I met Jane a couple of years ago at Imli with a group of other writers where all of us were trying to figure out how we could market our work better. Jane and I met again in Atta Galatta for the first Super Zero book launch and we soon became part of a secret society that is trying hard to break the bestseller code (seriously. Okay not serious. Just kidding).
Jane moderated a session at the launch of my book When She Went Away and both of us were recently part of a panel at BLF called Badass Women. Ahem. Jane writes for adults and children and I’ve read both and admire how well she manages both. So naturally, I had to pick her brain and make her do this for my blog.
Since you write for children and adults with such ease (as it appears to us readers),which do you prefer to write? Why?
Writing for children came as unplanned as almost every other move in my life. A Penguin commissioning editor was looking for good ideas and writers, and I spoke to her about mine – and the rest was SuperZero. After diving into the children’s writing genre, I have to admit I enjoy the workshops and festivals and interactions with small readers much more. I find meeting kids more fun.
However, when it comes to the writing, I feel I grow a little more with each book I write for adults. I have to dig much deeper and it’s a much more thoughtful journey. The writing changes me as a human being, with the range of questions it makes me ask myself.
How did the idea for Super Zero come to you? And what about the other amazing supporting characters? Like each one of them is unique and special.
It was while staring at one of those Pre-IIT course ads in the papers and feeling really miffed that every kid in our country was to be judged on whether he could make it to an engineering degree or not –that the idea hit me. I mean, every kid is a hero, right? My own boy used to run around with a cape his grandma fashioned out of my dupatta. SuperZero is about each kid’s special power. Each one is unique, and needs to recognize that – and I hope the little readers get that message.
In Happily Never After, the parts where the daughter intrudes in the blog through her diary are often quite hilarious. But the rest of the book while still dealing with a heavy issue is presented in a light manner through much comedy of errors. Did you plan it all?
Hmm, yes, I do have a tongue-in-cheek syndrome. And I do see the world through a funny filter, and that helps me put across the most wrenching of issues without any sob-inducing narrative. My book for me, needs to be, as you say, hilarious but not flippant – that’s a fine line. The style may be humorous, the issues deep.
That reminds me a bit of Marian Keyes’ books also. She tackles issues like depression and domestic abuse through her books. Do you enjoy writing those kind of books too?
I haven’t yet read Marian Keyes, but you’re right, I lean towards books which thread humour into the telling of life’s toughest problems.
Who are your favourite authors?
Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, Anees Salim, Sue Townsend and their ilk.
Who’s your favourite female protagonist? Tina or Gulabi?
Gulabi is a wild child. She’s the burning anger at injustice I have inside me. Tina’s the thoughtful one, the gentle, muddling one. She’s me too. I’d need to be schizophrenic to answer this question, so I won’t.
From growing up in the cow belt. I was brought up among women whose attire was as colourful as their language. Yellow saris and paan-soaked lips, and jokes as raunchy as they come. And yet, they are portrayed to the world at large as a head-covered, voiceless, unfortunately-born-female. Gulabi sprang out , brandishing her own brand of humour and craziness from this world.
How come the head that Gulabi finds in The Spy Who Lost her Head doesn’t smell and alert her that it’s not a pumpkin but an actual head she’s got with her?
All’s fair in love, war and fiction. The book’s set up as a farce, so deviations from reality are generously scattered throughout.
Vikrant in Happily Never After was not as developed as I would have liked to see him but then it’s a blog from Tina’s POV, so yes, understandable. Are you planning to write something from a male POV sometime soon?
The female voice comes naturally to me. And the male voice would be forced, I’d think. However, I will attempt a male point of view – just not in his voice. As a third person…
Of course, the SuperZero series has a boy relating it all, which is easy, because I have two boys of my own, and their “think”-ummijigs are familiar territory.
Would you like to tell us about your writing method?
I am a temperamental writer. I can’t write unless it’s bubbling within me, and then it just writes itself out –through one late night after another. I write when it’s absolutely quiet and relentlessly into the night hours. I don’t belong to the school of writing where I sit at my manuscript everyt day and churn out 1000 words. Those words would then be as light as the paper they were printed on. The book needs to write itself, and for that, I need to feel crazily, passionately and unstoppably like writing it.
What’s next for you? Children’s fiction or adult fiction?
I have ideas and scribbles in both, and it’s a matter of whoever (like the older twin) pushes itself out first. I seriously feel that a book writes itself when it’s time is right -I’m helpless to make that happen unless it’s ready.