Please welcome Vanita Shukla Hork to my blog. Hello Vanita – shall we sit and have a chat?
Please introduce yourself to those reading this blog post.
Thanks for having me as your guest, Mary, I am delighted to have the opportunity to connect with your readers!
I started writing poetry at the age of 13. Writing and sharing my poetry is my passion. I have a full-time job in the corporate world, so my poetry related work is done after work hours in the evening and during weekends.
I’ve written about my writing journey in my blog. My mission is to make the voice of my younger self heard.
I come from India but I grew up abroad including in the U.S., as my father was an Indian career diplomat. I have lived in Denmark since 1986 and am married to a Dane. Our son moved to college in 2022, so we are now empty nesters.
Has writing always been part of your life and when did you “know” that it was time to start writing your first book?
I started writing poetry in 1981 at the age of 13. I had returned home to live with my parents, after a harrowing year at a very well-reputed girls’ boarding school in India. I did not realise it at the time, but I had been the victim of severe bullying at a very vulnerable age for a girl. It took me almost four decades to get over it, to regain my self-confidence and heal, and to step more fully into my own power. (Oh how I understand this all too well.)
The trauma unleashed the poet in me. Needing an outlet to express my emotions, I started writing.
It came naturally. The topics I wrote about were very personal, private, and at times, dark – unrequited love, desire, pain, betrayal, and my budding sexuality. The catalyst for many of these poems seems to have been a deep pain of some sort, which needed an outlet, release, and ultimately, redemption. Many of my poems also have a spiritual undertone.
I wrote actively and copiously until the late 1980s, when I got married. I was now in my early twenties, and the everyday existence of being married, getting a university degree, and starting a career took over. After our son was born, motherhood became my primary focus, alongside a full-time career. The hand-written poems were forgotten, stored away in cardboard boxes, testimonies of another time, another identity.
A few years ago, I suddenly started writing again, after a hiatus of more than three decades. Even though pain was once again the catalyst, I was immensely relieved and grateful that I had not lost my inner voice, and that the poet in me was not dead.
During the corona lockdowns in 2020, I found myself with more time on my hands while working from home. Inspired by my most recent spell of writing, I decided the time had come to type my hand-written poems, before the papers disintegrated or got lost. My idea initially was to save the poems for our son and his future family, so they would know who their mother and grandmother had been.
At the back of my mind, I also had a hope of publishing my poems one day. My late father, who strongly supported my poetry writing, had tried to get them published in the ‘80s, but it was not meant to be. But now, with the advent of the internet and modern technology, this goal was within my reach.
I purchased a personal laptop and started typing the almost 40-year-old poems during our annual family holiday in France in June 2020. As I typed the poems, I marvelled at the wisdom and depth of the young girl I had been, and how some of the emotions had not really changed in the years between us. I was also confronted by her darkness and felt overwhelmed by the pain and intensity in my poems. They were mature beyond my years when I wrote them.
This young girl deserved to be heard.
I decided to start publishing my poems and launched my poetry blog in November 2021. The response was very positive, not least on Twitter. I joined Twitter in December 2021, and I was warmly welcomed by the writing community and poetry lovers alike.
By the summer of 2022 I realised I needed a new challenge – the time had come to publish my first book of poems.
How difficult was it writing your first book?
Very difficult, indeed! As I describe in my blog Making a dream come true, I was practically leaping out of my comfort zone, and it was extremely uncomfortable.
I quickly understood, that even though writing poems is a creative endeavour, publishing a book of poems is an entirely different matter! It requires structure, analysis, and discipline.
I had to learn a lot about the technicalities of self-publishing, and there were critical decisions to make along the way: Which poems to select; which order to present them in; what to call my book series, so the name would be apt for all the titles in the series; and finally, selecting the perfect picture for the cover.
Memories from Another Lifetime: Pain is the first book in the series. Since pain has always been the catalyst for my poetry, I felt it apt that the first compilation of my poems should be on this theme.
Have you ever wanted to give up and what stopped you?
As I mentioned, writing that first book was a daunting task. To keep me going, my mantra for several months was: Feel the fear and do it anyway!
The decisions I had to make were difficult. I also felt doubt along the way and asked myself if my poems were good enough to publish a book. It was one thing to appreciate my own poems as the poet, it was another to look at them with the impartial eyes of an editor and publisher. I was highly critical of them, and several poems did not make the final cut.
The process was challenging and protracted, and I was doing all of this on top of the demands of my corporate job and family obligations at home. I did feel like giving up or at least delaying it, but I decided to keep going.
I felt I owed it to my younger self and to all the wonderful people I had met on Twitter, who genuinely appreciate my poetry and who encouraged me to keep at it. Several of them have become good friends, and they continue to support and encourage me in my mission.
Just a few days short of my 55th birthday, my younger self was given her voice and introduced to the world. After a journey of 4 decades, a dream became a reality, and my book was published on 26 November 2022.
Who is the most supportive of you and your dream to be a writer?
That is a really difficult one to answer! There are three people who have played a key role for my dream as writer.
My mother Kusum Shukla, an accomplished artist and poet herself, whose love and talent for writing poetry has rubbed off on me. She has always been a role model for me in courage, strength, and grace.
My father, late Ambassador Ramesh Chandra Shukla, who believed in my poems and wanted to publish them all those years ago, when I was a young girl. I wish he could have seen my blog and my book. He would have been very happy and proud, indeed.
Finally, my sister, Vatsala Shukla, a career coach and published author herself, who gave me invaluable support and encouragement in setting up my blog and publishing my book. She has guided me as my coach through many years and has played a key role in helping me find my voice and stepping into my power again.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I think I would like my readers to keep in mind my age when I wrote those poems, I was a teenager at the time. All my poems are dated.
I think it is difficult for some people to believe or understand that a very young person with limited life experience can write poems of such pain and intensity. But as I also write in the introduction to my book, I believe these poems are memories and messages from a previous life; that the initial trauma blasted open a portal to other lifetimes.
Hence the title of the series – Memories from another Lifetime.
What is the best advice given to you (book or otherwise), and by whom?
As a youngster I was always extremely nervous before my school exams. My mother would tell me, ‘Do your best, and leave the rest to God’. And it’s true – one should focus on things within one’s control and not worry about the outcome. We can waste a lot of time worrying, instead of just getting on with it.
I have passed on the same advice to our son. While he was in school I would tell him, ‘I don’t expect you to be the best, I expect you to do your best. The rest will follow’. Seeing the fine young man he is today, I know I was right!
What is your target audience and what aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?
I don’t have a specific target audience, although the nature and themes of most of my poems are more suited for grown-ups.
Having said that, I did a video in April 2022 on one of my latest poems, Positive Abundance, for Author’s Week at a middle school in Long Island, New York. My poem was very well received, and touched the hearts of the youngsters, who opened up and reached out to me with their own thoughts and feelings! They had felt inspired by my poem and my story and wanted to start writing themselves, and some of them in fact wrote already. I could sense their sensitive hearts and, in some cases, feelings of being lonely. This is something I could relate to from my own teen years. I have written about this wonderful experience in my blog, Reaching out to the next generation.
One of the things I realised when I started posting my poems in my blog and on Twitter, was that my poems resonate with people in different ways. It’s fascinating to see how people relate to my poems and interpret them based on their own life experiences. The themes of my poems are universal to the human experience – love, desire, heartbreak, betrayal, hurt and denial.
Did the cover evolve the same way, or did you work with someone to make it come together for you?
Choosing the cover for my book was one of the key decisions I had to make. My poetry can be very intense. I needed a unique picture for the cover for the book series. A picture that would complement the poems well. A picture as vivid, passionate, and intense as my poems.
While looking for the perfect picture, one of the paintings in our study at home caught my eye. It was a beautiful and haunting painting by my mother, the artist Kusum Shukla. I took the painting off the wall to see if there was any inscription behind it. And indeed, there was. The painting was from 1995, and my mother had named it ‘In Search of Soul’.
This was my cover!
Before I could use it, however, I needed to ask my mother’s permission. As an accomplished artist, she is very particular about her paintings and the context in which they are used. She does not take such requests lightly. I am very grateful that she was generous enough to make an exception for me, and I am proud to have her painting as the signature look of my poetry.
What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt?
I am currently compiling my second book of poems written as a young girl, due to come out early this year. The central theme this time will be love. I’m afraid I can’t share any of the poems yet, but I invite all your readers to visit my blog, https://vanitashuklahork.com/ and sample a broad selection of my poems.
Any last words before we wrap things up?
Once again, thank you so much for the opportunity to do this interview, Mary! My mission is to make the voice of my younger self heard, and I am very grateful for your kind and generous support.
Vanita Shukla Hork started writing poems in 1981 at the young age of 13, following a deep personal trauma. She needed an outlet for her raw and powerful emotions, to find relief, release and ultimately, redemption.
The topics she wrote about were very personal, private, and at times, dark – unrequited love, desire, pain, betrayal, and her budding sexuality. Many of her poems also had a spiritual undertone. The maturity and depth of her poems as a young girl belied her age.
After a hiatus of almost 4 decades she started writing again, and launched her poetry blog in November 2021. Memories from another Lifetime: Pain is the first collection in a series of poems written as a young girl and was published in November 2022. Vanita’s mission is to make the voice of her younger self heard and she invites the reader to join her on this journey.
Vanita Shukla Hork lives in Denmark with her husband. They have one son.
Author page, Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Vanita-Shukla-Hork/e/B0BNZ5HXNC
Author page, Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/23219227.Vanita_Shukla_Hork