Zoom calls, meaning Lillie is the only one available to care for their son most of the time. “Having children in the house is just a stream of constant disruption,” she said. “It is really difficult to write on that deeper level I need when I am constantly interrupted.”

Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter and Necessary Roughness, has faced unique challenges balancing revisions on her upcoming novels, Finding My Voice (Soho Press) and The Evening Hero (Simon & Schuster), with caring for her autistic son, who also has other learning disabilities and medical issues. Lee and her husband are schooling and caring for their son without any outside help in their small New York City apartment. Lee said she struggles to focus at home but has managed to get some work done at a friend’s apartment. “I just have days where I feel like I am not in control of anything,” she added.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, author of Bittersweet and June, has a four-year-old and an 11-year-old. She sold her latest book over the winter and initially thought she’d have plenty of time to complete it by the summer. However, when the pandemic struck, she found herself scrambling. She and her husband moved in with another family to share childcare responsibilities, and though she said the arrangement has provided her with a great advantage in comparison to other writer-mothers she knows, it has been difficult for her to meet her deadline. “I don’t know how I am going to hand my book in in two weeks,” she said in late August. “I guess I’m just not going to sleep.”

Robin Romm, author of The Tilt and The Mercy Papers, also found writing in the pandemic to be nearly impossible. Caring for her 15-month-old and four-year-old has left her exhausted and unable to work. “It’s not only that you don’t have the physical time,” she said, “but you don’t really have the mental space to think expansive thoughts.”

Romm’s husband is also a writer, but he works full-time as a professor. Though he has been able to help with childcare, he had to attend meetings to prepare for a drastically changed fall semester. Romm’s more flexible schedule has meant that she has to bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities.

The pandemic has highlighted a number of long-standing issues within publishing, and the challenges it has created for women authors appears to be yet another that needs to be addressed.

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Books & Authors

Flowing Musings and Journal Entries of a Lazy Author – Sabarna Roy

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Sabarna Roy is a much awarded, critically acclaimed bestselling author of 6 literary books: Pentacles; Frosted Glass; Abyss; Winter Poems; Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018, and Etchings of the First Quarter of 2020. He is the lead author of a technical book, which has been published from the European Union and has been translated into 8 major European languages.

He has been awarded the Literoma Laureate Award in 2019, Literoma Star Achiever Award 2020, Random Subterranean Mosaic: 2012 – 2018 won the best book of the year 2019, the A List Award for excellence in fiction by the NewsX Media House, Certificate for The Real Super Heroes for spreading a spirit of positivity and hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic from Forever Star India Award 2020, and the Certificate for Participation in the Indo Russian Friendship Celebration 2020.

1. Intuition is the key to understanding and unlocking of any kind of mystery. Whatever enables the power of intuition is good for the human race. And, this power is also genetic but requires intense nurturing. Educational institutions especially would have to pitch in in this effort. Munich University where Albert Einstein had studied and many other great intellectuals did, was/is a place, which is famous for nurturing intuitive geniuses. What makes an institution so special? I wonder but get no specific answer. There are many things operating at the same time: autonomy and non-interference of the political establishment, the liberal atmosphere, the quality of the faculty and infrastructure, the faculty-student ratio, the faculty-student relationship, the way classes are delivered, the syllabi, stress on creative and thinking capabilities rather than on the mugging and examination mode, permissibility of various opinions to co-exist, and, possibly many other things. In India the reverse is happening now; well, it has happened earlier as well but now things are taking a very worse shape. Take the examples of: Trinamool’s interference in every administrative step in the cases of Jadavpur University and Presidency University in Kolkata (earlier the Left Front had literally killed all the educational institutions worth its repute in Kolkata barring JU and Presidency College, which are now being gobbled up by the present dispensation) and the primeval comments of Dr. Subramaniam Swamy when he was mooted to become the VC of JNU.

2. In my late youth I saw her for the first time on a train. Immediately thereafter I started conjuring an indescribable companionship with her. I chased her for years. Later I came to know she is a happy mother of two bonny sons. She would not give me any attention for she had a secret lover too.

3. In Fallen Man, I made Rahul – my protagonist – to retreat into the mountains with his old mother, having been defeated in life in a growing metropolis.

It was a childhood dream I nurtured in my soul that when I would grow old enough I would live with my mother alone in a high mountain.

But then life has very different things in store for you!

You become a different man as you grow up and confuse yourself with the choices that life offers you.

4. During my University days in the dry summer months (March 15 to May 15) I had a strange obsession of roaming around the labyrinthine deserted alleys of North Calcutta in the afternoons when the scorching sunshine would cause havoc on my shoulders and back, and middlemen, traders and housewives and children would be enjoying a desperate siesta in their cool and shaded bedrooms. Occasionally, to rejuvenate myself, I would smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of syrupy milk tea at a forlorn street-corner.  Where did this passion stem from? When I look back now it seems it was an effort to transpose my loneliness onto the parched, dilapidated and crumbling ambience of Calcutta that was gradually withering. During these walks I have come across strange faces looking at me from the shadowy iron-grilled openings of the tall windows of old mansions (probably tenants forcibly occupying spaces of decaying rich families because of the laxity the Rent Control Act provides to tenants – coming to think of it a pretty smart colonial way of redistribution of wealth). Some of the grotesque faces are etched on the walls of my consciousness till now. Mementos of memory in a loner’s studio. This was also the time when I was introduced to Bismillah Khan’s shehnai and D V Paluskar’s bhajans. Rendition of shehnai recital is a tradition at Indian weddings – presumably a happy occasion. But Bismillah saab’s rendition had an underlying melancholic glory, which attracted me early on. In the bhajans of Paluskar (although I was a non-believer at that time and remain so till date) I could recognize the echoes and angst of the lonely faithful devotee, which left me in awe. My afternoon walks would be accompanied by Bismillah saab’s wind instrument and Paluskar ji’s voice playing in the dark recesses of my mind. Background score!

5. You demystify one cloud. Another appears. You demystify this cloud, that cloud appears. Between this cloud and that cloud there are other clouds. And, then there are many other clouds. The series is relentless and unending.

Human beings are secret islands. Their actions are not completely comprehensible. Why they act in a specific way, is a secret that lies deeply embedded in their own souls! Yet we trust human beings – islands of secrets – in due course of time. Specifically and generally. The science of trust is by and large a very mysterious science.

6. Some erotic stories do not kick-start in our lifetime although they have the potential spark to generate enormous electricity. On the other hand there are many erotic stories that wither away in the long run with time like leaves die. We all go through a mixture of such stories in our lives. The stories that did not start linger in our mind like dolorous reminders – what if! Mind you, the potential of those uninitiated stories to change the course of our lives, including how we evolve as persons, is very high compared to the initiated stories of erotic love.

7. Reverse jump cut – in the past – 25 years – almost – approximately – a full-moon night – after midnight – on the terrace of a G+3 newly built apartment block – on the fringes of the city violently pushing against the margins of a crumbling suburban landscape – full of dreams – a series of conquests – a bright disc of silver hanging in the sky – an elderly friend of mine and I – a telescope in between us – a gazer of stars and galaxies – well, planning to show me what is a sky and infinite continents of space – a wise man – hating my absolute love for rock music – dismissing it as ‘boyish elitism’.

A night redefined!

We smoked hard. We smoked hard – only nicotine fellas! We discussed Dakghar. We recited Wasteland. Death was looming large on our sub-conscious.

Then he asked me to take a drooling walk to the phallic instrument chilling in the night – his love and work of love.

“Boy you could look at the moon both ends from! This end from it looks like a shining piece of nut. And this end from it blazes on you like a scorching sun … So you see; there is nothing right or wrong!”

I asked parched in smoke, “Is there no perfect way of life on earth? Ideals to follow? Creating and adding on to the civilization of men? No right and wrong! Live like dogs, do we?”

He whispered in my ears, “You hate dogs, don’t you? There are ways. There are no ways still. A creative man must learn to suffer multiple takes on life. A creative man must strive for his absolute solitude to unburden his load on us. He walks through the world but returns to his cave. Your cave is this universe of galaxies, constellations and pacing heavenly bodies. You are a banished soul attempting to be a part of this colossal space. Don’t you feel like that? How tiny you are, my boy!”

We fell silent for a long time – looking at the sky – and then we fell asleep! Dreaming: this sleep will take us away …

8. Sanchita Guha aka Mimi, my very talented saali, wanted me to write my own obit page in her friend’s blog. I thought about it and concluded that I would never remember a wasted monkey (and, fat) like me. So why would anybody else remember me! Secondly, I would neither like to be remembered because I just do not qualify the minimum credentials. I have been cruel, selfish (now that my children are grown-up I have also started hating children: angels of light and hope), self-centered and vulgar all my life. I have never stood up for anybody or even myself (that is the biggest crime I have done). I have never been overwhelmed by the sufferings of fellow human beings. I have always looked the other way. Contrarily I have put on the mask of a concerned gentleman looking for an eager audience. I am not gentle in any case; I am arrogant. I have not enjoyed my life for I was never passionate enough. My comparison of myself to a monkey is misplaced, I am factually worse than a monkey. And monkeys are not bad by any stretch of imagination, Mimi would agree with me.  Am I a godzila then? Animal lovers like Mimi would protest my comparison of wretched me to the varied heavenly animals on this planet. I have no consistent body of work. I cannot sing. Nor can I play any musical instrument. I cannot even dance. In the name of love, I have done duties by actually organizing them through others. Secretly, I have always wished to own a company of slaves who would be at my beck and call. I am a good womaniser (although I am fat) and I have neglected even this talent of mine. What a perverse waste of your only life?

9. If we would make museums out of our memories they would serve as very good benchmarks to understand our own lives. And some of them would be works of art, which could be appreciated by one and all. What stops us from making personal and private museums? Effort, of course, because you would require tons of it and patience in doing so. This idea struck me when I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence a few years back. We as a nation and also as a continent are not much inclined towards museum construction, refurbishment and maintenance and also paying a visit to a museum. Our major museums are poorly maintained and attended. Museum is a habit of the West – mainly, Europe. Our own museums unlike the public museums should be reconstruction of our own lives, revolving around all kinds of incidents and anecdotes: happy, pensive, important, unimportant, passionate, compassionate, all. This will have substantial anthropological value and would require training, which should be inculcated at the school and high-school levels. Museum construction requires a meeting of various kinds of skills. This will throw up a serious branch of training not to be trapped in the mugging-and-examination mode and would seriously become a fountainhead for many hidden talents to flower. At the end of the day, we take resort to serious art because we want to comprehend our own incomprehensible lives. What better way could there be if we could recreate it with our own hands and brain?

10. Nowadays I cannot argue beyond a point of making my case, that is all; I have just lost the steam. Another proof that I have become an old man. I love listening to various points of view instead. I will make my opening move and then withdraw. There was a time when I was a reasonably good debater. Well, long time back … maybe. I also do not feel the emotion of anger nowadays. There is more or less a feeling of resignation. In general, I am always searching for words while talking in a group. But I am very comfortable while writing. One thing that I love is silence: locked inside a chilly, deathly-silent room with random thoughts passing through my mind like a north-westerly wind. Silence excites thoughts.

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Books & Authors

‘Bikhre Sapne’ by Author M. Murtaza – Dreams Did Not Fall In Place But The Story Did

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Author M. Murtaza is already a known name in the realms of Hindi literature. Murtaza stirred the Hindi literary world with ‘Ankur’ – his first Hindi novel which got published in 1985. Post that he had penned many masterclasses like “Gosha E Noor” (Urdu 2002), “Roshni kaa Minaar” (Hindi 2003), “Tasawwuf” (Urdu 2010), and “Baagh ki Khooshbu” (Urdu, 2019).

Each of the above-mentioned books got critically acclaimed due to apt reason. So, when a writer of this calibre comes up with his next book, it is bound to have a lot of expectations from the readers. M. Murtaza lived up to that expectation in his latest book ‘Bikhre Sapne’. The story is about Raajan – a resident of Shivpur village and his mother Rukmini – a poor widow. The different episodes of the lives of Raajan and Rukmini are beautifully narrated – some are heart melting while some are gruesome.

Just like his other works, Mr. Murtaza treats the plot and the characters of the book ‘Bikhre Sapne’ in a cinematic way. The readers can surely hope to see this story getting transformed into a movie soon. The narration is so good that it’ll create a strong case as a screenplay with an immediate effect.

The two most important points which click for the book are the simplicity of the language used to narrate the story and the holistic nature of the characters sketched. These two aspects work as the manual for any aspiring Hindi writer.

The only aspect which could have been better about the book is its cover page. The publisher could have been a little more careful on this aspect. However, as a whole, ‘Bikhre Sapne’ qualifies as one of the books which readers from all walks of life will cherish for a very long time.               

Buy “Bikhre Sapne from Amazon for just Rs.301

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Books & Authors

“Publishing a book is not only about writing, it is much more than that”, says Nayana in a recent Interview

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About The Author:
Nayana Phukan, the author of the bestselling novel ‘Dawn in Florence’ is a software engineer and an avid traveler. Nayana is a bookworm since her childhood days and she always had a dream to write books of her own. She started writing her debut novel ‘Dawn in Florence’ in November, 2019 and finally, published it on the last week of July, 2020. Nayana currently lives in the city of dreams, Mumbai and she believes in enjoying every moment of life.

Briefly describe your journey until now. Have you accomplished what you wanted or still have a mile to go?
Since my childhood days, I have been a bookworm and I always had a dream that one day, I would write novels of my own. But for me, the challenge was to find an ample amount of time for writing. I am a software engineer and have been working as an IT professional for the last nine years. It was not easy for me to find out time for writing but apart from an engineer and a writer, I am also an avid traveler. For a long time, I was planning to start a travel blog and on one fine day of 2018, I started writing travel blogs and thankfully, everyone loved it. During that time, I was working as a senior web developer in a major e-commerce firm and due to immense work pressure, it was not easy for me to find time for writing. But I didn’t give up and started to draft some small stories apart from travel blogging in my spare time. That was the time when I realized that I should take writing more seriously. I started writing my debut novel ‘Dawn in Florence’ in November 2019 and finally published it in the last week of July 2020.

I am very happy to see all the love of the readers towards my book. I was feeling out of the world that day when I saw my book on the bestselling list of Amazon. ‘Dawn in Florence’ is the first step in the world of novel writing and I believe that I still have a mile to go.

What is your book “Dawn in Florence” all about?
‘Dawn in Florence’ is a tale of unconditional and mature love that does not follow any prejudice. This is a story of a strong and independent single mother Leena Shenoy, who fell in love in her late thirties, far away from her kids and her motherland India, in the beautiful city of Florence, Italy. Stunning Italy added colors to the black and white life of Leena. Her complicated love story that blossomed in the beautiful parts of Italy, taught her about that side of love, which is just like a rose with thorns, beautiful yet painful. Life is not always fair but every chapter of it teaches a new lesson and only if we learn to inhale the bright side of it, life becomes beautiful. From the magical Venice of northern Italy to the breath-taking Amalfi coast of southern Italy, from the fashion capital Milan to the architecture capital Rome, every chapter of her Italy diary was full of surprises, love, friendship and unexpected turn of events. She had never imagined falling in love with someone far away from her homeland, but love always comes without prior notice and it can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing this book? And what is the most challenging?
Writing a book was always a dream for me and finally, my dream has come true. I have put a lot of time, energy and effort to write this book and I am feeling happy when it is published. But what makes me happier is the beautiful feedback and compliments from the readers. The most challenging part was finding out an ample amount of time to write and self-publishing the book was also a big decision. I always believed that if my work is good, it would be appreciated one day or another and now, I feel overwhelmed to see the readers embracing my book with so much love.

How much research and efforts were required on your part to complete this book?
As I have already mentioned above, I started writing this book in November 2019 and published it in the last week of July 2020. Writing and publishing this book was a bit of a journey for me. To be very honest, I did not do much research on this book. Leena and Siddharth are fictional characters and this story is an outcome of my imagination. This love story is set against the beautiful backdrops of Italy and I spared no effort to describe the beauty of stunning Italy in my book. I started writing this book just after a vacation to Italy and the young and fresh memories of that vacation helped to describe the scenic beauty of the Italian places so vividly.

Would you like to share some writing tips with our readers and aspiring writers?
If you are passionate about writing, then you should follow your passion. Be it writing or anything else it always brings the best out of you. Try to find out some time for writing every day. I know it is not easy all the time, but try to make it a part of your daily routine. Always believe in yourself and let your dreams be your wings. 

I want to say one more thing to all the aspiring writers who are planning to publish a book that, publishing a book is not only about writing, it is much more than that. If you want to be a successful author, you have to think like an entrepreneur, not only as a writer.

Last but not the least, how are you dealing with current times where everything is so uncertain?
Definitely, this time is tough but I have faith that things will get better with time and the world we call normal will be back soon. Currently, I am living in Mumbai, a city that is one of the worst-hit by coronavirus. We are almost home stuck since March 2020 which is frustrating sometimes but I am trying my best to utilize this time in learning new things. I want to tell everyone that we should not lose hope. Because after every storm, there appears a rainbow and oftentimes, the brightest rainbows follow the darkest rainstorms. Here, I want to mention a quote from my book ‘Dawn in Florence’:
“After every storm, a rainbow will smile
After every night, the sun will rise
‘Hold on Pain Ends’, that’s why they call it hope
After every darkness, there’s always a light.”

Buy DAWN IN FLORENCE From Amazon For Just Rs.245

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