Civilization grew up on the world-as-explained-by myth and legend, fables and allegory. Holy texts were the first literature. Some have become cultural touchstones and required reading. Their themes, and even their story lines, are the blueprints for modern fiction. Even more than that, these timeless tales are often the bedrock of our personal belief systems. But some of the world’s greatest ancient manuscripts have yet to gain wide recognition in the West. India’s epic Bhagavad Gita and its larger contextual tale, The Mahabharata, is one of these lost treasures. In the hands of the gifted and world-traveled writer, Sharon Maas, that’s about to be remedied.
We’d like to thank her for taking the time to be part of our “5 Minutes Alone” interview series.
AuthorScoop: What was your very first publication credit?
Sharon: OF MARRIAGEABLE AGE – this was my first novel, published by HarperCollins, London, in 1999. It was translated into four languages and now, over a decade later, will be translated into Polish!
AuthorScoop: Tell us about your latest release.
Sharon: SONS OF GODS – THE MAHABHARATA RETOLD, is exactly what it says in the subtitle: a retelling of the Indian epic the Mahabharata, using the pen name Aruna Sharan. I’ve been an Indophile as long as I can remember, and I first fell in love with this book back in the early 1970’s. There are many English versions on the market, especially in India, but I felt that none of them really hit the mark. Some were written as a mere summary of the original, vast work, the dry skeleton of the story; others were too “Indian” for a Western readership, yet others left out scenes that for me were vital, or lacked the sense of a unifying story. And so, fairly soon, I began to write my own version. At that time – over 30 years ago – I had not the least ambition to be a published writer; I simply wrote it for my own satisfaction. I would put it away for years at a time, but somehow, it always came back to me; I finished the first draft, and continued to improve on it. It was a labour of love, more a hobby than a serious undertaking.
It wasn’t until around 2006, now a successfully published author, that I thought seriously that SONS OF GODS might be good enough for publication. By this time I was using the skills I had gained as a novelist to really bring the original draft to life. I wanted to get beneath the skin of the characters, make them live, understand their motives—even the motives of the so-called villains—and simply produce a worthy vessel of words for a wonderful story. This involved restructuring some of the story elements, and even making up a scene or two. In particular, I wanted to bring to the fore the anti-hero Karna, my favourite character.
A typical synopsis of the Mahabharata will describe it as the story of a family feud in ancient India, culminating in a terrible war: the Pandavas (good) against the Kauravas (bad). Never is Karna mentioned; and yet Karna is the key to the entire story. Without Karna there would be no Mahabharata. He is the lynchpin of all the action. That’s why I’ve restructured the story so that it begins with his birth; in every other version Karna’s conception and birth is almost a non-event, mentioned almost in passing about a third of the way through. That’s a travesty! From the point of view of story, Sons of Gods is at its heart a song for an unsung hero.
The other aspect of the Mahabharata I hoped to develop is the deep wisdom and spiritual truths it contains. Though it is basically a story about a war, and gets extremely gory towards the end when even the heroes break every rule in the book, at its core is the Bhagavad Gita, which is the equivalent of the New Testament to Hindus. The Mahabharata is really unthinkable without it, and so one chapter is a mini Bhagavad Gita, whereas its wisdom, I hope, permeates the whole story.
AuthorScoop: Aside from your own hard work, who (or what) else do you feel has contributed to your success?
Sharon: I believe that timing is essential. You might work as hard as you like, but sometimes a book just is not ready to meet the world. That might be due to the work itself, which is still not at its best, or on the market, or on agents and publishers perception of the market. There are trends in publishing, and my first novel was acquired just when a new interest in India was making itself felt in the book world. The time was right, and the book was a moderate success. A few years earlier, and it might not have been published at all.
A key to success, of course, were the publishing midwives who first discovered and fell in love with my first novel. I had a great agent and a fantastic editor who seemed to know more about the story than I did myself! She was amazing, and I’m happy to say we are still in touch.
AuthorScoop: At what time of day or night do you do your best writing?
Sharon: I’m a morning person, always have been! And terribly disorganised. In order to actually get my work finished, I decided, fairly early on, that I had to command myself to do all my writing early in the morning. When I’m creating a first draft, this might be at 4 am; when I’m revising, it might be at 6 am. But never later than 6. This means that when the day really begins my writing responsibility is over and I can be as disorganised as I like. Early in the morning not only is the mind clear and awake and fruitful; there is also no danger of interruptions through the ringing of a phone or an unexpected visit. It’s absolutely the perfect time for me. Peripheral writerly tasks such as research or query writing can be done during rest of the day.
AuthorScoop: Finally, what advice would you give to new or unpublished writers?
Sharon: Ask yourself the question: do you want to be a writer, or do you just want to be known as a writer? If it is the former, then put aside the thought of getting published; forget about name and fame and success and the millions you will make and what-have-you and just write the very best book you are capable of. When you have produced that book then — who knows? All these other things may be given to you.
SONS OF GODS – THE MAHABHARATA RETOLD, by Aruna Sharan is available now, exclusively from Amazon for download to Kindle or Kindle’s PC or mobile app. For more on Sharon Maas and her incredible body of work, find her online at her website, SharonMaas.co.uk.