She wasn’t expecting to win, but when Aastha entered the Mills & Boon romance novel contest, that’s exactly what happened.
“I believe a good author is one who can keep you glued from the first page to the last,” emphasises Aastha Atray. She should know—she’s the winner of Passions-ii, the annual writing contest by romance-novel giant, Harlequin Mills & Boon. Last month, Aastha’s debut novel, His Monsoon Bride hit newsstands, making it the first M&B ever to have Indian models on the cover. “Being picked as the winner from 700 entries was great,” says this 32year-old journalist. “I entered the contest at a time when I’d started doubting my own capabilities, so this novel is me writing without any inhibitions. I had fun writing it, and the experience opened my eyes to a whole new genre. It was like taking a crash-course in writing because I finished the entire story over eight Saturdays.” Writing, for Aastha, was hardly an accident. “I always knew I wanted to work with words—i was writing prose and short stories from when I was 12. As a child, I would only receive books as gifts. That’s probably why English was the only subject I was good at.” His Monsoon Bride is already gathering fans and selling out at bookstores, and this likely has a lot to do with the writer’s insistence that good authors don’t cater only to a niche audience, but strike a chord with many. Her own novel is a love story set in Mumbai, starring Amrita, a now-bankrupt rich heiress who isn’t so tough to relate to. “She’s a regular girl,” says Aastha. “She’s not a Size 0 and is conscious of that. She’s pretty but not in a moviestar way, she works for a living, and chooses her own path—much like many of us!” “This journey has been really enriching and it’s my experiences that have made me a good writer,” she continues. “What has helped me most through life is all the negative criticism I received. When people doubt your capabilities, it gives you the fuel to go further and prove your real worth.”