Super Mum Jane De Suza is an author, now writing Book 3 of her best-selling laugh-out-loud ‘SuperZero’ series for children (Penguin). She has a detective comedy ‘The Spy who lost her head’ (Harper Collins) for adults as well, and has written other books for younger children. She was Creative Director with leading advertising agencies across the country and writes for magazines across the world including National Geographic. Jane is a creative consultant in Bangalore and blogs at www.janekidding.blogspot.com. She has an MBA from XLRI, and more importantly, she has 2 boys and a dog who contributed much more to her learning!
What initially inspired you to write? Had you always loved writing from an early age or did it come after parenthood?
From the time I can remember, I’ve always loved blank white pages. I still collect books of white pages even though I now use a laptop. I’ve loved seeing an empty page in front of me spring to life: with my words, people, stories. I went into a career of creative writing in advertising because I couldn’t imagine doing anything more fun. So yes, I’ve always written. Always.
What I will credit motherhood for is the push. Not the much-acclaimed breathe-deep-now-push: but the quitting of my job, the vast amounts of time nursing and cleaning and watching that little thing sleep. And then putting that time to good use in thinking, creating, writing, editing… So the books came after the kids were born, yes.
Please tell us a little about your book/books. What inspired the stories?
When I began to write, I was delighted that my words could make people laugh. Or in the infinitely better words of Oscar Wilde “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you”. Humour is based on insights into our personalities. I’d first begun blogging on the heartaches and hysteria of being a mom, and the comments got me wondering whether I could carry this into print. So tentatively, I wrote my first novel ‘The Spy who lost her Head’ about a loony, feisty woman who comes out of the Indian heartland (where I grew up too) and falls head over heels into a murder mystery. Luckily, I had publishers reaching out to me after that. And so came the SuperZero books for kids; based loosely on a complete loser kid who turns out tops in the end (and is as every mom knows – a theme her child must always believe in). I’ve never had the time to look back – in wonder, or in anything else.
What is the process you have to go through to write a book?
For me, my book process has the iceberg-syndrome. Only a tenth of it is in the writing of the book. Most of it is hidden. I spend days and months walking holes into my shoes thinking up ideas, stories, characters… sometimes entire blocks of dialogue too. My neighbours are used to seeing me muttering to myself. I often have multiple beginnings to every book, and rewrite many of them again and again till I see that picture emerging clearly.
Then when I get into the real writing, I go at it like a maniac (I’ve actually worn out the alphabet on my laptops again and again). At this phase, even an innocent doorbell is a call to holy battle. And I tear downstairs to scare the visitor away. So, at this stage of the writing, I’m a very unfriendly person who lives only in her own head (reading out portions to her dog, who yawns back).
How do you balance work and home life?
I don’t. Or to be precise, I do a terrible job often of both, but don’t worry about it – which is my mantra. I’ve learnt that I don’t need to churn out that perfect lunch box for the kids – chunks of peanut butter on anything will do. I’ve learnt that I don’t need to mommify-them to suffocation – they will study on their own, and after a miserable exam or two, will begin to bring home brilliant marks that they feel responsible for.
On the other hand, I don’t have to be the perfect worker bee either. I don’t write the mandatory 1000 words a day like many writers do. Often, if nothing flows for a week, I let it go. I meet friends, walk, read books and when the inspiration hits, I sit and write late into the nights. What I’m trying to say I guess is that I’ve eliminated guilt from this mix. If my work and home pressures aren’t balanced every single day, I don’t beat myself up; the pillow, occasionally, but not myself.
Did your family and friends support your passion for writing?
Most people are incomprehensibly generous and kind, aren’t they? My friends always respond to my announcements and books with overflowing support. A couple, like author Itisha Peerbhoy, read endless excerpts going nowhere. My boys feed me potential ideas, sometimes brilliant but often tending towards hell-and-dinosaur themes. My mother cuts out and keeps every single article of mine that appears in print (including one where only the back of my head shows). My husband unquestioningly steps into the carer-role when I travel on literary events. He mixes up their bottles and lunch bags, and makes a rather bad mommy, but that wasn’t quite the job-description he signed up for, so who cares?
What were your biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
I had no godfather in the publishing industry. The couple of writers I knew made up elaborate excuses to not help, in retrospect possibly because they had no clue whether I could really write or not. Therefore, I felt unsure myself whether I could really write or not, and very alone.
I learnt 3 things from those early days of rollercoaster uncertainty. Firstly, self-doubt comes with the terrain. Good writers need to be on the edge and always a little unsure, to avoid pomposity. Secondly, there is no keeping a good book down. If you have what it takes, your little book will pop its head out of its cave and see the sun, no matter what. Thirdly, there’s enough space out there for different writers. I now try to help many who ask me, wanting to start out in this big bad world of books. I’m okay with sharing my contacts and a bit of gyan with most deserving writers – who, like me, could sorely do with that first push.
What is your best piece of writing advice?
Don’t let anyone else decide for you. You’ve got a voice and the experiences of a lifetime that no one else has. Don’t try to don someone else’s style, or someone else’s magic cape, even if that genre is wildly successful. Spend a long time with yourself – in the loo, or on a walk, and your idea will create itself in your head. Then get back home and write it out.
There are 3 books in the crazy phase right now. One called ‘Happily Never After’ is a very funny book that’s for women like us, about women like us – married and going bonkers and wondering where those teen dreams disappeared. It’s to be out in August. The second is the third sequel in the ‘SuperZero’ series for kids which will hit the stands October (Moms, hope you’ve got your kids the first two). My third work is a book being co-written for a psychoanalyst and is serious and non-fiction.
Anything to say to the Super Mums in this group?
I’m going to end with a plea. Don’t let being a mum prevent you from being anything else. You love being a mother, as do I. If – and that’s only for those who have the stirrings of this IF – If you have something unexplored deep within that you’ve always wanted to do or become, dump every excuse that stops you from being that person. Our kids will grow up as successful human beings, living their dreams. I think we should say the same for ourselves.