You Know You’re A Novelist When…

As we prepare ourselves for the launch of Preeti’s new book, ”The One You Cannot Have,” we asked her what it was like, to be a novelist. Here’s her witty response:

You know you are a novelist when…

1. You fight with your spouse over something that your imaginary characters said.

2. You look at everything that happens to you, from the perspective of whether it would make a good story.

3. You hate the ring of telephone because–damn, it interrupted this brilliant plot you were constructing inside your head.

4. You login into amazon.in and look at best-selling titles thrice a day.

5. You know all the names that appear regularly on the Nielsen list and you can reel them off even in your sleep.

6. You want to know how many books a person has written, how many copies it has sold and who has published it rather than being impressed that the person has written a book.

7. You ponder for hours to name your characters.

8. Editors and publishers are not only your friends, but they are the only ones on speed-dial on your phone.

9. You go into hibernation mode and do not socialize, pick up calls or even talk to people, because you are working on a book, and you think it is normal.

10. You walk into a book store and cannot resist clicking a picture of your books.

           – By Preeti Shenoy, author of ‘The Secret Wishlist’ and ‘The One You Cannot Have’

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Interview with Radhika Nathan, author of ‘The Mute Anklet’

Uma Brooke, an Englishman’s daughter brought up under the care of the Maharajah of Madurai is deeply attached to India; so she finds herself embroiled in a personal conflict when the good Maharajah is keen on her alliance with Captain Ashton Trevelyan of the British army. ‘The Mute Anklet’ is the story of this young couple in a time of political intrigue, set in an era of grand historical events in British India.

front_mute ankletWhat prompted you to write The Mute Anklet? Do describe the journey for us.

Reading and writing have always been great stress busters for me. I had a few plots that were bouncing around in my head.  Because of the period it’s set in, this novel seemed like the one I’d have most fun writing. In retrospect, I may have gone slightly overboard describing the buildings, food, clothing etc. It was quite entertaining to make up a heroine with strong opinions and a hero who didn’t care about any of them. I had my shares of disasters too – I lost an earlier draft to a hard disk crash. For a while I didn’t feel like picking it up again. I wrote the book in a haphazard fashion – whenever I wanted to, on any chapter I felt like. This made it difficult to take it to the finish line.

Your book explores a historically tumultuous period in India, when Tipu Sultan was waging a ferocious battle. What made you choose this instant in time?

This story happens during an intriguing moment in Indian history before the Raj, before the Kiplingesque world view, before the idea of India and independence the way we see it today. Across the world we have events playing out in the wake of the American revolutionary war.

You see the complexity and diversity of this country jump out at you when you study this period. The novel explores identity and relationships, albeit at a superficial level, and it seemed like a good idea to set it at this time.

The Mute Anklet masterfully studies the fast changing relationship between an opinionated Uma Brooke and an aloof Captain Trevelyan. Did you have a blueprint for your characters and their development from the outset? Or did the characters grow of their accord as you wrote?

I had a blueprint. I knew at the outset I was going to make my heroine borderline headstrong and the hero an indifferent rake. I also knew at the outset, they’d change as the story progressed. However, the final version is a lot more elaborate than what I had envisioned in the beginning.

The title is intriguing. Could you tell us more about it?

I struggled quite a bit for an appropriate title. Until the book went to print I agonized about it. I must admit the title is sort of an inside joke. There is of course the epic of the anklet, ‘Chilapathikaram’  that deals with fidelity and judgment where the object – The Anklet – plays an important part. So I figured the name would suit a novel that deals with similar themes.

 

And So It Happened.

This, dear reader, is the story of my book.

Not the story of what happens in my book, obviously. For that you’ll have to buy a copy and read it (and preferably write me a fan mail because that’d be awesome). No. This is the story of my writing a story and that story’s journey to becoming a book that’s actually published and all that. Yeah. Read up.

‘Thank you for the mail, but I will not be taking on anymore projects for some time now,’ I typed and reluctantly hit the send button. It was January 2012; I was pregnant and working long hours on the laptop was a constant reason for the husband and parents to shake their heads in disapproval. Mom shoved newspaper articles under my nose about how laptop radiation was bad for the unborn baby, and husband was a little short of making me swear against it. So grudgingly I agreed to stop working for awhile. But then, what could a very pregnant, internet addict do in a small town anyway, I asked. To this, the very supportive husband answered, ‘Well, the girl can write the story she always wanted to.’ Well played darling, I thought, and opened a word document. And then I wrote.

After the first few chapters, I re-read my story and saw two problems. 1.) It wasn’t going where I thought it would go; it was like the story had a mind of its own, and 2.) It was awfully raw; it needed a lot of editing. To 1, I just said ‘Oh well’, forgot about the rough plot I had in mind and wrote whatever the story told me to write. And for 2, I prayed hard to the Editing Gods, and began writing in a way that I hoped would be less chaotic for an editor.

Strangely, mom and dad weren’t complaining either. The long-hours-on-laptop were crushing my soul and hurting my health when it was for work. But now that I was writing a novel, it was okay, because apparently I was fostering creativity in my baby. For two months I wrote like a woman possessed and then, just like that, I was done. The process of writing the story had been unexpectedly simple.

Completing the story felt good. I mean, having brilliant plot ideas or starting a potential literary masterpiece is nothing if they are abandoned. But finishing something that you are happy with – that has to be some sort of an accomplishment, right? So I was euphoric, and secretly feeling superior to most people because hey, I’d written a book!

But it wasn’t a book yet, was it? It was just a story and not another soul had read it yet. Mainly because I didn’t let anyone – you see, it was my metaphorical baby and all that, and I loved the story to bits, but letting someone read it seemed a bit intimidating. What if they didn’t like it? What if they did? What if they gave me expectations? I didn’t want to expect anything because I’d heard horror stories about the publishing industry in India. You know, how they tell you, ‘No one’s going to entertain you if you don’t have the right connections.’ Or that ‘They only publish their relatives and friends, even if the work is terrible.’ And oh, the best one – ‘You want to be published? Do you have money to offer?’ Scary, I know.

Then, almost a week after I had finished writing, I suddenly decided to try my luck. What’s the worst that could happen, I asked myself and geared up. Westland was the obvious choice because – Immortals of Meluha, obviously. I was in love with the Shiva Trilogy, like everyone else. So I sent sample chapters and a rough synopsis to Westland and voila, within two weeks they told me that they loved it and wanted the entire manuscript. I sat for five hours straight and edited the entire story. Er, I mean manuscript.

Then I sent it off and promptly started to day-dream about my name on those jazzy bestsellers-of-the-decade lists.

Then I got a mail from Westland. My book was going to be published, after all.

It took a day to sink in. Everything had fallen into place. Within the next few days the author contract arrived, and the editing process started. It felt bizarre. I had barely overcome the giddy feeling when suddenly the back blurb needed to be written, proofs had to be done and the cover design had to be finalized. Quickly, the release date arrived.

I had not announced the news on social media though. For some reason, I felt uncharacteristically modest. It wasn’t until the book in all its brilliant-cover-page-design glory was showcased on the Westland website, that I finally shared my news.

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‘My book is up for pre-order. Overwhelming. Can’t wait to trace a finger over my name on the book cover. It will be orgasmic, yes?’ – I tweeted.

It was re-tweeted like a hundred times. I shared the link on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the response. This was new territory. This was, in the truest sense, awesome.

You will find that my book tells you how courage is a prerequisite for an Army wife, how strength is her biggest weapon. And in a very filmy fashion, courage is what saw me through those scary stories about publishing, and write my first mail. It was strength that fuelled me. And well, it happened. It sure is a happy save-the-day ending, but the struggle to reach there is what makes me who I am. Courage, like you’ll read in Soldier & Spice: An Army Wife’s Life, is what counts.