Banking on romance
She crunches numbers by the day and writes mushy romantic novels over weekends. Two years after she published her first Mills & Boon novel, SHOMA NARAYANAN is out with her fourth book under the Harlequin banner. Over coffee by the seaside (after all, it goes with what she writes), she talks to Dhiman Chattopadhyay about growing up reading Shaw and Poe, writing romantic stuff, being risk averse in real life and more
Shoma Narayanan hadn’t written much till she won a short story contest held by a Mumbai newspaper some years back. Even then, this Bengali banker, who grew up in Madhya Pradesh, reading Dickens, Shaw, Poe and generally serious stuff, never imagined she would one day write mushy romantic novels for the world’s largest publishers of, well, mush.
“I tried it out for a lark (the contest by publishers Harlequin, to find a Mills & Boon novelist from India). Imagine my surprise when the publishers decided the book was good enough to be published for a global audience as well,” says Narayanan (she is married to a Malayali) as we grab a coffee.
In the past two years, despite her busy schedule as vice president of a leading MNC bank, this electronics engineer with an MBA from XLRI has published three M&B novels. Her books, including the best-selling Secrets & Saris and Monsoon Wedding Fever have fairly flown off the shelves, despite many of her friends asking the usual: oh-God-you-write-mush questions.
“I try to make the setting of the books realistic. I make notes on my phone. The storylines are totally imagined, works of fiction even though some character sketches and scenes are based on people I know or experiences I may have had or heard about,” she laughs.
I am intrigued, as M&B novels apparently always have drop-dead pretty women who fall for rugged hunks who happen to be billionaires? Are her heroes in the same mould? “No way! My target audience is young urban adults who are far more practical about life. Billionaries and hunks are not part of their world but thinking men definitely are,” she says.
Of course, she did face a bit of flack when she started writing the books. “My husband was always supportive and while some family members wondered why I didn’t write for children instead, there has been no opposition. Friends and colleagues are very gung ho about my hobby. My banker friends are happy that at least I am proving bankers aren’t boring. And college pals are kicked that one of them is now writing for a series they all grew up reading,” she smiles.
Narayanan says she writes during weekends, the only time she is not busy being a wealth management expert. “Sometimes the kids (she has a son who is 10 and a six-year-old daughter) and their father all go out for a movie and lunch. That gives me three to four hours to write. Of course nothing beats a cricket match on TV. I have all the time in the world to write then,” she jokes.
So has she considered going the same way as another famous banker-turned-novelist, Chetan Bhagat? “As a human being, I am risk averse. So I don’t want to give up a job and that too in an MNC bank, to be a full time writer. I love to write. Maybe one day I will write stories for children. But the job keeps things secure,” she signs off.