Prajwal Parajuly, whose work appeared in the most recent Mays, now has a book deal with Quercus. He is studying for a masters in creative writing at Oxford University, and talked with Chenting Zou about writing, his success, and the unlikely inspiration to be found in Facebook statuses.
You’re studying a Masters in Creative Writing. Do you think Creative Writing is something that can be taught?
Oxford encourages – in fact it emphasises on – cross genre exploration. I went into the course with a very closed mind. I was a fiction writer and thought that was all I was going to concentrate on. The Oxford course has forced me to explore poetry, about which I knew nothing when I started. You are also expected to dabble with bit of playwriting or screenwriting, which is wonderful. For the final year project, we’re supposed to choose among screenwriting, writing a book of poems or writing a novel. I thought to myself, “Why don’t I do something I’ve never done before?” So I’m now adapting one of the short stories from my book into a movie.
How has this poetry and film writing in Oxford influenced your voice?
A big chunk of my first year project was on poetry. I’m one of those people who had always considered poetry to be the most insincere form of literature. That is, until I came to Oxford. Dabbling with poetry has taught me economy. It has helped me become a lot more succinct in my writing. Because our course is full of people from so many cultures, you get to learn how people from other countries write. I have observed, for example, people from the East are more descriptive in their writing than those from the West. Not that this is either a good or bad thing – it’s just something I’ve noticed.
Extending from these different cultures, the subject matter you write is very much about your background. Do you feel there is now an expectation from British publishers for you to write about your home? Similarly, is there also an expectation from people in India for you to be their mouthpiece?
For now, I feel quite comfortable writing about my world. You’ve caught me at a good time because I’ve just handed in my second book to my agent. This second book is a novel, which was just finished two or three days ago. As for the future, I don’t know if I’ll continue to write about my world and Nepalese Indians because I see myself experimenting more now. Oxford has taught me is that you can experiment with everything. There is no set of rules. I do want to explore other avenues now. For example, I want to write a children’s book. Also, I have just started writing a screenplay which is perhaps the worst screenplay every written in history. It’s so bad.
What’s bad about it?
I had never done it before. I am in kindergarten as far as screenplays go. So I’m having a lot of fun with it. Being graded for it at Oxford is going to be interesting. I am not actually writing with the desire to sell it 20th Century fox but because I thought it would be a nice experiment. Ask me three months later what I think of the writing and I might have an altogether different opinion of it.
So you signed your publishing deal three days prior to Oxford. How did knowing that you’ve already accomplished in this publishing deal affect your studies?
Three days before starting at Oxford I signed with my agent. This was September 2010. Then, three days before I came back for my Second Year at Oxford, I signed with Quercus. In the beginning, lots of people asked me questions along the lines of, “You already have an agent, why are you on the course?” I had just finished the collection of short stories and I was not going to start getting involved in writing the novel seriously until I found a home for my collection, so there was nothing to do. Oxford happened right on time.
You do not do a Masters in Creative Writing to learn how to write. You should have already known how to write before starting the course. It’s important for you to have a group of people who are constantly writing, constantly creating and are as serious about writing as you are. The course facilitates that. It’s a platform to actually meet with people in the industry, which again, you could say I didn’t really need because at that time I had an agent. But so what if you already have an agent? It’s always good to interact with professors, who are all writers, and people in the publishing industry. After my story was printed in The Mays, I was approached by another agent, which could have happened to anyone else published . Then again, I would not have had the story published in The Mays had I not been to Oxford. So there are ways these little things add up.
How important do you think feedback is for creative writing?
It’s important but it’s also important to learn not to take it too seriously at times. It depends on the person providing the feedback. With time on this program, and most other programs I would think, you become aware of your strengths and weaknesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the person giving you the feedback. And learn to pick and choose.
I’d like to hear about your process for drafting, selecting, and crafting your work for The Mays.
I hope this doesn’t come across as cocky, because the poem was actually a Facebook status update. I was based in New York before I moved to Oxford and I was in Staten Island for lunch one day. This inspired me to write the status. One of my Oxford colleagues commented, “And you claim not to write poetry”. So I didn’t think too much about it as I’ve never considered myself to be a great poet. When The Mays was advertised on the course website, looking for stories and poems, I simply decided to turn the Facebook status update into a poem.
Were you shocked when it got accepted?
Absolutely. I wasn’t expecting it to be picked up at all.
What tips would you give to students to get to where you are now?
If you’re interested in writing, if you think of a story to tell, then write. There’s no substitute at all. You come across so many people who claim they want to write these days but unless you sit down and write – and write seriously- the writing will never get done. When I get invited to colleges and schools to talk about writing, that’s the advice I give students. Blog if you have to. Submit to newspapers. Enter competitions. Submit your story to The Mays. Edit, edit, edit. Have a circle of friends who are also interested in writing. It’s very important that you write and, if you’re serious about it, sit down and learn how to write better.