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Arts & Culture Series: Enterprise Spotlight

Deepa Anappara, The Novel Studio

“I guess it is more of a compulsion than anything else – I feel incomplete without my writing.”

by Emily Pedder

In summer 2013 Virago published Once Upon a Time There Was a Traveller, an anthology that includes 12 short stories by winners of the coveted Asham Award. Some of them are new writers, others are well-known authors such as Angela Carter and Helen Dunmore.

The award was started to promote new writing and is open to unpublished female writers in the UK of any nationality. One of the winners this year is The Novel Studio’s alumna Deepa Anappara, author of The Elephant in the Suitcase.

Deepa’s story, set in the forests of Kerala, India, is about a forest guard who is no longer sure of his place in the world and is tormented by a – real or imagined – elephant. “It’s in some ways an elegy to the forests which I grew up next to, which are being destroyed in the name of development. It’s probably the only story that arrived fully-formed in my head,” Deepa says.

Deepa attended the Certificate in Novel Writing course in 2010 [now The Novel Studio] at City, University of London. The course offers 15 selected students the opportunity to work on their novels for a year. Six modules, taught by professional writers, guide the student through plotting, planning and researching a novel, character development, pacing, narrative voice, revisions and editing.

The course gave Deepa “permission to write” and she felt encouraged by tutors and fellow writers: “Reading the works of fellow students closely helped me approach my own writing in a more objective fashion. It was useful to listen to the ways in which others had resolved a particular writing dilemma, be it about finding the time or the discipline to write, pushing past the self-critical voices in your head, or a plot problem. The sessions with tutors were helpful and inspiring – their feedback was exhaustive, constructive, and never hurtful. I always came away encouraged to try harder.”

She is delighted to be published in the anthology: “Helen Dunmore is one of my favourite writers and she was one of the judges. Most of the time, you write without knowing if anyone else is ever going to see your work, so it was lovely to read the panel’s comments about my story.”

As an award-winning journalist, Deepa left India four years ago for the UK and today works as a freelance editor and writer. Writing is her way of engaging with the world because, as she puts it, she “can’t give speeches or stitch up wounds”.

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