- What did you learn when writing the book and what surprised you the most?
I learnt that writing a book 99% perspiration! And what surprised me the most was how much I loved immersing myself in a fictional world. It was as if I was there, living and breathing the same air the characters breathed. It was like being on a high. I knew I loved doing this more than anything else.
- When did you first realize you wanted to be a novelist?
I knew it a long time ago, when I was in my twenties. But the truth is that I never thought I would actually do it. It was a dream.
- How long did it take you to write this book and what is your schedule like?
I took about two and a half years to write it. The first draft took about six months and then I just left it, not very confident of what I had written. It some years before I took it up again, and finished it in two years. My schedule is not fixed. I write when I can. I sit on my laptop as soon as I get up, even before I have had a cup of tea. I kind of feel I write all the time and do other stuff in-between. I feel like that because even when I am not writing I am thinking of what to write.
4.What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Hmm, that’s a difficult question to answer. I do not know too many writers. No one in my family is one. None of my good friends are writers. So I don’t know what is a writing quirk and what isn’t!
5.Where do you get your information or ideas for this book?
From my head. Sure, I do make references in my story to real life events sometimes, in an oblique way, but the main story is entirely from my own imagination I put the characters in a difficult situation and see how they behave.
6.What do you think makes a good story?
7.Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
There are all kinds of writers so I cannot say who can or cannot be a writer. But when you write fiction, it’s important to be able to move the reader emotionally. Very often, writers who don’t feel emotions strongly, will have to fake it. It will show in their writing.
8.Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
When I wrote The Hawa Mahal murders, it was supposed to be a stand-alone book. But there was this fascinating thread in the story which had become a sub-plot, or almost one. If I took it to the end, resolved it, the book would have become very long and complicated. And I knew that I couldn’t do justice to it if I tried to wrap it quickly. I toyed with the idea of deleting this thread completely. I struggled with it, but decided that it was too interesting to delete. And now after talking to readers I know I made the right decision. I am writing a sequel now. After that, I don’t have a plan. I never did have a plan.
9.What does your bookshelf look like?
It’s a mix. There are Indian authors like Kiran Nagarkar and Vikram Chandra. There’s a lot of non-fiction. I just finished reading “Lifespan” and am currently reading a book called “Story” by Robert Mckee. I also read Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” recently and plan to read her latest one.
10.How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
If I am making demands on the reader, it’s not intentional. I take care of the reader by attempting to ensure that the story moves forward. I don’t want readers to get stuck in endless prose which gets nowhere. I hope I have succeeded in this.
11.What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
There is no one on who I have based any character, not even me. Even the main character, Smita, is very unlike me. I can say she is just the opposite of me. Yes, I do take mannerisms, speech patterns, physical attributes of people whom I see around me, but often I use them as a reference. For example I had this image of a defence officer as someone who is tall and well-built and therefore I made a character in my book (a naval officer) as thin and not proportionate. It’s fun to tweak things around. Sometimes while traveling in public transport or sitting in a restaurant you see someone and then you imagine what they are really like inside, just based on their appearance. Most of us have played this game. I play this game all the time.
12.What does literary success look like to you?
Appreciation from readers. I don’t associate money with literary success.
13.What kind of research do you do, and how long did you research before beginning this book?
I research as I go along. When I was writing about police procedure, I talked to some people I knew in the police force. Then when I was re-writing it, I talked to them again. Luckily, a lot of information is available on the net today. I don’t do all the research and then start to write because I am writing fiction. My imagination fills in the dots and then later I can come back and correct if necessary.
14.What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I don’t find it difficult. Men and women are humans first. I never thought of it like that.
15.How do you select the names of your characters?
I choose a name and then change it along the way. I keep changing names until it fits. There is no logical process. I keep experimenting with names. There’s just one thing I am careful of. I avoid names which are similar to each other so as not to confuse the reader. And I also don’t use long names for the important characters so that readers can keep track more easily.
16.Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Everyone has their own opinion so it’s not my place to comment on someone else’s opinion. Sometimes when a reviewer has not read the book properly, I find that frustrating. But then, I too have read some books in a hurry so I cannot say I blame anybody.
17.Do you hide any secrets in this book that only a few people will find?
I do have secrets hidden in the book but no one will ever be able to find them because they are my secrets, mine alone.
18.What was your hardest scene to write?
The action scene. I re-wrote that scene many times. Hopefully it has come out alright. In my next book I plan to have more action scenes so I guess that book is going to be harder to write!