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Winning With Tenacity

Jan/28/2024 / by melanie-fourie

Preethi Nair is a writer, actor, and entrepreneur

South Asian woman with medium length hair wearing a black t-shirt that says "It's time to write a new story."
Photo courtesy: Preethi Nair

Preethi Nair transitioned from a career in management consulting to become a self-made literary force. Overcoming publisher rejections, she established her own publishing and PR company, and secured a three-book deal with HarperCollins under the alias Pru Menon.

This Asian Woman of Achievement award winner is also founder of Kiss the Frog, which takes storytelling to corporations. Nair delivers talks on resilience, creativity, and storytelling for personal leadership at various U.K. business schools too.

Nair has also graced the West End stage with her one-woman show, “Sari: The Whole Five Yards,” showcasing her versatility. And amid lockdown challenges, she ventured into children’s literature.

Her fourth novel “Unravelling,” is set to release in June 2024. Join us for insights into her creative journey in this exclusive interview with SEEMA.

Tell us a bit about your upbringing. How do you feel your South Asian cultural roots have influenced your writing and storytelling?

I was born in a tiny village in Kerala, south India, and came to England as a baby. We lived on the east end of London, which was quite a tough place to be in the 1970s. I remember going back to Kerala for the first time when I was four or five, and the contrast was stark. It was like going from a black-and-white film (England) to technicolor (India). My mother says that when we arrived in the village, it was dark, and I jumped out of the car and ran to my grandmother’s house. Despite having no idea where it was, I found it.

My grandmother was like a grandmother out of a fairytale. She could read people’s faces and tell them their fortune (looking back, I’m not sure she could), and she owned the local rice mill, so all the villagers would congregate there with their letters. My grandmother was one of the very few people who could read and write, and she would read their letters out for them, and they would share their problems. It was so different from London, predominantly because I felt I belonged in Kerala. For many years, I longed to go back to her village.

In London, I felt like a total outsider and had a double life, like most children of immigrant South Asian parents. My parents wanted me to be a lawyer, but I wanted to be a writer, and I knew this from a very young age. To make sense of all my emotions, I used to write. Although I write fiction, I write about what I know and draw on a lot of the influences of my cultural heritage.

Your journey from a management consultant to an acclaimed author and entrepreneur is inspiring. What motivated you to take the leap and pursue your dream of becoming a writer?

I have always believed that we just have one life and that it is short. In my twenties, I was in the nine-to-five routine and thinking, is this it? I decided to take a leap. I think the decision to leave a “stable” career was motivated by the fact that at the time, I was writing a book, “Gypsy Masala,” about following your dreams. Perhaps I was writing this book for myself, and I thought, “If not now, then when?”

Facing rejection from publishers for your first book led you to establish your own publishing company and PR agency. Can you share some pivotal moments from that challenging but rewarding period in your career?

My first novel “Gypsy Masala,” got rejected by most publishers. So, I set up my own publishing and PR company, promoted it under an alias alter-ego (Pru Menon), got it into the book charts, and sold it off to HarperCollins as part of a three-book deal. This was all while putting on a suit and pretending to go to work, so you can imagine the challenges of running two companies! This went on for around two years.

I think the biggest challenge was deceit. I had to lie and deceive so much, especially my parents, and this went against everything my father taught me—to always tell the truth. The conflict over following my dreams as opposed to those of my parents was huge.

The most rewarding time from that period was signing the book deal with HarperCollins. My alter ego Pru was shortlisted as Publicist of the Year.

And I won Young Achiever for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards. My second novel, “One Hundred Shades of White,” was translated internationally.

As Pru Menon you successfully navigated the world of marketing, PR, editorial, and sales to promote your work. How did managing these diverse roles contribute to your growth as an author and entrepreneur?

I was learning on the job and making most of it up as I went along, so being Pru gave me permission to be someone else, to fail, and not take things personally. These are the skills you need as an entrepreneur. It contributed to my growth as an author, as I had some great stories to tell!

Adopting the alias Pru Menon played a pivotal role in your journey as an author. Can you share the significance behind choosing this particular alter ego and how it influenced your approach to marketing, PR, and sales during the early stages of your career?

I chose the alter ego Pru, as that’s what my brother calls me, and I thought if someone was talking to me and calling me Pru, I could in some ways identify with that. Menon was my mother’s maiden name. Pru was the total opposite of me: feisty, fearless of rejection, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and would get the job done. I am shy, introverted, and incredibly sensitive, and my alter ego, Pru, was loud and proud—everything that I was not and perhaps wanted to be! I was able to hide behind this alter ego and perhaps do things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do. As Pru, I used to gate-crash publishing parties and speak to people to promote the novel. There isn’t anything she wouldn’t have done!

“Sari: The Whole Five Yards” marked your debut as a playwright, producer, and actor. What inspired you to step into the world of theater, and how did this experience shape your creative journey?

I wrote a one-woman show where the character was a 59-year-old Asian woman, and I wondered which West End theater is going to want to put this on? So, I booked the theater myself, having never acted before (not even at school), trained for over a year, and performed it. It was one of the most nerve-racking experiences, and in a way, for me, it came out of a mid-life crisis.

I was 47, safely in my comfort zone, and I thought, I need to do something that terrifies me. For some people, it’s bungee jumping or something physical. I’m not a physical person and putting on “Sari” was the challenge I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I felt alive doing it and conquered so many fears. I learned that it’s never too late to do something new.

I also learned about presence and energy, how to feel and respond to the energy in the room, and most importantly, to believe in myself again. When you stay too long in your comfort zone, self-doubt creeps in, and the more you want to stay there, there is so much to experience, but it is outside of that zone!

The lockdown prompted you to write your first children’s book. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this book and how the circumstances influenced your writing process?

Like many of us, I was homeschooling. My daughter Anjali was eight at the time, and I was trying to teach her math. I would end up shouting at her. It was not a great experience, and for the sake of our relationship, we needed to do things differently. I was also looking at the curriculum and thinking, where is the creativity? Where is the inspiration? So, I decided to stop homeschooling and asked Anjali, if she were to set up a business, what would it be? She wanted to make organic lip balm, so we set up a business together, and I taught her math this way: learning about percentages, profit, loss, turnover, volume, etc.

Then I wanted to show her how writing can turn a story into something quite magical, so I wrote her a story. Anjali’s story is “My Magical Lip Balm Adventure,” and I asked her to edit it and help put it into the voice of an eight-year-old (teaching her English in the process). It was never meant to be published. It was just our experience, but she showed it to her friends. Her friend Ruby wrote me one of the most touching emails, saying, “Thank you for writing a main character who doesn’t have to have a superpower, and when I read this book, I feel I can just be myself.” That was it. I want all children to feel that they can be who they are (perhaps because I felt somewhere that I wasn’t allowed to be), so I published it.

Your company Kiss the Frog focuses on bringing storytelling into organizations. How do you believe storytelling contributes to personal leadership, and what impact have you seen it make in a corporate setting?

Storytelling creates connection and community, and that’s what I help leaders do: be themselves, connect with themselves, connect with their teams, and create community within the organization. Storytelling is also used for many other things, like making presentations come alive and communicating culture change, but the most important part of storytelling is helping leaders look at themselves and see what stories they are telling themselves. The moment you change your story, you change your life, and that’s profound.

Being on the faculty at various business schools, you teach creativity and storytelling for personal leadership. What key lessons do you aim to impart to your students, and how do these skills translate into effective leadership?

Leadership starts with leading yourself first. Where do you want to go, and who do you want to become? What kind of leader do you want to be, and what is your legacy? I allow them to stop and reflect, to look at the stories they tell themselves, and to change if they want to. What are the new stories that are evolving, and how do they communicate them? The most important thing I leave them with is the practice of journaling. It is such an undervalued skill, but when done consistently, it is life changing.

Your accomplishments include winning the Asian Woman of Achievement Award and being shortlisted as Publicist of the Year for the PPC Awards. How have these recognitions impacted your career, and what advice do you have for aspiring authors looking to establish a notable presence in the literary and promotional spheres?

They have enabled opportunities and drawn more attention to my work. The advice I can give is that it is a job in itself to write, but that’s only half of it. Writers are naturally introverted, and putting yourself out there is so hard, but you have to do it as nobody is going to do it for you, so believe in yourself and your work and keep going.

With your latest novel “Unravelling” now complete, can you give us a glimpse into the themes and messages you explore in this work? 

Yes, it’s based on the character of the stage play “Sari: The Whole Five Yards” that I wrote. Bhanu, a 59-year-old woman, has spent years carefully curating the perfect life—great kids, a loving husband, and a beautiful home—all to hide the dark secrets of her past. But on the eve of her 40th wedding anniversary celebration, she bumps into her first love Deep, reigniting long-buried feelings. He asks her to come away with him. The story delves into the complex tapestry of a woman’s life and the power of self-truth in the face of it all. Ultimately, when we tell ourselves the truth, and I mean the real truth, everything changes.

Balancing your multi-faceted career requires tremendous resilience. How do you manage your time and energy across these diverse creative pursuits, and what advice do you have for aspiring authors looking to navigate a similar career?

Honestly, I meditate a lot. Someone once told me that people think that meditation is a waste of time. Who wants to sit there for an hour or two? I have found that it gives me great clarity and focus, and weirdly, it expands time. The other thing I do consistently is journaling. It helps me focus on the stories I am telling myself, the stories I want to change, and the person I’d like to become. It’s an evolving journey, and it is cliché, but ultimately, it’s all about the journey—the person you become.

My advice to authors: keep going, believe in yourself, and enjoy the journey.


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