In search of thrills and chills with Shweta Taneja

The best part about being friends with other writers is that you can press pause while reading their books and quickly fire off a Whatsapp message to them, asking what they meant by this or that. The other advantage is that you can harass them for longer answers which you can then proceed to put up on your own blog.

I met Shweta recently at lunch (with some other writer friends) and I had just started reading her book How to steal a ghost @Manipal on the Juggernaut app. So, I couldn’t ask her much immediately but once I was done with the book, I knew I had several questions to ask her.

Without further ado –

 

AW: Were you always interested in writing about ​the ​paranormal? How did you get interested in it​?

ST: Oh yes, my interested in the paranormal, in supernatural, in ghosts, monsters, aliens, and the idea of ‘others’ has been with me way before I chose the medium of writing. What continues to fascinate me is the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ conundrum. With monsters or the paranormal creatures, we always think of them as the ‘others’. I continue to look at this clash of what human versus others in most of my work in fantasy. And it’s been a fascination for as long as I can remember. When I was little, all I wanted to do was sit in a story circle with my cousins on a dark, stormy night when there was no electricity and scare the heebie-jeebies out of them with horror tales of a monster than had floppy, replaceable gooey eyes and claw-like hands. I love the freedom fantasy gives me to create and explore, to make new rules, new societies and new behaviours of creatures.

AW: Whenever I watch a lot of horror (like American Horror Story for example), I get a lot of dreams and nightmares about it. What about you? Do you get nightmares too?

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ST: Absolutely. Especially when I’m in the middle of writing a thriller scene—which considering I write thrillers for a living, is on a regular basis. The scariest I remember was in the middle of a scene from my tantric fantasy, Anantya Tantrist series. I was writing a scene where Anantya’s teacher Dhuma dances with skeletons for a ritual. Now I’m in the middle of this scene, it’s late at night, I also happen to be home alone. I lie in bed to sleep, close my eyes and maybe I doze off, or maybe my imagination is still rolling, but I see this old woman, very similar to the one I’m writing about, a halo of uncombed striking white hair around her face and she’s two inches away from my face and well…she screamed, like she was supposed to do in the scene, except this was right in my face and my eyes flew open and I was just so, so, so scared. With no one to console me, of course. Oh well. The pitfalls of the work we be in.

AW: I read How to Steal a Ghost @ Manipal ​and thought it was an interesting combination of sci-fi and paranormal fiction. Especially with all those gadgets that Twinkle uses. Did you do a lot of research into all of this?

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ST: Thanks for your kind feedback on the Manipal book! It did take a lot of research for me to get there, for there are a lot of aspects I wanted to ring true in the book. On one hand were the urban legends, folklore and myths of places in and around Manipal that I wanted to include. Then I wanted to base these stories on real-life clashes, themes that we hear in the area, concerns that people have. My research included listening in to people, reading blogs, news from Mangalore coastal area, even a few books about the unique legends that lie in the area. Finally to build up a paranormal gadgety layer on the world and to create a paranormal fiction, I researched real ghost hunter groups and the gadgets they use across the world. It was a fascinating thing. A few gadgets I included in the book, like EMF meters actually exist, while a few gadgets we see Twinkle making are pure fiction. It was fun to create this layer of fiction on the rockbed of research. I like doing that. Mixing real and fiction so closely that you’re never sure what’s what.

AW: What are your favorite genres in reading?

ST:  I can’t get enough of science fiction, diverse fantasy, narrative non-fiction and sometimes for a change literary fiction. Favourite authors include William Darlymple, Samit Basu, Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Hillary Mantel, GRR Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett.

AW: Which is your favourite horror book/movie/tv show?

ST: There are so many. I’ve always loved the way Stephen King creates a horror tale. It’s not an obvious oh-my-god-the-monsters-attacking type of fiction, more psychological, like you’re never sure if the narrator is reliable or not and the character keeps on falling deeper and deeper into that ditch. Amazing. Other horror fic writers that I’ve liked are a few stories from Roald Dahl, thriller-horrors like The Silence of the Lambs. In movies I absolutely adore the B-grade Ramsay Brother Bollywood  ones (yes, I know, I know) and Korean horror gives me the absolute terrors. I like fantastical horror TV shows with a lot of blood and gore like Dexter and American Horror Story.

AW: Which is the favourite character you’ve written?

ST: Till now? Definitely Anantya Tantrist. I’ve written three books of hers so far and I know I will be writing more of her in future. She’s this kickass tantric who is confident enough to walk on the streets of Delhi at night, solving supernatural crime. She is sassy, with a lot of attitude, a breathless freedom and don’t-care attitude about her which I absolutely adore. I also love the world I’ve build up around her that’s full of rich and colourful takes from Indian mythology and the books kind of run from one scene to another as she faces tantrics, deals with monsters, creatures, supernatural beings, alternating between ruthlessness and empathy. It’s been quite a rich experience and quite fun creating her and the world she inhabits.

AW: How much of all your ghost/paranormal stories are inspired by real-life?

ST:  It’s a mix of both reality and fiction. I get a lot of my ideas from real life stories I either read in blogs, in social media updates or now that people know I’m interested in both paranormal and supernatural, people message me or tell me stories on phone! I’ve always believed and continue to believe that reality as much, much weirder than things I can ever imagine myself, so yes there’s definitely a tadka of real-life in my stories, though the setting, the way the story plays or the characters might be different.

AW: What’s the creepiest thing that has ever happened to you?

ST: Oh well. The above episode I mentioned was pretty creepy. Then these was this ghost sighting I mentioned in a blog on real-life ghost stories I heard. A long time ago, as a teen, I’d gone to a camp from my school. We camped in a valley near Manali. It was a beautiful clear night, the sky was laden with stars. We’d finished dinner. It was late and we sat on a ledge away from the camps, chatting. About 30 meters behind the ledge, I saw a figure in white. At first I thought it was girl, but there was something weird about the figure. It was hazy and gliding towards us. Not walking. I blinked and asked others if they saw the same thing as me. The figure shimmered in the starlight almost like she had a torch under the white ensemble. And kept gliding towards us. All of us were now looking at the figure, wondering what it was. We tried to fit a lot of logics, but nothing worked. The figure vanished a few minutes later. Till now I don’t know what it was.

 

Whoa, that was creepy. If you love this kind of fiction, then you definitely should read Shweta’s books. I do enjoy horror (recent development) so I’m surely going to give her Anantya books a try!