Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

New Chip on the Block – Amrita Anand Nayak

New Chip on the Block features upcoming writers. Today we meet Amrita Anand Nayak, author of Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts.

About the author:  Amrita Anand Nayak is an IT professional working with BMC Software, Pune who has lived in many parts of India. She completed her education in Delhi and moved to Pune for her first job with Infosys in 2003 and has since adopted the city as her own.  At present, she is juggling between her job and family and struggling to keep her sanity and balance intact because according to  her, ‘the little bundles of joy in our lives mostly come with huge bundles of responsibility and promise of countless sleepless nights’. Besides story-telling, she enjoys anchoring, dramatics, sketching. She  is an avid reader and book-lover herself.

Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts is her first book.

Interview:

You are an IT professional by day, author by night. When did you decide to give writing serious thought?

As professionals, we are always bounded by deadlines, work pressures and competition. So, though I was bitten by the writing bug long time back, I was never able to pursue my hobby seriously, as there were practical limitations for devoting time to writing.  Thankfully, such a time did come for me when I could carve out some spare time! It was the period of my maternity leave. I started penning down my thoughts and framed the plot of my debut novel then.  In between the rounds of feeding, soothing, changing diapers and general babysitting – believe it or not, I did get some time, and writing for me was the best form of relaxation. Once I started, there was no looking back. I continued even after my maternity leave was over and in a span of five months, I was able to complete the book!

Managing time between work, commute and writing must have been rather difficult. What was your routine like?

Well, I am a morning person. For the book, I used to get up early in the morning and write for an hour or two. After Office hours, I would come back and spend time with my little one and rest of the family. Once everybody went off to sleep, I would write again, as long as my eyelids endured being open and my brain functioned. I would eagerly wait for the weekends, when I would go and sit in the neighbourhood coffee shop and write to my heart’s content with no one to disturb me and a steaming cup of coffee to keep me going! My family really helped me a lot by taking care of my baby in my absence and cheering me on throughout.

Your first book – Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts is now available. What is the book all about?

The book is a tale of three froomies (friends-cum-roomies), Leena, Tia and Jasmine, who share an apartment and along with the apartment, they share many wonderful moments of laughter, tears, adventures, heartaches etc. besides sheer gossip! There are many more characters – boyfriends, parents, friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances et al who spice up the story.  The story travels from Pune to Japan, from USA to a remote village in Haryana, from Mumbai to Kerela and the list goes on. From Fashion shows to Khaap Panchayat, from casual affair to true love, from Church choir to discotheques – the reader is taken on a whirlwind tour, a tour as much of emotions as of places. Among the protagonists, while Leena and Jasmine’s present is greatly affected by their past, Tia always weighs her actions keeping in mind the future she desires. It’s to be seen, whether they manage to break free of their inhibitions and listen to their hearts when it comes to finally shaping their lives. All along the way, they stand by each other dutifully and face the challenges of life with style and chutzpah. Leena, Tia and Jasmine are three modern-day girls hailing from three different cultural divisions of India whose lives are joined by one common thread – the fact that they are room-mates and best friends for life.

The story is set in Pune. How have you felt about this city ever since you moved here from Delhi?

I love living in Pune. When I first moved here from Delhi nine years back, I was ready to go back to Delhi with all my bags packed, within a couple of months. But I could not go back because my job had a year-long contract clause. So, I had to wait for a year. But by the time the year ended, I was in love with the city! I discovered Pune along the way. I fell in love with the culture, the atmosphere, the people, the language, everything! The city has such a beautiful cultural heritage and yet it has embraced modernity with panache. Pune has great eateries, cool hang-outs, premier educational institutes, booming IT sector, sprawling real-estate, beautiful hills in its surroundings and what not! The people are warm and gentle. The climate is excellent. And of course, Pune is very safe, especially for girls, and if I compare it with Delhi, well… there is absolutely no comparison! I discovered true freedom here.  It’s a great place to be and I feel at home here.

Getting that first book published is a real challenge – especially with publishers. Can you tell us your experience?

You are absolutely right. Getting one’s book published needs patience, perseverance and well, luck! When I sent my book proposal (a proposal typically comprises the synopsis, chapter outline and two-to-three sample chapters) to the leading Indian Publishers, I was pleasantly shocked to see that two out of three responded positively and asked me to send the complete manuscript ASAP. At that time I had just completed three chapters out of twenty. My maternity leave was over and I had to join back at work. So, completing the book ‘asap’ was going to be tough. But thanks to the interest shown by those publishers, I was highly charged-up and motivated to complete my novel as soon as I could. Besides, being an IT professional, I am used to working with deadlines.  Once I finished my manuscript and sent it across to the publishers, I did not hear back from them for months! I did not know what to do! But I did not lose hope. I contacted a few more publishers and fortunately for me, one of them was ‘General Press’ who believed in encouraging new talents. They took it forward and published it. Finally, the patience and hard work paid off!

In one instance in the book, TenderLeaves is mentioned by the protagonist. Do you mind elaborating this part of the story?

When a writer writes a book, a part of her/his personality gets translated in the book. In my book, many shades of my personality are visible here and there in different characters of the story. I love reading and I really look forward to receiving books from Tenderleaves library once I have placed my order or “grabbed them online” as you call it. This protagonist Tia is also an avid reader and one night, after the girly chit-chat, the three flatmates retire to their rooms and Tia proclaims she can’t wait to get started with the book she has borrowed from “Tenderleaves”. Through this sentence, the readers are subtly told that Tia is a member of this online library. And if few readers are not aware of what ‘Tenderleaves’ is, now they’ll surely go and check it out. When I was writing this book one year back, personally, it was my humble way of acknowledging the wonderful library of yours, of which I am a big fan.

What has the reaction been at your office and among friends now that you are a published author?

Frankly, I had never expected the kind of reaction I got. In the office, I was flooded with e-mails and messages and congratulatory notes once people got to know about my book. So many folks have bought it and in this list there are few people who have never read a book in their lives (other than text books and technical references)! They just bought it because they knew me and wanted to encourage. Now that they have bought it, they are reading it and actually liking it! I feel so happy to know that I have made readers out of non-readers. Also, my colleagues, especially women told me they felt inspired to pursue their hobbies after my example. This is because they can identify with me – I am just one of them. My friends won’t stop raving about the book and telling me they are proud of me. I feel really gratified and humbled by this response.

What do you enjoy reading yourself?

I love reading fiction, non-fiction, magazines, journals and even technical blogs. But my favourites are thrillers and detective fiction. Somehow, reading for me is mental stimulation as well as relaxation at the same time. I just love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher adventures. When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like Agatha Christie. She has a special place in my bookshelf, my memories and my heart. Lately, I loved the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. But apart from all this action, I also love to read books on social issues or stories that touch the heart, like The Kite Runner.  Among Indian authors, I like Anurag Mathur’s satire and sense of humour and Jhumpa Lahiri’s simply told yet very real and poignant stories. She is an inspiration in my life.

Going forward, are you looking to explore other genres? What do you have in mind?

Yes, definitely. Presently, I am toying with the idea of a sequel of this novel. But after that, I am going to diversify and write on social issues through fiction. I would also like to dabble in the crime and detective genre one day. My father was in the Intelligence Bureau and probably that is one of the reasons why I find myself getting drawn to investigative thrillers! There is yet another story brewing in my mind that is based in a future time zone but it’s not a science fiction, rather it’s about a paradigm shift in the social structure in future. I am all set for at least next two to three years, with ideas and plots in nascent stages in my head, that need to be developed as full-blown stories on paper.

Any advice for those writers who haven’t been able to sum up your courage in attempting that first book?

Three words to the aspiring writers –“Go for it!” Pen down your story, start scribbling your thoughts and I am sure, if you truly love writing, you’ll find time for it. Even if you do not find a publisher, there is always the option of self-publishing. So, go on – start your book and then do not stop till you finish it. Pursue that dream. Take the plunge. The joy on seeing your book published and purchased and actually read and liked by folks is unparalleled. So, just go for it. You owe it to your dreams.

Find more about Amrita and the book here: http://goo.gl/xb1UA or see a promo video here: http://goo.gl/Bdwb9

Meet a writer series – Sowmya Rajendran

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Sowmya Rajendran has a BA in English from Stella Maris College (Chennai) and an MA in Gender Studies from the University of Sussex (UK). She has published 12 picture books, a YA novel and has also written several short stories for Chandamama magazine. She blogs at http://mediumboss.wordpress.com/

What were your favourite books growing up?

I grew up on a staple diet of Tinkle, Champak, Gokulam and Chandamama like any other kid from my generation. The first book I read from end to end was The Adventurous Four by Enid Blyton. And for a very long time, I never read anyone other than her. I read children’s books by Indian authors much later.

The genre of children’s literature, what made you take it up?

Nothing made me take it up as such. I like imaginative writing that has a touch of humour. I enjoy creating quirky characters, absurd situations and make-believe worlds. All of these characteristics go well with children’s books.

You’ve published many picture books for children. Can you describe the process of writing one?

A good picture book is one that has a strong concept. And by concept, I don’t mean a moral or a message. There should be an idea in the book that propels it forward and captures the child’s imagination. For me, the writing process starts with this idea. Sometimes, I already know how the story will end. Most times, I let the idea lead me. A lot of people assume that writing picture books is easy because you don’t have to write much. But the art of writing with simplicity and minimal words is a hard one to master. After writing the story, I make it a point to read it aloud to listen to the rhythm of the words – that is how most of my readers will ‘read’ my book, too – and make edits as required.

You’ve said writing for children teaches you ‘not to be a bore’. What is your secret recipe to capturing a child’s imagination?

There is no magic wand you can wave to achieve good writing. What you need to do is work hard at your writing and be open to criticism. Reading a lot helps, too. I can’t stand children’s books that talk down to children and are bent upon drilling morals into their heads. I believe in respecting my audience and creating work that I can enjoy reading, too.

As a mother, has your perspective on writing changed from before? Do you write for ‘her’ now?

I think motherhood is a wonderful learning process on all accounts. As a children’s writer, this is especially so. My daughter is only a year old but we read many books together. I’ve been reading one of my books, Monday to Sunday, to her since the time she was about a month old or so. It’s fascinating to see how her reactions and responses have changed as she’s grown older. Earlier, it was simply the colours in the book and the rhythm of the words that interested her. Then, it was the physical feel of the book itself and the act of turning pages to see the same-but-different-every-time pictures. Now, she loves identifying objects in the book that she’s familiar with – a banana, a pair of shoes, a clock, a bag etc. She even sticks her tongue out like the boy in the book does! You wouldn’t think looking at a simple picture book that children can get so much out of it, but they do! And as a writer, this has been an absolute joy to discover.

In terms of ideas, how do you know a certain theme resonates with an age group?

To start with, I’m not too old myself 🙂 I remember my childhood very well – I had a fantastic time growing up. I was bratty, angsty, dramatic and difficult. This ensured that I had a very colourful childhood with several memorable episodes. Many of my books usually have an autobiographical element in them. Like in The Snow King’s Daughter, the boy, Keshav, rolls himself into a mat and imagines he is in distant lands. I used to do that all the time as a child. The girl in School is Cool plays several rounds of make-believe games inside her head and dawdles around before going to school. Much of Mayil Will Not Be Quiet, the young adult book I co-authored with Niveditha Subramaniam, is also based on real life experiences. When you are not afraid to be proud of the truth, what you write will resonate.

What are your sources of inspiration?

Children who will tell you in the blink of an eye that your story is boring.

Do you think children’s literature has come of age in India?

Yes. This is a very exciting time for children’s books in India. There are several new publishing houses that are bringing out children’s books that are of good quality, lit fests for children’s authors and illustrators, awards and better sales. But there is still room for improvement. Indian children’s books hardly get any display space in big bookstore chains that choose to dump them all into an untidy pile. You only see the Hannah Montanas and Wimpy Kids everywhere. Not that they shouldn’t be around but it is time Indian children’s writers get some space, too. Not because they are Indian but because they are good.

How important is marketing your book? What are the relevant avenues for a genre like yours?

I’m not going to be saintly and tell you that marketing doesn’t matter. I don’t think marketing somehow cheapens your ‘art’ either. If your work is good, telling more people about it makes sense to me. Sending the book out for reviews, organizing events around the book like a launch, story-telling/dramatized readings etc are some ways of doing it. You can also explore options on social media. Merchandizing is another option. For one of my new books, The Pleasant Rakshasa published by Tulika, Jeeva Raghunath, the well-known storyteller, is performing at a children’s store-cum-activity-center. T-shirts with an image of the main character will be sold during the event.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished working on a four book adventure series with Karadi Tales. It should hopefully be out next year. Then there’s the sequel for Mayil Will Not Be Quiet. I’m also working on a book for adults – a satire on moral policing and the absurd patriarchal constraints in our society.

Meet a writer series – Sonja Chandrachud

Dubbed the ‘Desi Rowling’ by the media, Sonja deftly brews up fantastical tales filled with magic, mayhem & mischief. The Potion of Eternity & Pearls of Wisdom are the first two novels in the much loved Hilarious Hauntings Adventures five book series. As part of the DOA Detective Files she has written ‘Trouble at the Taj’ and the new book ‘Revenge of the Pharaoh’ which will be released on December 22. Sonja currently resides in Pune.

Interview:

What got you writing? Can you please share your story?

With my dad in the Army, I had an extraordinary childhood growing up on the NE border with goats, hens and Sherpas for friends. Then came Africa with its black mambas and joyous people, next was the mystical Bedouins of Oman, the frenetic energy of the Big Apple, laid back prairies of Wichita and finally, home, the Peshwa city.

With people floating in and out of my life, reading was my only anchor and local stories became my friends, my window to the vastly different worlds I was lucky to experience. Writing was and still is, my way trying to connect with the world and a chance to share my passion to travel to spaces unknown.

You have lived in Africa & the Middle East as well.  What was it like?

Africa is truly the Dark Continent with its rich and diverse history, unexplored lands, lyrical languages and multiracial culture, all of which transformed and liberated my thinking at very early age. The Middle East is another exotic experience that opens your mind to a culture steeped in tradition and yet in sync with modernity. Living in a country takes you back in time, infusing your senses with infinitely unusual perspectives that emerge years later to shape the way you live.

Your books are for children and young adults. Any particular reason for choosing this genre?

Children’s literature is the most liberating and imaginative platform for a writer. Unlike adult fiction, it has no boundaries or preconceived prejudices or limitations set by society, you can truly write from your heart as your reader is all embracing and enthusiastic in their response, which makes it so very worthwhile.

Both Hilarious Haunting & DOA Detective Files have really wonderful and quirky characters. What are the other secret ingredients in creating a good story for children?

Secret ingredients for creating a great story for children are five – Strong, believable plotline, quirky and believable characters, a sense of humour, dollops of adventure and no moralizing.

Marketing books for children is very challenging. Can you please share the steps taken to promote your books.

Apart from updating my website and FB author page regularly, my book launches are very interactive where dramatization, dance and quizzes based on the current story make the evening a memorable one

What is your view on the reading habits of children today?

Children are reading though what they are made to read and what they would love to read are poles apart – it is time to throw out the old fashioned, moral filled stories and write what they can relate to so that the love of reading becomes a habit be it a paper back or e book.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading two stories right now – re-reading Life of Pi and Asterix and Cleopatra – I love Asterix and Obelix comics – so brilliant!!

When can we expect your next book? Any plans on writing a new series?

My new book DOA Revenge of the Pharaoh will be officially launched on 22nd Dec 2012.  No plans of a new series, I have to complete the Hilarious Hauntings third book first!!

For more details, please visit http://sonjachandrachud.com

Meet a writer series – Ashwin Sanghi, author of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant & The Krishna Key

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About :
Ashwin is an entrepreneur by profession but writing historical fiction in the thriller genre is his passion and hobby. Ashwin was educated at Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai, and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He holds a masters degree from Yale and is working towards a Ph.D. in Creative Writing. Ashwin lives in Mumbai with his wife, Anushika, and his son, Raghuvir.

Books:
Ashwin Sanghi’s first novel, The Rozabal Line was self-published in 2007 under his pseudonym, Shawn  Haigins. The theological thriller based upon the theory that Jesus died in Kashmir was subsequently published by Westland in 2008 in India under his own name and went on to become a national bestseller, remaining on national bestseller lists for several months.

Ashwin’s second novel, Chanakya’s Chant, a political thriller with roots in ancient Mauryan history, shot into almost every bestseller list in India within a few weeks of launch. The novel went on to win the Crossword-Vodafone Popular Choice Award and UTV acquired the movie rights to the book. The novel has remained on AC Nielsen’s India Top-10 for over 18 months.

Ashwin’s third offering, The Krishna Key, a fast-paced and riveting thriller that explores the ancient secrets of the Vedic age and the Mahabharata. It was released in August 2012 and shot to #1 on the A.C. Nielsen all-India fiction rankings within the first week of its release.

Interview:

1. You have successfully balanced the roles of a businessman and a writer. What was your greatest challenge during this transition?

There was no ‘transition’ because I did not really change roles… I simply decided to pursue a hobby rather passionately. Even when I wrote my first novel, The Rozabal Line, I did not know that my writing would eventually evolve into a parallel career. Although I have written three novels, I continue to work five days a week as a businessman. I only write in the mornings, on weekends and during an annual writing sabbatical. The challenge, if any, is to create walls between business, writing and family so that one does adequate justice to each element.

2. Your three books have been widely praised for their methodical research. Can you give us an insight into your research process?

Let’s take The Krishna Key as an example. The research was at several levels for this book. First, I wanted to examine historical material that could tell us that Krishna existed, not merely as a mythological character, but as a historical one. Second, I wanted to examine the events of the Mahabharata in order to interpret them in a contemporary frame of reference. Finally, I needed to study archaeological evidence in relation to Dwarka. I ended up reading over fifty books—including the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, and Kalki Purana—besides more than a hundred research papers and spent several weeks on travel. After having collected over five hundred pieces of historical material, it was very difficult to decide which ones would make it into the book. I eventually used only two hundred. That’s the nature of thriller writing, you can never compromise pace or plot even if you have very interesting material.

3. You have spoken of the importance of the plot in your novels. Can you describe your method to developing such interesting plots?

There are three things that make the novel—plot, plot and plot. I always start with the plot. Initially, the plot may not be too detailed but I will have an overall idea of the direction that the story is meant to take. Having developed a rough construct of the storyline, I then plough into my research. This may take several months or even a year. During this phase, I make meticulous notes and ensure that all the interesting material that will eventually be part of the story is filed correctly. Post-research, I revisit the plot in order to flesh it out with the knowledge acquired from my research. This entire process of plotting, researching and then plotting yet again can consume well over a year. Only once I have the entire book mapped out chapter by chapter in excruciating detail do I begin the actual writing. Characters are always incidental to my plot.

4. What is your view on the current scene in Indian fiction writing?

I believe that we are seeing the effect of one key demographic: the fact that over 35% of our population in India is below the age of twenty. We have a huge surge in first-time readers and their numbers are absolutely staggering. It is this young demographic that is fuelling the sales of campus romances, chick lit, and IIT/IIM inspired novels and novellas. On the other hand, there is an entire generation of Indian readers in its thirties and forties that had remained starved of commercial fiction written in an Indian voice. For most of my growing up years I had to depend on foreign authors for my dose of genre fiction. Most publishers were only interested in promoting either non-fiction or literary fiction. This has changed dramatically in the past decade and the result is a flourishing commercial fiction segment written by authors whose sensibilities and stories have some deeper emotional connection with Indian readers rather than the average foreign paperback. This is a wonderful development.

5. How do you deal with the constant feedback-both encouraging & discouraging that is the internet?

The only views that I always listen to are the views of my readers and fans. The problem, however, is that one can never create a work that will appeal to everyone. No matter how good your work, you will always find someone who didn’t appreciate it. That’s the very nature of a creative pursuit. I don’t discount readers’ opinions when they criticise, in fact, I listen to them very closely. But the ultimate decision on whether I wish to incorporate their advice into my next work is entirely mine and I would never give up that liberty. The day that the direction of your work is determined by assorted opinions you cease to be yourself.

6. Going forward, what themes are you looking to explore in your upcoming books?

All three books penned by me as of date have been in the historcal-mythological space. I do plan on writing a few books that stray from the historical element soon. My next two books will be pure fiction. One will be a business thriller and the other will be a crime thriller. I hope to complete both books by end-2013.

For more on Ashwin and his books visit his website http://www.ashwinsanghi.com

Meet a writer series – Rupali Rotti, author of The Valentine’s Day Clue

We’re kicking off the ‘Meet a writer’ series at TenderLeaves. We interview local writers who are just about taking off in their writing careers – and have them share their experiences – so YOU can see behind the scenes about what it takes to bring out a book. We start our series with an interview of Pune-based writer Rupali Rotti, whose book The Valentine’s Day Clue came out a short while ago.

Rupali Rotti

The Valentine’s Day Clue

Interview:

Q: After working for eight years across major companies, what got you into writing?
Rupali: Writing a book and getting it published was a childhood dream. I used to write poems, short stories, thoughts and articles as a school kid. But then after college, when I got busy with my career, the hobby took a backseat. But there was still a small flicker in the back of my mind somewhere. It was in the darkest hour that the books I read came as a ray of light. How the protagonists overcome every difficulty taught me to hold on just a little longer. I only hope that my writing could do for the readers, what those books did for me. If I could inspire a single person, I’ll be at peace with myself.

Q: Your first book, The Valentine’s Day Clue is now available. Can you please tell us your experience writing this book?
Rupali: It was very funny, actually! Sometimes I’d spring up on my bed in the dead of the night and start scribbling away. I called these as “write attacks”. And sometimes, I’d go days without writing a single word. I’d ask an out of the blue question to my colleagues,to my bosses even! And they’d be like: “What’s happened to her?” I’m a very straight forward person. And if you ask such a person to immediately start writing suspense, they’ll ask you, “Woh kis chidiya ka naam hai?” I knew what suspense could do – make you bite your nails; make you sit at the edge of your seat. But how to create it in my writing was the biggest puzzle.

Q: Detective fiction, especially featuring amateur detectives is a very challenging genre for a new writer. What prompted you to pick up this subject?
Rupali: I’ve always been a big fan of detective adventure stories. I’ve even tried a hand at practical sleuthing. I’d once followed a lead to find a thief who’d stolen my bicycle. I managed to find him even! But then I chickened out looking at the sheer size of him. I thought that since I personally have no exposure to formal ways of sleuthing or police work, it would be better to start my characters as amateurs. Then as ‘I’ gather knowledge, contacts, and experience, I could advance ‘their’ skills as well.

Q: What did your routine look like while writing the book, The Valentine Day’s Clue? Did you write daily and according to a schedule?
Rupali: I was running a business back when I was writing this book. So, there was no schedule as such. But all my ‘personal’ time would be spent in writing, or at least thinking about it.

Q: How did you market/promote your book?
Rupali: I’ve become a member of International Thriller Writers (ITW) Association, which provides a lot of help to the new authors, including promoting their books internationally. I’ve registered with goodreads.com as an author. I’ve created a Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nayak-Brothers/482964381731444. I also have created a website: http://nayakbrothers.webs.com/. I even went to college and public libraries in Pune.

Q: In one of your posts at http://nayakbrothers.webs.com , you mention that as a woman, writing for male protagonists was a challenging task. Can you please elaborate on this?
Rupali: Girls and guys think differently. For example: The Nayak brothers pataofy their friend Dev by telling him that his brother was beaten up because he’d proposed to a girl. A ‘sister’ would have been angry at whoever beat her brother up. But as brother, Dev feels proud about this. So there are very slight differences in the thought process of both sexes, which can easily be mistaken. I don’t use any bad words (in fact, if any of my friends uses a bad word, he apologizes for it, because I don’t like it). Moreover, I don’t like hurting anyone – physically or even emotionally. Though I know guys (and especially criminals) would not find it difficult to even ‘do’ those things if the situation so arises.

Q: What kind of research did you do before writing this book? Did you visit places in Pune mentioned in the book to better illustrate the story?
Rupali: Yes, I visited most of the places mentioned in the book, clicked relevant pictures, and then shared them in the book for the readers. In fact, I’d never been to Sinhagad before writing this book – I went specifically for my research and loved the place! I pataofied a doctor to help me with the medical details mentioned in the book. Like when the Nayak brothers are attacked with chilli powder, I asked the effects and remedies of such a situation, if it arises in real life. There’s another incident in the book when Sandy is held captive with his hands tied behind his back. I wanted to find a way for him to free himself. So, I found a kid trained in gymnastics and made her try that.

Q: On a related note, what are your favourite places in Pune? Where would one find you on a weekend?
Rupali: JM Road, JM temple, Pashan road is fantastic for long drives, Sinhagad is cool for trekking, Phoenix and Inorbit Malls in Viman nagar (me being a movie fanatic), and Peth areas for shopping. I like long drives – sometimes I go out alone, with my husband working all day long and having only one week-off. Sometimes I go to small villages around the Nagar Road, sometimes Hinjewadi, sometimes Chikhali, Pradhikaran, Kalyani nagar, wherever the road takes me.

Q: Does writing keep you financially independent? Do you think India’s literary ecosystem is ready to support writers completely?
Rupali: I haven’t started earning through my writing yet. But I’ve heard from many writers (across the world) that it is better to have a second source of ‘supportive’ income. I think India is yet to develop its literary ecosystem fully. It has seen a sudden crop of new writers, older being just a handful (especially in English lit). So we should be patient, observant, and progressive. At the same time, this whole industry itself is going through a big change with e-publishing picking pace all over the world. Who knows what’s in store for us now?

Q: There has been an explosion of new writing in India – but there is also criticism that ‘elitist’ writing is dying and writing for mass audiences has picked up. What are your thoughts?
Rupali:  I think in case of writing in India the reader base has just increased multi-fold after Chetan Bhagat. This also has encouraged the story tellers in India to become authors. It was thought that in order to write, you have to be perfect in English. But now, the story tellers are realizing that they can tell their story in whichever way they prefer. There’s a huge difference between ‘buddhu’, ‘chaman’ and ‘Chatursing’/’Birbal’. But does the word ‘stupid’ communicate the exact feelings like all those Hindi words did? Such a thing was long due – Indian authors writing in Indian context for Indian readers in Indian English.

Q: Who are your favourite authors? What is your favourite book?
Rupali: Franklin W. Dixon, John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, J K Rowling. I like the ‘Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators’ series, Nancy Drew series & the Hardy Boys series. I can’t put a finger on just one book as my favourite.

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Rupali: I am currently reading books by Lee Child and ‘Immortals of Meluha’ by Amish Tripathi.

Q: When can we expect to read the next adventure of the Nayak brothers?
Rupali: I’ve given myself a target of pushing one book out every year. Let’s see how it works out.

Q: What advice do you have for budding writers?
Rupali: Well, something that the Nayak brothers learn the hard way in this book series, and something that applies to all of us: It’s easier to break your will when you don’t have a purpose to go on. And a kick in the a** is also a step forward.Most importantly, enjoy your writing & do well. God bless!

An Interview with Peter James, Crime Writer

Peter James

Peter James

Peter James is an internationally best-selling crime fiction novelist, whose work has been translated into 28 languages. He was in India to promote his newest book, Dead Like You, featuring his popular police detective, Roy Grace. He’s also an active blogger, writing regularly about his research and about book at his blog. We caught up with him and had a chat about his work, his characters, and his influences – and the books that he’d count as must-reads in Crime Fiction!

Q. Maybe you could start by talking a bit about your Roy Grace series and how you started working on it?

Sure. When I was a child, I always loved detective fiction. I remember, when I was about eight, I read my first short Holmes story. I was  amazed at Sherlock Holmes and his powers of observation. And I thought that one day I want to create a detective who’s as smart as that. And then I read Graham Greene’s novel <i>Brighton Rock</i> – and I grew up in Brighton, and the book just blew me away. I was fourteen when I read it, and I thought, one day I want to write a book set in Brighton, a crime novel, maybe ten percent as good as Brighton Rock. I actually wrote a number of other kinds of thrillers, for many years, and during that time i got to know the police very well.

Dead Like You

Dead Like You

It started when I got burgled (laughs). A young detective came to my house, and said, “Is that your book?”, and I said, yes, and he offered to help me with my research. And my wife and I got friendly with him and his wife, and we started meeting their friends, and then realized that all their friends were police. It’s a completely inclusive world, it’s like us and them. I got fascinated by the idea that they look at the world differently. They’ve got a healthy culture of suspicion. If you and I took a walk down the street now, and we saw two guys looking in a shop window, you’d think nothing of them. The police would think, what in the world are they up to?

And, about fifteen years ago, I met a detective by the name of Dave Gaylor. I went to his office, and it was full of crates, stacked with crates, filled with folders. I asked him what they were, and he said, “These are my dead friends.” He explained that he’d been put in charge of cold cases. “Each of these boxes contains the files for an unsolved murder. I am the last chance the victim has for justice. I am the last chance the family has for closure.” He asked me what I was writing, and I told him about my book. We became very good friends. And from that point onwards, whatever I put down in my books, I would discuss it with him.  Good detectives actually have creative brains.

Then nine years ago, Macmillan approached my agent, and asked whether I could have a go at writing a crime novel. It was something I always wanted to do, but I thought there were too many people writing crime, and there wasn’t any opening in the market. Anyway, they asked if I’d like to create a new detective. So I went to Dave Gaylor, and I said to him, how do you feel about being a fictional detective? He is my real-life Roy Grace, he rose to become Detective Chief Superintendent, Head of Major Crime, and every one of my Grace novels, I discuss with him. He reads every hundred pages, and tells me how Roy Grace would think, as a detective. He’s an invaluable resource.

And that’s how I came to make Roy Grace.

Q. You’ve probably been asked that question 30 times earlier.

No problem.

But tell me this. Roy Grace does have a belief in the supernatural. And there are points in the story where he is stuck, and cannot go ahead, and at that point you introduce this supernatural element – a medium, or someone who picks up a bracelet or a map and solves the problem. Do you feel you are taking a shortcut, by introducing a supernatural solution to a problem that, otherwise he would have had to solve by himself?

Dead Simple

Dead Simple

Well, I’d only in one book used a supernatural solution, and that in a small way, which is the end of Dead Simple, in terms of finding an address. Now, I have a personal interest in the supernatural, I’ve lived in two haunted houses. But, what’s interesting is that although the police are seen to be very cynical, lots of good police officers, good detectives, if everything else fails, they’ll try listening to  mediums who say they know something. They won’t take it seriously – not all of them, but a percentage of them. I have met police officers who had the experience – that’s why I used it in the book – of a fourteen-year-old girl who was kidnapped. For six weeks the police could not find her. And then a medium told the police, “I know where she is.  I’ve been dowsing with a pendulum on a map.” And she told them, and they went there, and she was there. She was dead, she was down a storm drain. And I know a detective who was told the address of a murderer he was looking for, by a medium. And he got him at the address. So… but I’ve only used it once, in one book. I had it there, with Roy Grace was more interested in it in terms of finding his missing wife. But I will at some point have more about it in a future book.

You’ve written in multiple genres. I read in earlier interviews that you were at one time billed as the ‘British Stephen King’, and then you shifted to writing detective fiction. So you’ve done horror, you’ve done thrillers, and some of your books had elements of sci-fi in them. These are all what are popularly called ‘genre fiction’, and they’re kind of ghettoised, and only people who follow a particular genre read those books.  Do you feel that is an invisible line between the so-called ‘genre fiction’ and the so-called ‘literary fiction’?

Yes, I feel this is a terrible trend. Book stores always want to put books in a particular category – “Oh, that’s horror, that’s literary fiction, that’s science fiction, that’s crime.” But I think it’s rubbish, because good writing is good writing . A good story is a good story. This is something I really feel strongly about – I’ve just been made Chairman of the Crime Writer’s Association of the UK, and I’m going to use my office to hammer this. Because if you look at the history of literature, I think that almost every great writer, if he were writing today, he would be writing crime novels. Or maybe horror novels, or maybe science fiction. Take Shakespeare, for example. He wrote plays, because at that time people didn’t buy books – they watched plays. Over half of Shakespeare’s plays have a courtroom scene in them. If he’d written Hamlet as a novel, it would be a crime novel. King Lear, Macbeth… if you go back to the ancient Greeks, all their plays were about murder, intrigue, deception – they’d all be writing crime novels today. Or supernatural thrillers or science fiction. Even within a genre, a good writer is a good writer.

There’s this tremendous literary fiction snobbery like [with an accent] “Ehh, if a book, any book wants to make you turn the page, it can’t be worth reading.”

Q. Yes, and in fact, some of the best writers have written both kinds of books.

Yes, there’s an English writer called John Banville, who wrote ‘The Sea’, and he writes crime fiction under the name of Benjamin Black. And he was asked, why do you write crime fiction, and he answered something like, “I did it so I could earn some money.” How F..king insulting is that?

Good crime fiction – I think is the best kind of fiction to examine and to understand the way the world in which we live. The police – what they see in the course of a day or a week or a year or a career, reveals every facet of human nature, more than any other profession.

Q. Do you also feel crime fiction as a genre has evolved over the past couple of decades? I don’t know whether we’d really call Agatha Christie’s books as crime fiction, they’re cozy and comfortable. Police procedurals are really popular today, but earlier, Chandler and the like, the books were all about a lone ranger trying to sniff out crime, and today it’s the system itself that is represented in these novels.

Yeah, I think what happened is that the old books, like Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christies, the Chandlers, the idea of the private detective doesn’t work any more, because now, so much of policing is about forensics. You have to have the on-site detective. The idea of Miss Marple turning up today and solving the crime’s not going to happen. They wouldn’t be allowed near the crime scene anyway. They might be writing the psychological profile maybe. So I think the involvement of policing has changed.

And if you take the ending of any Agatha Christie novel, and today, we’d have someone saying, okay, I’m the defense lawyer, show me the forensic evidence. [laughs]

Q. Do you consider yourself as an ambassador for the police? You’re quite closely associated with them and are writing about them, really.

Yes, I have a great relationship with the Sussex police, and I donated them a car that they use. And the Met Police in London, sometimes on drug raids and such, invites me to be with them. What’s interesting about raids is seeing the people –  going into somebody’s house and seeing the way they live. I’ve been with the police in Russia, Germany, the States, Australia… quite a lot of countries. And I feel that the police are the glue that hold civilized society together. You get good and bad cops, but I think, on the whole, most police officers are good people.

Every police officer, sometime in his career, is going to have his life on the line. He turns up in the morning, knowing that he might have a guy pointing a gun at him, or a sword or a dagger, but the good ones actually make a difference. They’re not just about locking up criminals, some of them actually try to change criminals, try to help them, they’re more into social service than most people realize.

Q. I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences once you come to India and spend some time with the police here.

I’d be fascinated to go.

Q. Do you feel crime thrillers as a genre splitting up among countries? Scandinavian Crime Fiction is the rage now – Stieg Larsson started that. Is that stream different from say, American or British Crime Fiction now?

I feel there’s a certain difference. You take the classic English crime novel – you start with the body, and the book is the puzzle, you solve it. That’s the format. Scandinavian writing – Stieg Larsson is a kind of exception – but you take, say Jo Nesbo, Inger Frimansson, or [Henning] Mankell, you’ve got a different location, but similar principles. Frankly I’m getting pretty bored with Scandinavian crime fiction – my girlfriend is Swedish. She discovered Stieg Larsson in Swedish, four years before anyone translated him. But I find all of them the dreariest stuff, never really liked them.

I like the American ones, I’ve always liked them. When I was in my teens, after I’d read Brighton Rock, I read Ed McBain, John D. MacDonald – his Travis McGee character, I read Chandler, I read Joseph Wambaugh, and more recently Michael Connelly. They’re my influences, far more than the British. I find the British dull. Very rarely do I go ‘wow!’

Q. That’s a good segue into our next topic – to create a list of the best british crime books that made you go ‘wow!’

Only British? Not American?

Q. Let’s start with British.

Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock

Well, number one is Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. That is the best crime novel ever written. I think The Silence of the Lambs is second-best. But Brighton Rock is… Then there’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I love. And Holmes generally, as a character. I think Ian Rankin is a very good writer. I like pretty much all his books a lot. In terms of other British writers, I run out of steam pretty damn fast. The ones I mentioned are the ones I wish I’d written – I wish I’d written Brighton Rock, I wish I’d written Hound of the Baskervilles. I wish I’d written the whole of Ed McBain’s body of work. Elmore Leonard I love. In terms of the Brits… Val McDermid has written some very good books – the one about the torture chamber was a clever book.

Q. How about Americans – what are your top 6 American crime fiction books? You mentioned The Silence of the Lambs, for example.

Yes… My list would be:

First, The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris

Then there’s Get Shorty (Elmore Leonard).

Ed McBain’s The Con Man.

The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly.

Harlan Coben’s Tell No One.

And, if it counts as a crime novel, I’d like to add Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. That’s a literary novel, but yeah…

The Silence Of the Lambs

Q. My co-founder had this one burning question that he wanted to ask As a crime writer, as someone who studies crime, have you ever felt really impressed by a criminal? “Wow, that guy’s really smart!”

Oh yeah, a few times. One time I was at Broadmoor, which is Britain’s number one criminal insane asylum. To be invited as a guest, you have be certified criminally insane. It took me a year before I could get in, and when I was in there, I started talking to this guy. He was wearing a suit, a tie and he was doing christmas cards – this was just before christmas. And I did meet the officers there and I asked them who he was, what he did. I thought he might be a writer or something. They told me he’d wanted to become a woman, so he murdered his girlfriend, cut off her breasts and sewn them onto his own chest.(!)

That really shook me for a long time, that I’d actually had a conversation with him and never realized it.

Then once I was talking to a guy who was a career burglar specialized in high-end robberies. He’d also been convicted of Rape, and he was telling me about how burglars become rapists. When they’re burgling, they get more confident – one day they smell the perfume, feel the underwear, then when someone comes into the house, they run off. And they think, “well, next time, I’m going to get that one.” Because a lot of time, Rape is about Power more than sex. So this guy was telling me his story. He was about 42 years old, but looked about 60, because prison ages you. I asked him whether he had a dream. He said, he’d love to get married again, have a kid, a nice house, a car. But, he said, that wasn’t going to happen. I asked, why not? You’re only 42. He says, I have a 175 previous convictions, no one’s going to give me a job. “And anyway”, he said, “I’m okay here. I’ve got telly. The electricity’s paid for. The food’s nice, I’ve got my friends.” It’s like he’s institutionalized.

I had a very spooky moment, about 3 weeks ago, when I was talking at a women’s prison. This is a serious women’s prison – they have a serial killer who, along with her husband killed 27 people. Anyway, there was this one woman there, and she was asking very good questions. And I went and talked to her afterwards, and asked her what she was here for. I thought maybe she was here for some little fight or something. She goes, [talks with an accent]”Well, I swindled my mother-in-law, the old bag, and then I realized my husband was going to find out, so I poisoned him.”

Q. I’ve noticed you do this quite a bit – you take on the accent when you’re quoting people. Do you pay a lot of attention to this? Even in the books – in the first book, Dead Simple, you have a character who speaks with different American accents. Roy Grace tries to always place people by their accents.

I think it’s really important – accents and mannerisms really define people, and dialogue in books is really really important.

Do you consciously try to be British in your writing style (if there is such a thing)?

Not really – if anything, I just try to be me in my writing style. I think the world has become less and less boundary-wise anyway. So I use whatever words I think of – for instance, Brits woul’d say, “getting in the lift”, but I’d say “elevator”, which is American.

Q. I was looking through your blog today, and would like to ask about some folks you mention on it. First: Lee Child. What do you think of his writing?

I like his writing, and actually I like him too. He’s a really nice guy. And we have a lot of things in common – we were talking just before Christmas, in New York, about Posterity. I said, “Jeffrey Archer once said that it won’t be Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie that they read in a hundred years time, it’ll be me.” And Lee said, “Actually I wouldn’t want them to be reading me in a hundred years time, I want them to be reading new books then.” I thought that was a very interesting comment.

Q. Tell us about Al Pacino [Mr. James is also a film producer, and Pacino acted in his production of The Merchant of Venice].

I’m not a big fan of movie stars generally. But Al is a delight. I played poker with him in New York. And then I went to dinner with my girlfriend and we were with Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons and Ralph Fiennes in a resturant, and when we came away from the table, I’d forgotten that we were in the presence of a big star. He’s fun, he just puts you at ease. When we did The Merchant of Venice, he did it for a fraction of his normal fee, because he really wanted to do it, but he gave big tips to all the crew who were around him. I couldn’t say enough about him, he’s an absolute delight to work with.

Q. How about P.D. James and Ruth Rendell? They’re the more traditional crime writers.

I’ve met P.D. James several times, she’s very sweet, she’s a nice lady, over 80 now, very sharp, though. Ruth Rendell I have not met.

Q. You used to write horror novels, as we discussed. Who would you rate as the best British horror writers today?

Shrine

Shrine

There are not many actually writing today – horror has gone out of fashion nowadays. But – James Herbert is very good. He’s one of my best friends, too. Then there’s Michael Marshall Smith. Can’t really think of any more at this point – most them are now working for television. Of course, the top player in this genre is Stephen King. His books are good because he writes great characters.

You mentioned earlier that your detectives are based on real people. Do you do the same for your villains as well?

Yes, every character I write is based on someone I’ve met, with modifications. For instance, I’ve met you, I might put you in my book, but you’d be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon or a waiter.

Q. Thank you, Mr. James, for your time and your recommendations.