I’m always amazed at the backgrounds of the writers I interview here. It goes to show you that no matter where you come from in life or what your goals, you can make a career as a writer. It might not be the same as another writer’s career, but that’s okay. Anita Saran is a writer I met at Suite101, and I quickly saw how varied her background was. It proves that creativity in one area of our lives can help in another. Anita just finished her first novel. Enjoy this interview!
You’ve won the prestigious David Ogilvy Award for direct mail writing. How did you get into the field of advertising? What drew you to the area?
When I was in Loreto College in Darjeeling, my father always said I could be a good copywriter, but at the time, I was only interested in modeling, although I did write poetry which was published in the college newsletter. I had been writing since high school and have kept a journal since then. My first short story (written when I was 15) was inspired by Harold Robbins’ A Stone for Danny Fisher.
Father helped me get my first job as a copywriter. It was smooth sailing, and I wrote some award winning tourism copy.
It took me about ten years to get to Ogilvy & Mather. I was told by my boss in my second ad agency that I had a considerable talent for direct response writing. It was like a tiger’s first taste of blood. One of the things that turns me on about Direct Response is the fact that it’s response oriented – a challenge to the writer. I was on a high when the responses poured in for my first Direct Response ad. It was for the launch of a club on the green outskirts of the city.
So I headed to O&M which to me was the ultimate goal for any copywriter, bathed as it was in the magical aura of David Ogilvy, and insisted on being hired. It did not help that I was a pretty successful model with a wild reputation and dressed flamboyantly even at work. They wondered whether I would fit into the O&M ‘culture’ and told me to woo them with a brilliant mailing.
I sent them a set of three mailers; the first two were teasers and carried samples of my published fiction as well as the Country Club ad. I tried to apply all that I knew about direct mail writing, which wasn’t much at the time. It took me several rounds of interviews to get the job. But I did get it and worked in the agency for 11 years.
The David Ogilvy Award came my way for the direct mail campaign I wrote for the Sheraton Towers launch. It was crazy. There was a big framed certificate signed by the great man himself, a cash award, a brass plaque saying ‘Anita Saran DO Award Winner’ as well as a champagne bash.
I think my fiction writing improves my copywriting and vice versa. As Creative Director, I hired a poet and it turned out to be a smart decision.
In addition to writing, you’re also a painter and former fashion model. What an incredibly diverse life! How did you feel these other creative outlets help nurture each other. Does painting make you a better writer and vice versa?
Yes, I had great fun as a fashion model and there were lots of reviews in the papers and magazines. I was cover girl and a house model for Vidal Sassoon in Hong Kong. Being a model exposed me to a lifestyle that’s the stuff of story. I’ve used a lot of content from my journals in my fiction. For instance, the Greek enchantress ‘Circe’ has several lovers who are actually caricaturized versions of people I have known. Amazing how you can use reality in fantasy.
As for my painting – I almost went to art school. I had won second place in a national on-the-spot painting competition in high school. I’ve had a solo show of my paintings, but nothing after that. In fact, I haven’t painted for ages. You can’t focus on painting and writing at the same time. Two very different energies. I’m more a writer, but painting has certainly helped my writing. As a painter you observe visual details more keenly, so writing good descriptions becomes easier. I painted ‘Dolphin Girl’ for the cover of my book of short stories, Dolphin girl and other stories, published some years ago by a New Delhi publisher.
My paintings were used as symbolic props in the only play I have written – ‘Stranger than Fiction’ (based on my life in college). It’s a wonderful and surreal experience to watch your work unfold on stage.
Tell us about Circe, your first novel. What do you hope readers take away from it?
If you see an interview on my website – anitasaran.com, you’ll find that I wrote this novel when I was pregnant. I wanted to prove to myself that pregnancy wasn’t going to turn me into a “bovine,” unimaginative creature as my Creative Director warned. The novel was critiqued at the excellent Internet Writing Workshop.
Circe was my way of exploring the idea of love, lust, spirituality and Mr. Right and how they fit together – if at all. And I adore the Greek myths. Circe was my alter ego at the time. One must be able to identify in some way with one’s protagonist.
A first novel can be a daunting venture for a short story writer. Thanks to my excellent tutor Dr. Hilary Johnson of The London School of Journalism, who urged me to write a novel. I have a diploma from LSJ in the Advanced Short Story.
I took her advice and began with a science fiction novella for the Nehru Children’s Book Trust national competition and won second place. After that, graduating to the novel wasn’t that difficult, since Circe is episodic in format (many of the chapters can stand alone).
Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a fantasy novella called The Choosing. I’m revising it with the invaluable help of the IWW. The theme is the same as in Circe, but it’s not funny. It’s a sombre story. I think writers have at most a couple of pet themes that they explore in all their work. The Choosing is about the struggle between purity and lust, between spiritual powerlessness (for purity is about powerlessness) and worldly power.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
The Magus by John Fowles.
Tolkein, Tom Robbins, Victor Hugo (love his little known The Man Who Laughed), Mark Helprin – to some extent. His book Winter’s Tale begins brilliantly but becomes increasingly incredible as it progresses. Even fantasy must follow rules.
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
One who can communicate lucidly what she intends to say.
Advice for other writers?
Don’t stop writing. Every sentence, even if it never gets into print, is a lesson. Write about what interests you most, not what the market is looking for. Keep a journal and join a writer’s workshop because writers write to communicate. Seek professional feedback. It’s the reason I did the LSJ correspondence course.
Where can we learn more about you?
http://www.koramangala.com/korabuz/pers1999/06.htm and my website.