In Conversation with Sonal Singh, Author of 'Islands in the Stream'
Flipping through the pages of her debut book readers can feel the Breezes… making your skin prickle. She brings into life all the elements by the delicate use of words. Any poem you pick to read, be it on the morning, the moon, the firefly, the rain, the sunflower or the frost, you cannot escape the ethereal touch the author lends to the poems. Each word creates a vivid imagery of the nature in such a way that the readers find themselves in the lap of the mother nature.
It is difficult for me to say which one of hers is my favourite. As I read through A Languid Morning followed by An Ode to the Night, Eos’s Sojourn, Nights and Days… till the last in the series each captivated my heart with its rich vocabulary and imagery.
The poems from the Life’s Foibles makes the readers sink deep into sea of emotions humans carry. Sonal Singh has very gently touched all the emotional cords. In fact, the very first poem in this section is titled Islands in the Stream from where the author has derived the name of the book is a masterpiece and philosophical in nature. Her poems are full of optimism and cheerfulness. Even the ones that muse over the gravitas of life leave the reader with an uplifting spirit. The highs and lows of human emotions are well penned by the poet. In this candid conversation and an exclusive interview for Chrysanthemum Chronicles, I got to know many hats that Sonal adorns and does each job with equal passion and fervour.
Cc. Congratulations dear Sonal on your debut book Islands in the Stream. The book looks captivating with this title on the cover. There is a poem too in the book Islands in the Stream. Why did you choose this particular title from all the poems as the name of your book? Is the poem Islands in the Stream very close to your heart?
Sonal. Actually, I chose the title before I wrote the poem. So, in a way I wrote the poem to accommodate the title.
My book is a compilation of 48 poems on nature and life. However, I firmly believe that even if we compile multiple poems under one genre, they retain their individuality and exhibit aspects of different genres. To a reader, they may appear in a flow in the book but, they still remain distinct from each other. They each have their own character and it is this character that a reader associates with. So, in a flowing stream of poetry, poems are like tiny islands. They all exist in the same poetic space, yet like an island they retain both their individuality and their character.
I do love the titular poem but my favorite poem in the book is ‘Hope’.
Cc. The cover of the book is very fascinating. It gives a very soothing effect. In fact, the cover of the book and the title compliments each other very much. Can you tell us more about this resplendent cover?
Sonal. The cover of the book is a painting by my mother Nirmala Singh. She is an acclaimed writer and painter. The painting is an encaustic art that depicts the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna at Prayagraj. For me the onerous task of hunting for a cover image never arose. I always wanted to adapt one of my mother’s paintings as the cover. Happily for me, I found the ideal one. Had I not, like a bratty kid I would have probably nagged my mother to paint one.
Cc. You have poems published in many anthologies but Islands in the Stream is your debut with all poems in one book. As an author what challenges you faced getting the book published? Any advice for the upcoming writers who are looking forward to get published one day.
Sonal. Getting a poetry book published was definitely challenging. There are not many traditional publishers out there who publish poetry. I did my research but ultimately, when I decided to bring this book out I had two avenues open – a) I could either self-publish it as a paperback, or, b) I could publish this as a digital book on Amazon. Since, this was my debut book; I chose to go with the former idea.
The choice of publisher was not really hard. Author’s Press has published my mother’s work so as a publishing house they were known to me. I sent in my manuscript and within a week I heard back from them with an expression of interest. I have to say that I am very happy with the final product. The publishers were very patient in accommodating my demands with respect to the quality, editing, font and imagery depicted in the book.
A piece of advice that I can share with new writers looking forward to getting their first book out is – be patient. If you believe in your work, don’t be in a hurry to get it out. Edit the book till you are sure it is polished and ready to go to print.
Most self-publishing involves some amount of monetary exchange (unless its kindle publishing on Amazon). So, be prepared to shell out a nominal amount (this depends on the publisher that you choose). Also, be prepared to publicize your book. Publishing a book is only 25% of the job. The rest is all marketing and publicizing the book to increase sales and also get people to take note of you.
Cc. Coming to your personal life. We see that you adorn various feathers to your hat. Besides being a doting mother and a wife you are also a pet lover. You run a consultancy. You are a distinguished cook and love to share recipes on your website too. How and when do you manage time for writing juggling with different chores?
Sonal. I am a hyperactive person by nature and I have a thirst in me to learn. My motto is life is – ‘Life gives us one chance, make the most if it’. So, I keep trying to learn new things and evolve as a person. My work is my vocation but my personal space – OnSonalsTable – is my passion. Cooking is my therapy and writing is my catharsis.
Juggling the time is difficult. It’s difficult to find the balance between my professional life and personal life especially since I run a very labor-intensive and demanding business. But, I have been blessed with a supportive family who let me stretch my wings. Also, I have been very fortunate in terms of my work colleagues.
Cc. You have also won many accolades and prizes for short fictions. This speaks volumes about your stories and writing style. I am sure each story you write must be as engrossing as your poems. Do you have any plans to come up with a fiction book in the future?
Sonal. Yes. My next book is a volume of short stories based on love and human relationships. The book is ready for publication. Apart from that I am also working on a few other book projects. It’s too early to comment on those but hopefully, they will materialize into something worthy for the readers.
Cc. It is well understood reading your poems that you are in love with words. Our readers would like to know what is your inspiration behind your writing skills?
Sonal. Contrary to what most people believe, it is not writing that teaches you to be a good writer. It is reading. When you read, you imbibe language, vocabulary and text that have been written well. That’s how you learn.
I have been a voracious reader since I was six or seven years old. Enid Blyton and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were huge inspirations during my pre-teen years. I enjoy reading fiction more than non-fiction. And, I love reading poetry, particularly the old poets like Keats, Lord Byron, Yates, etc.
Cc. Besides writing what other activities you like to indulge in? Is there any particular sport you like? What is your idea about spending a day in leisure?
Sonal. My leisure activities include reading, gardening and spending time in the kitchen cooking or baking for the family. I love to travel. Nothing relaxes me more than baking. That is my therapy. I also love listening to instrumental music. Kenny G and Tim Janis are my hot favorites.
Cc. Islands in the Streams is your debut and already making waves in the literary world. It recently won The Poetic Caesura Awards. Chrysanthemum Chronicles would like to congratulate you on this. Can you tell us more about this win?
Sonal. Thank you for the good wishes. I chanced upon the Caesura awards on a post on instagram and applied. I was keen to see if the book would resonate with an impartial jury, particularly one that I did not personally know or was acquainted with. Happily, the book came in second in the poetry category. That has been a huge morale booster. It has boosted sales of the book and made a few of my poet friends reach out for advice.
Cc. What are your earliest memories as a writer? When did you compose your first poem and what was the theme you wrote on? Our readers are curious to know.
Sonal. I don’t recollect the first time that I wrote something. My mother tells me that I was four or five when I scribbled something on a scrap of paper. I believe her because she treasures that piece of paper.
The earliest recollection that I have about writing is around the age of eight or nine when Enid Blyton was a huge influence on my life. I continued to write poetry for the longest time after that. However, motherhood and the demands of setting up a business put a pause to my writing for a number of years. It was only a few years back that I returned to it. It’s been the best decision that I ever made.
Cc. Last but not the least we would like to know what kind of poetry you like to read? Who is your favourite poet you draw inspiration from? Any lines you would like to quote of your favorite writer?
Sonal. I love reading the old poets. My all time favorites are – Pablo Neruda, Yates (The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a favorite), Keats, Lord Byron, and Tennyson. In the more recent era I have enjoyed reading Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Christina Rosetti.
‘’Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams for when dreams go
Life is a barren field frozen with snow’’
Interview Conducted by Associate Editor Shristee Singh
Her poetry collection 'Islands in the Stream' is available on Amazon and Flipkart.