Meet a Member: Suchandrika Chakrabarti

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

This month, I had the pleasure of meeting Suchandrika. She may be one of our newer members, but she’s already got stuck in with a brilliant writer in residence piece for this year’s Bloomsbury festival. Read on for a bright, witty insight into her writing life.

Suchandrika Chakrabarti

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

My name’s Suchandrika Chakrabarti (here’s how to pronounce it), I’m a freelance journalist / broadcaster / comedian / media trainer / any job will do-er, from London. I grew up on the north-eastern edge of the city in Hornchurch, but now live in Kilburn. 

Where did your love of words come from? 

It’s always been there. It was nurtured by my parents, and then by some great teachers along the way, which I know makes me very, very lucky. 

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I first met 26 member Lauren McMenemy in the (virtual) London Writer’s Salon during the first lockdown in spring 2020. When she was looking for an extra writer-in-residence for the Bloomsbury Festival last month, I jumped at the chance, becoming a 26 member myself in the process. 

Have you been involved in any 26 projects? 

I got to be the writer-in-residence for 26 at the penultimate day of the festival. It was a packed day, based in a part of London that holds a lot of memories for me. I had a deeper emotional response than I expected to my journey through the festival. I hope that’s reflected in the piece.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

Oh, I’d love a room with a balcony overlooking the sea in a quiet, sunny, warm place. Maybe some classical music, but nothing with lyrics. There’s also the option of a coffee shop with a peaceful, pretty patio garden and lots of plug points about 10 minutes’ walk away. All the baristas there are kind enough to make it seem like they’re secretly in love with me. 

The reality is usually me tapping away in bed, all too often at 2am. A walk or some exercise can be a good way of getting me into the right frame of mind, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing that helps focus as well as a looming deadline does.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just updated my stand-up material, which is generally pretty responsive to the news, so it needs reworking fairly often. I guess my journalism background makes it unsurprising that my comedy is in conversation with current events, but I do create more work for myself by not being able to stick with the same 5 and 10-minute sets for longer periods of time. This material’s about statues, and while it starts in reality, it becomes surreal and silly very quickly. The political points only sidle in at the edges of lines occasionally. Right now, I’m trying to learn the new stuff and then deliver it at gigs, to see what lands. 

I’m also editing the script for my debut one-hour solo show, ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse’, which I performed at the Brighton and Camden Fringes this summer. The show is about the late singer, the 2000s and if there’s any kind of memorial that can really satisfy grief – but it is a comedy show, I promise! I’m taking it on a bit of a tour next year, hopefully ending up at Edinburgh Fringe. I can’t announce any of the dates yet, but there will be plenty in London and a few in other cities. 

The dream is to write the novel, of course, but the last time I tried that, it became a solo show. I’m taking the hint from my brain and sticking with what’s working, for now.  

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of? 

Having my essay ‘This Artwork Changed My Life: Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’ published on in March 2020 felt like a turning point. Writing this piece showed me the way through to a style that has marked my writing ever since: layering stories upon each other, then weaving them through so the colours mix and create a new shade, a new understanding.

The first draft of this piece came out fully formed, almost ready to go, but you can see in the essay that I’m writing about events from 16 years ago. The story had been slowly growing somewhere in the corner of my mind all that time, taking its own shape. I learned to trust that invisible process, even when it’s agonisingly slow.

Where do you get your inspiration? 

By letting details I’ve observed from life and stories and anywhere else settle and mix and percolate in my subconscious, and by allowing that chain of tiny events to take the time it needs to get somewhere meaningful. 

While inspiration can feel like a lightning bolt, sudden and shocking, it doesn’t just come out of the blue. Nothing ever does. There’s a whole finely-tuned ecosystem that none of us can see which creates the final electrical discharge and times it to appear, inevitably, at 2am on a school night. Thanks for that, brain. 

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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