#2 PATHS 2.0: Dipika Mummery
Dipika Mummery writes avidly on her blog and no topic is off limits! She writes on all the things related to humanity: food, health, skin-care, travel, and of course books and writing! Dipika has published a short story with Comma Press and is actively working on her first novel! Studying creative writing at the post graduate level at the University of Manchester, Dipika's writing is being carefully crafted and executed.
1. What first inspired you to start writing?
My love for books in general, I think! I used to write a lot as a rather bookish child, and took a creative writing module during my undergraduate degree in English literature, but I fell out of the writing habit in my twenties as life took over. However, I kept reading anything and everything in my spare time.
I started writing again in earnest nearly three years ago, writing short stories as and when the mood took me, and have rediscovered my enjoyment of creating little worlds.
2. What made you want to pursue a masters degree in creative writing?
I've always wanted to go back to university to get a postgraduate qualification, but the timing was never right, and I kept vacillating over the subject I wanted to study. Since I started writing properly again, though, it has become clearer that I really want to realise my lifelong goal of writing a novel one day.
My day job is actually at The University of Manchester, and so I've known for a few years that it has a well-respected creative writing course. I made the decision to apply in January 2020 – before anyone really knew that all our lives were about to be upended by a pandemic! As the year progressed through one horror after another, it only became clearer to me that studying on the MA was exactly what I needed to help me realise my dream – and that I should seize the chance now, instead of forever waiting for the right moment.
I honestly don't think anyone actually needs a creative writing MA to be a successful writer; after all, most published authors don't have one. But the structure and sense of fellowship with other likeminded students and staff really appealed to me, and now that I'm a few weeks in I can say that I made the right choice for me.
3. Where or when do you write? Do you have a ritual? Is there music, silence, coffee, tea, etc.?
It's taken a bit of trial and error, but I've learned that I write best in the mornings, soon after waking. As I sadly don't have a book-lined study to call my own, my main writing spot is the sofa in the living room, facing my untidy bookshelves for literary inspiration. It's really important to me that I separate my writing space from where I'm currently working from home in the kitchen.
I write for an hour before I start work a few times a week, and then some more on weekend mornings. When I'm writing before work, I usually write in silence with my breakfast and a brew to hand. At weekends, I might occasionally put my headphones on to block out the world.
I always do my writing on my laptop – in Google Docs or Word for short stories, and in Scrivener for my novel. But I hoard pretty notebooks like a magpie collecting shiny things, and so I do also scribble down ideas using good old pen and paper.
4. What's your favorite book and why?
The novel I've read the most is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I first read an abridged version when I was at primary school, and then fell in love with the full version as a teenager. I've always been drawn to stories told in the first person, and Jane Eyre has all the elements of a great story – a tragic childhood, a generous dash of romance, and a strong-minded protagonist who prizes her independence over everything else.
But if I can cheat just a little on that answer, my favourite series of books is the Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, which starts with Assassin's Apprentice. It's a brilliant, heart-rending fantasy series that mainly follows one character from boyhood through to older age in a world filled with scheming princes, dragons and mysterious magic. However, there are a couple of trilogies within the series that focus on other parts of this world, and all of the different plot strands come together in the final trilogy. It's a masterpiece of storytelling and characterisation that I go back to again and again.
5. How does your cultural background influence your writing?
It's funny, but I never thought about writing characters or stories that reflected my own upbringing in a working class Indian immigrant family until I was much older. When I was a child, all of my stories featured white characters, probably because there has always been a dearth of children's books featuring a diverse cast of characters (although this has started to get a little better in the last few years).
I only started looking for stories that reflected my own experiences as an adult. There are still so few of them around, though, especially with female British Asian protagonists – which is probably why I thought I should start writing the stories I want to read!
6. How has COVID affected your writing?
I couldn't really concentrate much on writing during the first lockdown, to be honest. The overwhelmingly bad news just seemed to crush the writer in me for weeks.
However, the writing urge came back to me in the summer when I got the offer of a place on the MA and I thought that I'd better start writing again! This also led me to take an excellent short story course run by Comma Press that was really inspiring, and brought me together with other aspiring authors who I'm still in touch with.
Since then, I've got much better at writing regularly. I can't imagine going a whole week without doing some sort of creative work, now. It provides such a great escape from the twists and turns of the outside world. And yes, that means I'm not writing the pandemic into my work at the moment. Perhaps I'll feel better able to do this when the worst is over.
The main challenge now is writing fiction when I can't draw on my usual sources of inspiration outside of home. I do feel like I have to work a lot harder to write convincing dialogue and evoke a sense of place, because my world has shrunk so much in the last year. I'm sure many other writers are having the same problem!
7. What is your current work in progress that you're most excited about?
I'm currently working on a novel, set in Manchester very close to the present day (but pre-pandemic). It's not the first novel I've attempted – I wrote 50,000 words of a rather bad fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo in 2019. But I'm now genuinely excited about writing a protagonist who looks like me, and who is someone that I could imagine myself being friends with.
It's still very early days, but the general concept of the novel at the moment revolves around addiction, climate change/news anxiety and finding your true self in a world on the edge of breakdown.
8. What advice do you have to other aspiring writers out there?
One practical piece of advice that has been really useful to me is that you should always consider the first draft of anything you write to be for you only, as a way to work out what the story is and how it might be structured.
Editing is more for the reader – you're shaping the rough draft you put down first into something that makes sense to other people.
What this means in practice is that I've largely stopped criticising myself when getting the first draft of a story down, and just concentrate on getting to the end. Then I don't look at it for a few weeks (or even months!) and write something else in the meantime. When I do go back to that first draft, I'm in a better headspace for judging my own work by how a reader would see it, which helps editing to go much more smoothly.
Having said that, the first draft of the novel I'm working on hasn't really gone like this at all! I wrote the opening scenes maybe three or four times over the course of this year before I found my protagonist's voice, and I'm crawling through the rest of the story at a snail's pace. But that's because I'm learning new things throughout the course, and I'm trying to remain open to putting these into practice in my own work, which requires a lot of reflection and deep thought alongside the actual writing.
I have no doubt that the opening section will probably look different again by the end of the two years of the MA!
Want to read more from Dipika?
See you next Sunday for more on paths to writing!