Deepti Menon Unveils Her Writing Secrets- From Army Life to Literary Triumphs: Decoding Deepti Menon's Narrative

 By Ankush Bharti 

Deepti Menon is an author whose life has been beautifully interwoven with the written word. From her early days as a ten-year-old writer, her journey has taken her across the diverse landscapes of India, courtesy of her experiences as an Army kid and later, an Army wife. These experiences have not only shaped her as a person but also honed her distinctive talent for storytelling. Deepti's knack for observing the nuances of life and the people she met along the way has allowed her to breathe life into her captivating characters.

In 1984, she embarked on a new chapter in her life when she married Captain Gopinath Menon, who later retired as a Colonel in 2007. As an Army wife, Deepti wore many hats, not only teaching in various schools across the country but also taking on the role of Principal at the Army School in Tenga Valley, Arunachal Pradesh. Her debut book, "Arms and the Woman," published in 2002, offered a light-hearted glimpse into the life of an Army wife, revealing the warmth and camaraderie within the military community.

Teaching and writing have both been profound learning experiences for Deepti. Her time as an educator brought out her extroverted side, fostering connections with children and fostering their curiosity, fun, and good humor. Her students, in turn, became her teachers, enriching her life in numerous ways. Today, Deepti serves as the Executive Director of Hari Sri Vidya Nidhi, an ICSE/ISC school in Thrissur, Kerala.

In the years 2013 and 2014, Deepti's literary star continued to rise as many of her short stories found their way into anthologies, including the popular 'Chicken Soup' series. With her gift for crafting short stories with clever twists and tongue-in-cheek articles, she has gained recognition as a master of the craft.

Her writing journey expanded to include a book of poems, "Deeparadhana of Poems," which delves into themes of life, love, and loss. In 2016, she delved into the realm of psychological thrillers with "Shadow in the Mirror," published by Readomania, which garnered praise from her readers. Deepti's literary prowess further shone with the release of two more thriller short story anthologies, "Where Shadows Follow" (2020) and "Shadows Never Lie" (2021), together forming the captivating 'Shadow Trilogy.'

Deepti's talents as a writer extended to journalism as well, as she worked as a freelance journalist for over seven years. Her contributions spanned from humorous pieces to insightful lifestyle articles and thought-provoking non-fiction across various publications.

For Deepti Menon, writing is not merely a skill but a part of her very being. It runs in her blood, much like her passion for teaching. Her joy in seeing her name in print for the first time has only grown stronger over the years, turning her writing journey into an endless, exhilarating adventure filled with unexpected twists and turns.

Her recent work, 'The Dance and the Trance,' released in October 2023, explores the life journey of a temple oracle in Kerala, adding yet another intriguing chapter to her literary portfolio.

Deepti Menon's writing sparkles with simplicity and originality. She believes in the power of choosing just the right word to convey her ideas most meaningfully to her readers, echoing Mark Twain's wisdom that "the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." Deepti Menon's literary creations are a testament to her unwavering commitment to storytelling and the profound impact of words on the human experience.

Here is an Exclusive Conversation with her:

  1. Your experiences as an Army kid and Army wife seem to have had a significant impact on your writing. Can you share some specific incidents or people from those times that stand out as particularly influential in shaping your writing style or storytelling?

Life was wonderful, both when I was an Army brat and an Army wife. Right through my school life, I participated in literary contests because words have always held a fascination for me. I recall winning a Naval essay writing contest in Vizag in which children across the state took part. That was probably one of my first wins.

Once I got married, I wrote about various aspects of the Armed Forces, trying to inject humour in them. There was this little journal called ‘Deolali Doings’ where I would write a piece every month and I was thrilled to find these pieces appreciated by many. It was then I realised that people around me and particular incidents were wonderful fodder for my writing.

  1. "Arms and the Woman" is your first book and offers a light-hearted look at the life of an Army wife. What inspired you to write this book, and what message or insight did you hope to convey about the Army life and the institution itself?

Yes, this was my first book, and the title was inspired by GB Shaw’s play titled ‘Arms and the Man’. There were two reasons behind writing this book. One was the fact that I had already written quite a chunk of it in the form of humorous articles. However, the more significant point was that in many parts of the country, especially in the South, there was an erroneous impression that all Army folks did was dance, drink and party. That quite broke my heart. It is a fact that we in the Army tend to reveal our joys and hide our sorrows. What about all the stress and the tensions of non-family stations, strife-ridden postings and combat situations? We have ourselves had tumultuous tenures, right from the militancy in Punjab, the Kargil War, the earthquake and the riots in Gujarat and my husband’s UN postings in Rwanda and Mozambique at the height of genocide and elections respectively. I wanted to set the record right in my own little way.

  1. Teaching and writing are both central to your career. How do these two pursuits complement each other, and how has your background in education influenced your storytelling and character development?

As I love to say, when one’s passion and one’s profession go hand-in-hand, there is no greater bliss. I have always loved teaching and writing, and I find myself blessed that I have always been able to do both. My background in education has been the springboard from which many of my stories and my characters have taken a leap forward. 

  1. Can you tell us about your approach to crafting short stories with deft twists and tongue-in-cheek humor? What drives your creativity in this genre, and do you have a favorite short story you've written?

My short story writing phase started when I used to write for magazines like Femina and Woman’s Era somewhere in the distant past. However, my first story for an anthology by Notion Press titled ’21 Tales to Tell’ remains a favourite of mine. It is called ‘Mirror Image’ and that was where my penchant for thriller short stories began. Since then, I have written tales with a twist in over twenty-five anthologies for different publishing houses. 

Humour is a different kettle of fish. There was another phase in my life when I was freelancing as a journalist, and I crafted several topical articles in which I used humour to drive my point across. I fervently believe that a writer needs a funny bone to survive!

  1. Your book of poems, "Deeparadhana of Poems," deals with themes of life, love, and loss. What draws you to poetry, and how do you find that this medium allows you to express your thoughts and emotions differently compared to prose?

I wrote my first poem at the age of ten, after which I went on to write almost a hundred poems before I shifted my focus to other genres. I was seventeen when my father passed away after a cardiac arrest. I found myself addressing the dilemma of death at such close quarters and went through a period when I wrote my most intense poetry which came from a place of excruciating sorrow. That is when I realised that using the medium of poetry helped me to express my emotions perfectly.

  1. "Shadow in the Mirror" is a psychological thriller. What intrigues you about this genre, and could you share a memorable moment from the writing process or the reception of the book by your readers?

I have always been fascinated by psychology, probably because I feel that there is no place as scary as the human mind. The theme of ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ came from one single idea, and one scene which I knew would be the turning point of the whole novel. My most memorable moment came when I saw the brilliant cover that was done by the talented cover artist at Readomania, the face of a mysterious woman in blue with a red bindi. The book received accolades and great reviews from my readers, and I will always be grateful to them all.

  1. You've created the "Shadow Trilogy" with two more anthologies of thriller short stories. How do these books connect, and what motivated you to continue exploring the thriller genre in this trilogy?

When I wrote ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ I had no idea that I would be creating a trilogy with two anthologies of thriller short stories.  The second book – ‘Where Shadows Follow’ was well received by my readers and that inspired me to write yet another anthology of thriller short stories titled ‘Shadows Never Lie’. One more book in the Shadow series is in the pipeline, ready to be born any moment. 

My biggest thrill lies in surprising or shocking my readers. Maybe that is why I enjoy writing thrillers.

  1. Your experience as a freelance journalist adds another dimension to your writing. How do you navigate the differences between journalism and creative writing, and do you have any standout articles or pieces that you're particularly proud of?

Right from the 1980s onwards, I was freelancing, sending out my poems, stories and articles to various publications. That was a creative writing phase when I won prizes in various contests. One piece I was particularly proud of was a letter that I wrote to my father as part of a Femina contest after he passed away. I called it ‘Where were you, Dad?” and it won the first prize. Another short story won me an iPad in a worldwide story contest. 

Journalism was a different experience in itself. When my husband took premature retirement from the Army and settled down to corporate life in Chennai, I began working for various local magazines. I was fortunate enough to do some amazing interviews with celebrities like Ruskin Bond, Jeffrey Archer, the Tamil superstar Vijay, the two daughters of Rajnikanth, sportspeople like Deepika Pallikal, businessmen, chefs and designers. Theatre had always interested me, and I reviewed various plays by renowned theatre groups, attended book launches and generally had the time of my life.

  1. Your latest book, "The Dance and the Trance," explores the life journey of a temple oracle in Kerala. What led you to this unique topic, and what challenges or discoveries did you encounter while researching and writing this book?

I come from a matrilineal family that traces its roots to the first four families in Kerala. Our ancestral home was palatial, and we had our very own temple oracle, a towering figure who struck fear in the hearts of all those who watched him dance as the spirit of the Goddess spoke through him. I was myself petrified of not only him but any kind of possession as well. My mother would tell me stories of our oracle’s past glory, and all these took root in my heart. Hence, when I began writing this story, which is a fictional account with a little hint of autobiography thrown in, I already had all the material and research that was needed to turn this into an intriguing story. 

  1. "Defying Destiny" is a work that holds a special place in your heart as you tell your mother's tale in her own words. Can you delve into the process of creating this book and the emotions associated with sharing such a personal story?

My mother has always had a firecracker personality. When she was widowed at the age of 39 with three young daughters to bring up, she threw herself into creating an English medium school in Thrissur, which was then a small town in Kerala. She had to literally defy destiny to create her own niche in the field of education. Today, her school is one of the well-known ICSE/ISC schools in the state. 

‘Defying Destiny’ was written by two writers… the personal angle was handled by me because who could know her better than her own daughter? The professional angle was brought out by a close friend and an erstwhile teacher in her school, Kalpana Ramesh. It was an emotional book to write and a mammoth project as we had to touch upon the tumultuous success story of an intrepid 85-year-old, one who had transformed the educational landscape of Thrissur town. The book runs into 500 pages and follows the whole gamut from happiness and initial success to sadness, turmoil, both personal and professional and finally, fulfilment.

  1. Your creation, "Classic Tales from Shakespeare," aims to make Shakespeare's plays accessible to young minds. Can you elaborate on the approach you took to demystify these complex works and make them engaging for a younger audience?

From a young age, I have enjoyed the plays of Shakespeare. However, I have come across many readers who have given up on his works because they find his language convoluted and often, indecipherable. I wanted to bring out a version that would demystify his plays for children and for adults who wanted to discover the Bard in all his magnificence.

When Dipankar Mukherjee of Readomania fame approached me for this project, I have no idea who was more excited about it. It was like delving into a treasure trove, this time to make the treasure accessible to as many readers as possible.

I had a wonderful set of young beta readers who read through my stories and gave me many meaningful nuggets of advice. All the illustrations within, including the covers, front and back, were done by my amazing students in school. Hence, not only was this project for children, but I was aided by many minds, both young and not-so-young, to bring this book out.

  1. As a writer, you emphasize the importance of finding the right word to convey your ideas meaningfully. Can you provide an example from your work where selecting the right word made a significant difference in the impact of a story or message?

The right word in the right place makes a piece of writing come alive. I have always loved juggling words around. I strive to find the most appropriate words, which are not necessarily the most flowery or elaborate ones. For example, in my psychological thriller, ‘Shadow in the Mirror’, I used phrases from the different seasons as the headings so that I could convey the mood of each chapter at the very start. Chapter 1 was titled Cruel Winter as it began with a death; Summer Heat, A Touch of Ice in Winter, Shadows of Spring… each heading had an emotion to convey.

One of my favourite quotes is by Mark Twain. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

  1. How do you balance your role as the Executive Director of a school with your writing career, and have you found that your experiences in education have enriched your storytelling in any specific ways?

I have spent my whole adult life teaching and writing, and I have always found that the two complement each other. I have learnt so much from my students, and even today, as the Executive Director of a school, I still find each day spent in the company of my children and teachers an absolute delight. 

My writing begins once I am back home after my household chores and social commitments are done. My husband has always supported my writing, and he makes it a point to ensure that I have the mind space to write, something that is invaluable. 

I have also been fortunate to have the support of my family… my parents, my siblings, my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and of course, my little grandchildren, all of whom inspire me by just being in my life.

  1. Are there any recurring themes or messages that you strive to convey through your writing, and if so, what are they?

As a thriller writer, the one recurring message that flows out of my pen is the extreme fluidity of life and the uncertainty of change in any form. These come through in the form of twists and turns, leaving the readers on the edge of their seats.

  1. Could you share any future writing projects or goals that you have in mind, or any upcoming works that your readers can look forward to?

At the moment, I am looking forward to bringing out my fourth book in the ‘Shadow series’, which is again by Readomania. There are also a few anthologies that will be coming out by the end of the year. I also take part in various writing challenges which also generate intriguing ideas for new books. 

I have two manuscripts that are also almost complete which I may think of publishing soon.

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring writers who are just beginning their writing journeys, especially those looking to explore different genres and styles as you have done?

The one tip that I hold above all others is that a writer must enjoy what he or she writes, and that enjoyment must seep through to the reader. Hence, write freely, but edit carefully. Every manuscript needs to be honed till it sparkles. Editing is the final dressing that makes the dish droolworthy!

  1. You mention that your friends and family are cautious about sharing things with you, fearing they might appear in your writing. How do you strike a balance between drawing inspiration from real-life experiences and respecting the privacy of your loved ones?

I do draw much from the world, and the people who populate it. However, I take care never to cross the line between good humour and invasion of privacy. 

  1. Given your diverse writing career, what challenges have you faced in transitioning between different genres and styles of writing, and how have you overcome them?

There have been times when I have wondered about this very conundrum. However, it may be that I enjoy the process of writing so much that each genre that I touch upon turns into yet another exciting journey. The rules are different, the writing style diverse, but finally it is my own creation. This logic helps me to stay grounded even while I am flitting from genre to genre.

  1. Can you share any specific writing rituals or habits that help you stay productive and maintain your passion for writing?

On the first of January this year, I made a resolution, as I do every year. This time it was to write something every day, be it a line, a page or a whole story. I have tried to stick to it despite my hectic schedules. The other ritual is using different coloured pens when I write… colours make my heart soar, and you will always find me with a pouch filled with pens of various hues.

  1. As someone who has worked in journalism, how do you approach research and fact-checking to ensure the accuracy of your non-fiction work, and what advice would you offer to writers in this regard?

Fact checking is vital when you are dealing with non-fiction. As a journalist, I always did my homework, especially during interviews, so that I could come up with intriguing questions which would keep the conversation sparkling. That, in turn, ensured that my readers enjoyed what I wrote. The important point is that research and fact-checking, apart from ensuring accuracy, go a long way to safeguard writers from making fools of themselves.

  1. Is there a particular moment or achievement in your writing career that you are especially proud of or that holds a special place in your heart?

I can think of many special moments in my writing career that have filled me with pride… every time a book of mine is published, I feel that I am on top of the world. Good reviews, praise from my family, encouraging words about my books, meeting other writers who share the same wavelength, and discovering readers who have actually read my books… all these are heartwarming moments.

Thank you so much for these interesting questions. I truly enjoyed answering them.