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Shilpi Somaya Gowda: Living in the World of Stories

By Petrina D’Souza, 26 May, 2016
  • Shilpi Somaya Gowda: Living in the World of Stories

Bestselling author Shilpi Somaya Gowda is drawn to stories of families and relationships because they form the fabric of all of our lives. 

 

Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s debut novel, Secret Daughter, published in 2010 became an international bestseller, selling well over a million copies worldwide in over 30 languages and countries. Her second book, The Golden Son, was an instant #1 bestseller in Canada, and is being published in the U.S. and around the world throughout 2016. “It still surprises me,” says Toronto-born Gowda, who never really considered writing as a career.

In 2006, moving to a new city for her husband’s career gave Gowda some space in her life to try something new. Being an avid reader who occasionally wrote as a hobby, she decided to try writing more seriously. “In that year, I took writing classes and began to write the novel that would become Secret Daughter, and after it was published, it grew into my new career.”

Compulsively readable and deeply touching, Secret Daughteris a story of the unforeseen ways in which our choices and families affect our lives, and the indelible power of love in all its many forms. In college, Gowda spent a summer as a volunteer in Childhaven International orphanage in Hyderabad, India, which seeded the idea for Secret Daughter. “It was a life-changing experience. I formed connections to those children that stayed with me for many years after I left,” she recalls. 

The Golden Son – her novel about ayoung man at the crossroads of life – involved a lot of fieldwork. Gowda did a great deal of research to understand the medical profession and the trials of a young intern – not only the medical parts, but how hospital politics work, and the impact of the experience on individuals.

“I read several books, both fictionalized accounts and memoirs, about the residency experience; interviewed many doctors, starting with my personal network and expanding outward to specific specialties I needed to understand; and spent time inside the cardiology department and catheterization lab at UC San Diego Hospital,” adds Gowda, who also traveled to her husband’s family’s village in South India. There she was fortunate to learn about the agricultural practices, natural and ayurvedic medical remedies, and even how to spin clay pots from a local potter.

Elements of family and relationships are strongly present in both novels. Gowda agrees, “I am repeatedly drawn to stories of families and relationships because they form the fabric of all of our lives. But added to this backdrop is the richness of the individual, how we all have our own temperaments and ambitions for our lives. It’s a very rich terrain with endless layers for storytelling.”

Secret Daughter has been honoured as New York Times bestseller, whereas The Golden Sonhit #1 on the Canadian Fiction bestseller list in both of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe & Mail and Toronto Star. Both novels have also been optioned for screen rights by two different production companies.

Talking about the response she has received, Gowda says she loves hearing from people in completely different countries and cultures who see some universal truth in the story or identify with characters who are seemingly so different. “This is the greatest role literature can play, I believe, to help us realize how much we share in common, over time and around the world. It’s the reason I have always loved to read fiction, and I can only hope my writing continues to do that for other people,” she says, revealing that the next novel is simmering in her mind.

Before parting, she gives some advice for young writers. “The best advice I’ve heard is “ABCD” – Apply Bottom to Chair Daily. Writing, especially a novel, is like running a marathon except you don’t know how many miles the race will be when you begin. It’s easy to get daunted by the scale of a project, or lost within the maze of it. The best remedy is simply to sit down every day and keep writing, keep rewriting, keep editing and revising.”

She also recommends reading, as much as you can, preferably writers who are better than you. “Reading something truly wonderful is the best inspiration to keep going with your own work, and make it the best you possibly can.”

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