The Red Helmet is Ms Deepika Shetty’s debut novel, one she tells us has taken her 23 years to write.
It took me 23 years to find the voice to write a book. It took me exactly nine months to write it and a year to get it published. On October 2014, 50 cartons of the book titled: The Red Helmet shipped in. Each carton contained 40 books and weighed 11 kilogrammes (kg).
When I held the book for the first time, I had not anticipated the choppy ground ahead. There was news for me—no one seemed to be interested in distributing it.
That is when it sunk in…that if I was truly the queen of literary writing, I would not have been confronted with stoic silence from the publishers’ end. I would have perhaps got 0.0003 per cent of Mr Vikram Seth’s advance if there was any potential in my work. The fact is that almost everyone thought there was no hope: that these words of mine were failed words.
Which is why I am here: to share the story that no one was interested in—at first. The publishers were not interested. Soon I had a book. Then the distributors were not interested. The media was definitely not interested.
When literary festivals started rolling out their publicity material, I was never their poster girl. We never got promoted...why should we...who cares about us...first-time single title author. If you are holding your coffee at this precise moment in time, I want you to smell it and really wake up. This is it.
Why then (may you ask) did I write this story?
If there is no glamour, little returns, and lukewarm interest; why tell a story?
I had to. It had been haunting me for 23 years. The time was right. I had to get the story out of my system. I wrote it on my own time and I applied for no funding. If this book were to fail, I wanted the failure to be entirely mine. I wanted to take credit for it.
I hear these complaints a lot: “I cannot write a book because I cannot get funding.” If you are thinking along these lines, I want you to perish all thoughts of ever attempting to be a writer. If the starting point of your journey is money, I want you to wisen up and invest in a sharp suit.
We write stories because there is Junoon (passion)...there is a certain madness. If we do not tell these stories, which are perhaps only ours to tell, no one else ever will. Perhaps they will die, just like that, with us.
As a first-time author, the broader literary universe will never be interested in you if you do not have absolute conviction in your own story. If you do not believe in it, no one else ever will. Stop blaming the system. You are the system. Systems exist because you allow them to.
If you have that Junoon to start with, write that story, whatever the odds. In fact, the higher the odds, the better your chances. Write it with the intensity, passion, and madness that only mad people are known to possess. Breathe it every second of every minute of every day. Let it seep into your pores. Let it consume you. Let it make you lie wasted.
If those rejection slips arrive at all (they rarely do), it means that your manuscript has gone straight into a slush pile. That slush pile I am told is a rather large one somewhere on the side of an established publisher’s desk.
Keep trying. Keep trying. Keep trying. It is the only way. Let me break this to you ever so gently. Being a first-time single title author is the ultimate lesson in humility.
You re-learn every one of life’s painful lessons. You can feel it...the rocky ground beneath your feet, from the time you wake up to the time you sleep. The ones whom you thought would say something about your book were never going to say anything—not a word nor a posted picture. In fact, they will pretend like both you and the book never existed. And they will keep asking you for their own plugs. The ones who told you so many times during the writing of your book that they are dying to buy your book were never going to buy it. As a writer, you should cut them out of your life. You do not need them.
But then something strange happens that completely takes you by surprise. You must be open to the very possibility of that surprise...You must never ever lose hope. It is all you have. Until the magic eventually happens, you must somehow find a way of balancing your flip-flops with that 11kg crate.
The life and times of a first-time single title author was summed up in three Cs—create it, crate it, and carry it. In October, I had 50 cartons touching the ceiling in a corner of my apartment. As I pen this, there are only three boxes left.
I have found Mr Christopher Yaw of MarketAsia, who has done the most amazing job of getting this small book of mine on book shelves.
Even before I found Mr Yaw, I had reached out to people I knew. When bookstores said no, I reached out to a movie hall owner, then I looked at stores that were doing something with design or something out of India. From a book no one wanted to touch, I turned this into a widely distributed book in Singapore.
You can find it at: iwannagohome!, Linen&More, Benares, Bombay Talkies, Stylemart, The Sandalwood Room, and Indochine with Gaurika. Concurrently, there is a direct mailing option in place. A PayPal transaction is all it takes for you to get a signed copy of The Red Helmet.
How did it happen?
It happened because despite the odds, I never stopped believing in my story. From the day the books arrived, I hit the ground running. I never once stopped feeling the ground beneath my feet. I have finally given my yoga pants a break; there are no further direct deliveries to be made. My distributor is doing it for me.
But even if I had a chance, there is no part of this story that I would re-script. It has been the best lesson. The Red Helmet has been life itself.
PHOTO: D SHETTY
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