She has authored 13 novels in 12 years, and her name always figures at the top of Amazon’s bestsellers list. She is one of the few women rated among the highest selling authors in India, has been on Forbes’ most influential celebrities list for years, and her blog is rated among the top 50 from India. She has represented India at international literature festivals, and her books are translated into many Indian languages, also into Turkish.
But being a bestselling author and columnist is not enough for Preeti Shenoy. She is also a motivational speaker, an artist, photographer and a fitness enthusiast. And all her exciting experiences make it in some way or the other into the plots of her engaging books. “I think the best teacher is life itself,” muses the Bengaluru-based 48-year-old.
Indeed, it was observing transitions in society that informs the theme of her new young-adult fiction title When Love Came Calling, launched during the Covid lockdown this year.
“The issues the youth of today face are nothing that their parents have ever faced. Today, because of social media, the young have an immense pressure of looking good and putting up a fake front. They have a lot of ‘followers’ but no genuine friends. Anything they do is immediately publicised on Instagram or other social media,” says Preeti.
She adds that the yardsticks parents set for their children are based on experiences from their own youth decades ago, which simply don’t work in the current context.
“The parents themselves have never faced the problems the youth of today do. The lure of social media is such that we all crave instant gratification through ‘likes’. The art of real conversation is lost,” says Preeti, whose son is 22 and daughter 19.
While Preeti is not too convinced by the huge media blitzkrieg of late that paints a sordid picture of increasing youth suicides in India, she does believe mental health is an important but neglected subject.
“People think that we have to talk to a therapist only if you ‘have issues’. That’s not true. If you find a good therapist, simply talking to a neutral person rather than your friends and relatives – who are emotionally invested in you – could give you insights into yourself you never considered before,” she avers.
For better mental health, we need to go back to older ways of connecting and communicating with one another, she says. “Increase genuine connections, spend time on hobbies that give you joy, and keep a lot of things for yourself. Everything doesn’t have to go up on social media!” advises Preeti, whose book Life Is What You Make It took up the issue of mental illness way back in 2011 when it wasn’t even a trending hashtag.
Preeti, who began writing at the age of five or six, is also an illustrator. “The margins of my textbooks were always filled with drawings,” she speaks of her school life, which was spent in different parts of India as her father had a transferable job.
She inherited her love for reading from him: “My father had a massive collection of books. Any town we relocated to, one thing was certain: a library membership!”
Today, her home library has over 3,000 books, many kept in two antique book cases that are over a hundred years old.
Preeti’s grandfather in Kerala too had a large collection of books. Every summer when she visited her grandparents’ home in a small hamlet in central Kerala, she was the only one allowed access to his treasured collection as “he knew how carefully I would handle them.”
Discussing books with her father and grandfather also fed into Preeti’s passion for the written word. “I guess I was influenced by almost everything I read!” she smiles.
Her fascination for letter-writing began around this time as she would write regularly to her grandfather and wait eagerly for his replies. The habit continued after she completed her class 10 from Chennai and moved to Kochi to do her graduation at St Teresa’s College. Years later, letter-writing and her Kerala holidays found their way into her novel A Hundred Little Flames (2017).
A corporate career followed as did marriage. But after the birth of her son Atul, Preeti quit her job. “I couldn’t bear the thought of handing over my baby to a daycare or to a nanny,” she says.
After the birth of their daughter, Purvi, the family moved to Norwich, UK, for a few years. Her writing continued. “Life is a continuous stream of events and your interpretation of it. Any incident that happens to you can be processed through writing and also influences your writing,” she notes.
Her husband, Satish Shenoy, once shared in a blog post about how Preeti took up blogging after the death of her father to vent her strong emotions. Neither of them expected her blog to become so successful, so quickly.
It wasn’t so easy for Preeti to get her first full-length novel published, but when it did, it set a precedent. Life Is What You Make It was rejected by 40 publishers before it hit the stands and became a bestseller – and it continues to sit on the bestseller charts nine years on.
“You have to keep trying if you believe in your work,” says Preeti, who speaks six languages. A prolific writer, she has written over 300 newspaper columns, over 100 poems and more than 50 short stories – some were published as e-singles – besides 13 novels so far. She has also written tirelessly on her blog since 2008.
She deals with criticism with her characteristic pragmatism. “People are perfectly entitled to their opinions. Criticism will affect you only if you think that you have to please everyone. And you can’t!” she opines.
Preeti’s novels often take up complex relationships and her romances also have elements of social issues woven in. “When I was writing the character of the mean mother-in-law in The Rule Breakers (2018), I asked people to share their experiences. Some of them were shocking and I incorporated them into my writing,” she says, hastening to add, “Not all mothers-in-law are mean. I don’t endorse stereotyping.”
Similarly, when she wrote The Secret Wishlist (2012), she spoke to several women as part of her research. “Later, I received mails from not only women but also many husbands and sons who said they had never even thought of what their wives or mothers truly wanted. They just presumed that the women in their lives were content. They said the book was an eye-opener,” she emphasises.
Having a book launch during a pandemic hasn’t changed things too much for Preeti, who offers a prayer of gratitude every morning before getting out of bed and is mostly woken by her dog who wants to be taken for a walk. The last thing she does at night is to draw a page in her illustrated journal, write in her diary, and read till she falls asleep.
She has reviewed over a hundred books on her Instagram account. “For me, the genre and author does not matter,” says Preeti, whose favourite authors include Michael Morpurgo, Roald Dahl, Audrey Niffenegger, Sonia Choquette, Ruskin Bond, Neil Gaiman and Kristin Hannah.
Preeti is motivated by the many emails and messages that she gets every day from her fans. “People tell me how my writing saved their life or gave them hope in their darkest times. I am grateful that so many people find meaning in my writing,” she says. Now, that’s a happy ending for any writer.
First published as the cover story of eShe’s November 2020 issue
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