Reading Hour with Aruna Nambiar

Aruna and I were published together in 2005, as part of a collection of short stories called Curtains, stories by 9 women. Even in that selection, I have to admit, her stories had its own brand of gentle humour that brought a smile to your face. When her debut novel Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth came out a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy and of course enjoyed it a lot.

For Reading Hour January, we had Aruna over at Atta Galatta to chat with me and it was a really nice session. Some excerpts from the session for those who missed it.

I brought up how books that have maps or family trees in the very beginning intrigue and intimidate me at the same time, as a reader. It implies that the author has put in a fair amount of effort into mapping all this out and they expect me to be an alert reader because I will need this information later on. As a writer, I find it interesting as a process. I asked her if she mapped out the family tree before she wrote the book or after.

Aruna agreed that having the entire family tree and that too, three of them in this book, was an afterthought. One of her earlier readers suggested that it would be helpful to readers considering the number of characters there were in the book.

I asked her how she came up with these alliterative names like Terrible Tasneem, Koovait kannan, Ration Raman, Meen Mohammed… And she said that it’s typical of a Kerala small town where people do get remembered or called thus.

I brought up the point that there are two threads running in the story… Of Geetha and her middle class family and on the other hand, Koovait kannan and Ration Raman. Both threads are not parallel and intersect most interestingly. But they’re so different from each other. Was there a favourite when she was writing? Which thread did she enjoy writing more?

Aruna said that the Nair family with the cousins converging on the ancestral home for summer vacation was true to her own experiences but the story of the other half, the domestic help and the people like Koovait Kannan etc was different. She said that writing that thread was more interesting and even fun.

Aruna then followed this up with a reading from the book that was quite funny. It made me remember how she’d said once that she wasn’t aiming for humor. But when she wrote this book it kind of crept in. The studied humour that shows a mirror to our lives, set in the 80s is not just a nostalgic trip. There are some painful growing up moments that Aruna deftly weaves in, so that the reader is left with a feeling of, ah, so that’s what the book was about, once they’ve finished it.

We spoke a little more about characters like Geetha who is the protagonist and how it appears that she seems to have grown the most in the book. There were several questions from the audience too, about various situations that arise when you write a coming of age novel.

Overall, it was a really nice event, intimate and yet, blessed with an interested audience.

image
Selfie with the author of the month, Aruna Nambiar!
Like/Subscribe/Share

A Little Girl in a Big City

BLF (Bangalore Literature Festival) came and went away too soon. It was like, one minute I was getting excited Friday evening for BLF 2015, and the next minute it was Sunday night and I was coming back home, exhausted. Nevertheless, it was an exciting two days, and I felt pretty amazed that I was able to participate in it. My session was on Sunday evening and we had a decent sized, interested crowd. And although I kept telling people, I didn’t relate to our topic – A Little Girl in a Big City, at the end of the two days, I pretty much felt like that, creaky knees notwithstanding.

Meeting old friends and making new ones was pretty much the highlight of the two day fest. I’m not really a social person, and I really prefer to bury my head in a book than talk to people (some people I know have just gasped loudly, and then whispered ‘liar’) but it’s true! But it’s occasions like these that I put on a smile and hope for the best.

Some pics and a video of our session below!

12339409_10153174464012031_1080982517806677633_o
During our session.

 

887494_10153174463862031_2813097493967491037_o
My books on display at BLF

 

Like/Subscribe/Share

Reading Hour with Anjum Hasan

There are so many times when you’re reading a book, and you wish you could ask the author something. Right? I’m so happy to be doing Reading Hour because that’s exactly what I get to do. Ask authors questions that play in my mind as I read their work. How cool is that?

So, on 14th November, Atta Galatta was a hub of crazy activity as it was Children’s Day as well. There were kids running around everywhere and we had to wait a while for the place to settle down, for the noise levels to go down. Even then, Anjum and I had one or two kids look down our backs, curiously wondering what we were doing.

Anjum’s latest novel, The Cosmopolitans was the topic of conversation. It’s a remarkably evocative book, filled with sharp insights and keen observation.

I’ve always been fascinated by how authors name their protagonists. Personally speaking I have a tough time naming them. So the protagonist in The Cosmopolitans, Qayenaat has to be one of the most interesting names I’ve seen. I wanted to know if there was some deeper significance to the name but Anjum said that wasn’t so. Qayenaat, aware of her ethereal name drops her second name, Gupta because it’s so plain and real. The drawbacks of this arise later when Qayenaat, tries to claim insurance after her father dies and is declined because she can’t prove she’s her father’s daughter.

Cosmopolitans is filled with such instances of harsh practical reality that intersperse with Qayenaat’s ruminations of life on a higher level. Like the concern with money, which people would consider crass and vulgar but it’s a concern that is real and stares Qayenaat in her face, often as she sees the world around her in a race for it, while she often feels left behind.

Also, a heroine in her fifties, one unencumbered by a husband, children or a marriage is also unusual. Anjum admitted that she wanted someone with a certain amount of experience, a solid amount of life, lived. Qayenaat’s father who makes a mark in the novel through Qayenaat’s ruminations is important and for him to be who he is, a Nehruvian idealist, it’s important for him to have been born at a certain age. It was therefore inevitable that Qayenaat would be anything less than fifty.

Qayenaat’s understanding of Bangalore is spot on. Her assimilation of the different cultures and different worlds that inhabit this city is remarkably insightful. I wanted to know if it was Anjum’s as well and how she managed to create such an intricate picture. Being a writer, I suppose one learns to observe people and surroundings even when we’re not actively aware of it. And Anjum’s experience with working at an art gallery certainly helped.

One of the things I really wanted to know, especially as a writer myself, was why do protagonists sometimes go away to find themselves. Anjum thought it was a relevant question considering how almost all her protagonists have done that.

Honestly, it’s a little difficult to capture the entirety of the event in a blog post. The audience was articulate and asked some insightful questions. But that’s saying neither this nor that. I’ll try and see if we can record some of the future Reading Hour sessions so they can be uploaded here.

Some pics.

image

Note:

There is no Reading Hour planned for December. The next session is in January.

Like/Subscribe/Share

Mentoring young minds

In the last week of October, I headed to PSBB LLA school in Bannerghatta Road where I was a mentor at a creative writing workshop held by Katha. Along with other mentors such as Vikram Sridhar, Mamta Sagar and Kausalya Saptharishi, we worked with a huge group of children each, for three days. Children from South Indian cities such as Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Kochi and Chennai had turned up for the workshop with their parents or teachers.

It was a fabulous experience all around. With around 45 students of varying ages in my group, we discussed what we liked about stories, how we made up stories, do beginnings always have to be in the beginning etc? We also wrote plenty of short fiction and I was amazed at some of the ideas that emerged.

I was apprehensive because it was the first time I would be handling so many children and actually doing a workshop. I wouldn’t say it was a piece of cake because it wasn’t, and my respect and admiration for teachers has gone up tremendously. But it was also a learning experience for me, one that will be really special, especially because of the spontaneously creative kids I worked with.

The workshop comprised of students from Std 4 to std 11 and it was no easy task ensuring that kids from all age groups got what I was saying.

On Day 1, we spent time getting to know each other and we played a few games trying to get a feel of how the class would write individually and as groups.

On Day 2, the kids wrote a little more as part of a writing exercise and I read out one of my old short stories to them, asking them to come up with an alternative ending. A lot of interesting outcomes came up. Post lunch I divided them into groups and asked them to put up a 5 minute skit. It was fun to see them all huddle together and come up with ideas and execute them in the short time I gave them.

On Day 3, they had to write and submit their short stories. All too soon, it seemed as though the workshop was over. I’d been looking forward to it from quite sometime, worried as to how I’d do it and it was already done and dusted.

I had a bunch of bright kids with me and they came up with some absurd and yet creatively satisfying storylines. Also, I was heartened to learn from them that they were there because they loved stories, not because of some false notions of becoming rich and famous quickly.

Thank you Katha for giving me this chance! I loved it!

image
Groups discussing their skits
image
Selfie time!
Like/Subscribe/Share

A book launch is not just a book launch!

There’s a huge difference between your first book launch and your (no idea which) later ones. The first noticeable difference is that you’re no longer nervous. You’re also not worried about how many people will turn up and will it just be family and friends like last time. Or the time before that. Because it’s taken me all these books to realise that a book launch maybe many things but it’s above all, a celebration of a book. In the midst of coordinating with various celebrity guests and other such hassles, one tends to forget that and focusing on these things creates a situation where the author is tense and worried.

So here’s the thing. The very fact that the book exists is nothing short of miraculous. You conjure up the book based on just an idea in your head. You write all fifty thousand words (or more) and then if you’re lucky, you land publishers like Duckbill who give their everything to your book. And by that, I mean everything.

They work with you on the book, they make it probably two hundred times better, and they come up with a book cover that completely wows you and everyone else. And it doesn’t stop there.

Anyway, so the book is ready, but doesn’t reach until the very last minute thanks to courier glitches. Your publishers move heaven and earth to make sure you get at least three copies before the launch. They even send off twenty copies through a friend who’s flying to Bangalore from Delhi! You manage to make sure the book reaches the other very sweet author (Jane D’Souza Gopalakrishnan) and your English Literature teacher (Dr. Shantha from college) two days before the launch and hope they have time to go through it.

You call up your family and invite them to attend. This part is very important because I have to make sure I’m inviting them as I would, to a wedding. So you can imagine how I’ve had to invite everyone for all the book launches every single time. Yeah, but the nice thing is that almost everyone turns up. Because like I said, it’s a celebration of the book.

I’ve never been this *unstressed* over a launch and it probably had a lot to do because it was at Atta Galatta, an independent bookstore which is one of my all time favourite stores here in Bangalore. Of course, Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar, the gracious hosts and owners of AG have a lot to do with that feeling of comfort.

So, on 18th October, we all got together at AG for a celebration of my 8th novel, When she Went Away. Friends, family and colleagues turned up in full force! My mother surprised me by bringing a Shahi tukda sweet, all packed into small cups for all the guests and everyone loved it. The book was launched and the three of us got into a spirited discussion about the book. The audience got involved and we went on for quite a bit. The theme of the book was intriguing (after all, how often does a mother leave her perfectly all right family and go away without any reason?) and a lot of people asked questions, not just about the book but about my writing process as well.

Jane had some interesting questions to ask while Dr. Shantha offered some sharp insight into the character of the protagonist and her mother as well. All of us at the launch felt like we were in a classroom (not any class but the Optional English classes she took for us)  once again, listening to her speak so eloquently. And magnificently!

We ended the day by taking plenty of selfies and pictures and the best part was the potluck dinner at my aunt’s house after the launch. Much yummy in the tummy happened!

What better way to bring a book into the world than with family and friends, all with you to celebrate?

Some pictures of the event.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Like/Subscribe/Share

Reading Hour with Anuja

Yes, I know this is nearly two weeks late but I’ve been really busy and there’s been no time to put anything down. Sorry guys! So here’s a quick recap of the event we did with Anuja at Atta Galatta.

Anuja turned up ten minutes before the event, proceeded to sign books and pose for selfies graciously and fans (including me) were thrilled to have her with us for a whole hour.

image

image

So, without any more delay, here’s the gist of the event.

There are some writers whose books you look forward to greatly, knowing that you’re in for a good time. You trust those authors and know that you can count on them to give you hours of reading pleasure. Anuja Chauhan, who really needs no introduction is one such author. Fans wait for every book of hers with huge anticipation. For readers, she’s a storehouse of dreamy heroes, strong wilful heroines and some deliciously complicated storylines. For writers, she’s a huge source of inspiration. I only have to go back to any of her books, just to be stumped at how much detail she invests into the lives of her characters and their worlds. So it was with much delight that I moderated this session of Reading Hour with  her on 20th September.

We got talking about how she’s such a popular author and whether she ever thought she’d become this popular. Anuja modestly admitted that she had no idea that she’d get this popular as an author. But she also admitted how she loved writing because one could just get up and without even moving from bed, pull over your laptop and start writing.
I then asked her about her deliciously complicated plots, if she made any chart to organise it. She admitted her methods weren’t very organised or scientific and although she has certain folders in her computer for plot etc, she ends up not using it.

Of course, when you’re talking about an Anuja Chauhan book, you have to be prepared for some really funny dialogues. Hinglish, yes, but even then, she does have an amazing ear for dialogue. So I asked her if she heard a lot of people talking and absorbed it. How did she retain it? How can she remember it all? Her answer was simple. How can you not remember, she asked, when people botch up pronunciations like it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. She recounted numerous incidents that made the audience laugh out loud, and there’s stuff there that I can’t repeat here. What happened in Atta Galatta stays in Atta Galatta. Ahem. Too bad some of you missed it.

When readers ask me where I can find the heroes in my books, I always tell them, in my imagination. When I asked her she said it’s not entirely in her imagination. A little of this, a little of that, and yes, a belief in a cause maybe, and there you have them.

It’s the same with the a spunky heroines in her books. From the first book till the fourth, they’ve certainly evolved. Anuja agreed, and said that though Zoya is the closest to her she’s enjoyed writing about all these new, sassy heroines like Bonu in The House that BJ built.

To wrap up, I asked her about the filmi plots of her books. How does she know when to stop? Where to draw the line? She admitted that her first readers do help her out but she also avoids using the too many coincidences and other elements that make the work ‘filmi’.
All of us, her eager readers are waiting for her next book, which she’s currently writing.

The next Reading Hour event is in November with Anjum Hasan. Don’t miss it! Details coming soon!

Like/Subscribe/Share

Show, don’t tell!

Any writer worth their salt will tell you how important it is to show, not tell, especially when you are writing a work of fiction. You’ve probably heard it at many creative writing workshops and yet, when you’re writing, you don’t know how to make sure you’re showing and not telling. Hmm?

I won’t say I have this in the bag completely because I’m still learning the process of writing. But there are a few things I do know after all this writing I’ve done. So, here I go, sharing my gyan once again.

image

1. Crackling dialogue can do what sentences and sentences of portraying your characters feelings can’t. If you’re character is going through something, it’s a good idea to use dialogue to showcase it. Sometimes banter, sometimes a serious conversation and sometimes even repartee can reveal your characters innermost flaws or feelings, as the case may be.

image

2. Sometimes how your character reacts to a situation shows your readers all that you want to convey. So instead of writing a scene where you want to tell your readers that something is happening, create a situation that speaks for itself. How your character reacts to it will tell the reader a whole lot without actually telling them. Here’s an example from my own work. Ahem.

image

Hope that explains what I mean!

3.

image

Dialogue has its place when it comes to showing something to your readers but what’s that old cliche about actions speaking louder than words? That holds true. If you make your characters react to something, or act on something, you can reveal a facet of their personality or their innermost feelings without actually spelling it out. And for that, we come to tip no. 4.

4.

image

Reader experience as you well know is subjective. What I might deduce from a scene may not be what you deduce and that’s the beauty of a well written piece because it’s open to interpretation. This is exactly why showing is more important than telling. But how does one do it? By following tip no. 3. Your characters are like puppets (most of the time) and they will do or say what you want. It’s up to you to ensure that you do the right thing.

5.

image

Sometimes atmosphere shows things best. The right atmosphere or setting can convey so much to your readers. All you need to do is to ensure you don’t go overboard with descriptions. That is a real danger, worthy of another give writing tips post. But do remember that sometimes atmosphere can be the best thing about a scene or chapter. You can often make your characters emotions stand out in contrast with the atmosphere of the moment.

I hope these writing tips are helpful! Do tweet to me at andaleebwajid and start a conversation if you want to discuss writing further.

Like/Subscribe/Share

Getting ideas

One of the questions I’ve always been asked is, how I get my ideas. I wish I could tell exactly how but it’s not really possible to tell how my mind works right? In fact, there are times when I don’t know what it is that has prompted me or provoked me into a writing something. As a writer you’re always on the lookout for something that can be made into a story or a book or even a blog post. I thought about this for quite a bit and then decided to do a Writing Tips post for the blog.

Here are five tips on how I get my ideas and convert them into stories.

image

1. This might sound like a no – brainer but keep your eyes open. As writers we have to be like sponges and absorb things around us. Something somewhere might click. I once spotted a man talking to a woman while I was waiting for my mother to finish instructing her tailor and I was fascinated by their dynamics. They were discussing something important and yet there was an element of sadness to their conversation. I made up a story about them as I continued to observe them. This was a goodbye I thought. The woman was saying to the man that they can’t meet again and the man is convincing her to give them another shot. While I didn’t exactly use this scene directly, it did become the basis of a story in one of my books.

image

2. Truth is stranger than fiction is the often used cliche and it’s true. There are hundreds of weird things happening around the world. It’s up to you to choose one and twist it and make it what you want. I read about a girl who had the sleeping beauty syndrome, and I used it in my time travel trilogy as the possible cause for the protagonist’s condition.

image

3. Get inspired by history. If current events don’t really cut it for you, then go back in time (am I losing the subtle touch in plugging my books?) and look for inspiration there. History is always a rich source of stories and events that you can use as the basis of an idea. The point here is that you need to keep an open mind and think of anything and everything as a possibility for a story.

image

4. Make a list of things you like to write about. Then put two or three together and see if you can weave a story out of it. Sounds too random? Actually it can be fun although I rarely use this method. But it’s even better if you time yourself. Give yourself five minutes to come up with a list of things you like and then do a mix and match. What you’ll get here most likely is the premise of a story. It’s up to you to build it from there into something more viable.

image

5. Sometimes all it takes is a sentence, a look, a description, a word to plant an idea in my head. What you need to do is to not let go of it. Write it down somewhere. Hold onto it. Go back to it every now and then and see what you can do with it.

That’s it from me. Do you have any inputs or feedback on how you get your ideas? Do feel free to share them with me, either here in the comments below or tweet to me at andaleebwajid.

Like/Subscribe/Share

What’s in a name?

 

Judy Balan, author of the best selling novel Two Fates, Sophie Says and the more recent Nina the Philosopher series is a very good friend of mine. Since both of us are writers, we do talk a lot about the writing process and what works or doesn’t. One thing I’ve noticed about Judy is her fascination for naming her characters correctly.

11076784_828031170601802_3396477053604490701_o

I thought it would be fun to have a Q and A with her about this for both our readers. So here goes.

AW: As someone who would happily name her characters X, Y and Z if given the option, I find it to be one of the most taxing parts of getting started with writing a novel. Does the right name for a character matter much to you? And why? 

JB: Agree it’s taxing but yes, it’s extremely important to me. In fact, I can’t get on with the story if I don’t get the name right. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a great name. If I feel it doesn’t completely align with the character (and this is an entirely subjective, irrational process), I just can’t tell the story. Have you tried walking with a pair of fabulous shoes that are a size too small? It’s like that. 

AW:Okay, J K Rowling is a league apart in every possible way. She’s also one of the authors who has given the most interesting names to her characters except the titular character of Harry Potter. I’d love to hear what you think about this. 

JB: Oh, I had read in an interview a long time ago that she wanted a common name for the protagonist in order to make him relatable. Since she was writing for children, she wanted every child to see himself/herself as Harry. And I agree with that logic because Harry is so common, it’s almost like a non-name. Which means, you can easily replace it with your own. 

AW:Two of my favourite writers, J K Rowling and Rick Riordan hold the notion in their books that ‘names have powers’. On the other hand, we have Shakespeare saying, what’s in a name, a rose by any name would smell as sweet. What do you think? A name is a name is a name or is it something more? 

JB: For me, it’s more. But I also know that many of us don’t identify with our own names, especially those of us with a weird combination of names (yes, Judy Pavithra Balan was traumatic). So I like having some fun with this as well. In my second book, my lead character was called Sophia Thilagam but insisted on calling herself Sophia Tilgum. I’m not saying that a fabulous person can’t make a dull name dazzle, or an obnoxious combination of names sound cool. But I’d leave that job for people who want to write life-changing, path-breaking fiction. Also – just saying – Vera Mindy Chockalingam simply does not have the same ring to it as Mindy Kaling. 

AW: Is there any special name you like a lot? Please don’t say Yatan. Apart from that. 

JB : Ha ha. Funnily, someone liked Yatan because he said it looked like ‘Satan’ and someone else had trouble seeing him as this badass in the book because he knew someone named Yatan who was quite the opposite. As for favourite names, where do I begin! I love the name iola (I’ve used small i ’cause I don’t want it to be confused with Lola) from Hardy Boys. I wanted to name my daughter that but picked Kiara ’cause I thought the chances of people butchering this name would be much less. Couldn’t have been more wrong – she gets called Kyaara, Keera, Kyra and Keerai (which means spinach in Tamil). 

As for last names, I have a terrible weakness for names that include three consonants in a row or names that end with z next to a consonant. Like, Horowitz. Noticed that’s the last name of one of the creators of Once Upon A Time. Also, it’s combined with ‘Adam’ (another favourite) so that’s kind of like an ideal name in my head. Other favourites are names that include ‘owska,’ ‘vrski’ and such. Add an accent (` ~ ‘) to it and I’m weak in the knees. Yes, it’s almost a fetish. 

AW: How do you go about choosing a name for your characters? Crowd sourcing? Or Internet? 

JB : Facebook friends list 😀 I don’t usually find anything that works for the character but since my characters are Indian, I usually go there to see if anything clicks. But usually, the name just happens. On its own. And yes, I’ve crowd-sourced too! That’s how I got Ryan for Sophie Says.

AW: Do you feel that the name of the character has something to do with the reader’s expectation from the character? For example, someone named Anya comes across as modern and sassy while Anita is old school and frumpy. 

JB: Of course. If I’m writing a romantic comedy, I can’t name my sizzling male lead Murugusundaram. No matter how unconventional I might want to be, that’s just not done. Also, I’m yet to meet a sizzling Murugusundaram. 

AW: How much time do you actually spend over naming your characters? And do the characters adopt the name properly?

JB: I don’t start the book till I have the names. While I might know exactly what the character is like, I can’t get her voice right if I can’t get her name right. It’s a pain and this is how I end up procrastinating. 

AW: I recently finished writing a book and I changed the main character’s sister’s name. Now I feel like this character is a stranger to me. Has that happened to you? A character that you’ve renamed for some reason and now the world knows them with this name and yet in your head you still call him/her something else? 

JB: Nope. I couldn’t name a character anything other than what I call her/him in my head. I’d feel like I’m sending her out into the world under cover or something. Wait, that’s kind of cool, now that I think of it. It might be the closest I’d come to writing a mystery novel. 

AW: Which is easier? Male or female names? 

JB: Female. But then again, this is because of the Indian name restriction. It’s very annoying. 

AW: I find I’m fond of the letter R when it comes to naming my other characters. Don’t know why. Do you have any such quirks? 

JB: Yes. Vrski. Say it out loud and you’d agree with me. That purring sound it makes in your mouth makes it the perfect name to scream in a fit of passion. Vrrrssssskkkiiiii. 

Thanks for the funny and entertaining answers Judy. Guess everyone knows now what weirdos we are!

Judy’s second book in the Nina series is coming soon! Watch out for it as well as some, ahem, amazing books by her next year!

Like/Subscribe/Share

Working around writer’s block

If there’s one thing every other writer will tell you or post on Facebook or tweet, is that they’re having writer’s block at some point or the other in their writing career. Of course, if you are a writer, you know for a fact that writer’s block can strike you unawares and the novel that you were working on is no longer flowing from your finger tips on to the keyboard. This feeling of being stuck, of not being able to move forward is typical of writer’s block. But here’s a secret. Writer’s block doesn’t exist.

What?

Yes. True story.

Writer’s block has more to do with your mental disposition at the point of time when you’re trying to write, rather than actually being the thing it is made out to be.

Over the past years as I’ve been writing my books there have been times when the words just didn’t seem right. There have been times when I haven’t felt like writing. A typical question that students I speak to, or interviewers ask is how I deal with writer’s block. This is how.

image

1. By acknowledging that it does not exist. I try not to get discouraged and I certainly don’t label it as a writer’s block. Typically you may get this block either when you’re in the middle of writing something or you might find yourself unable to start something new. Ideally don’t decide that you have writer’s block and go on with your life. Also, names/labels have power. The moment you decide that this is it, I have writer’s block, you’re relieved because you have something identifiable, something that other writers also face. It just makes it all the more difficult to work around it. When you feel this way, stop before you proclaim to the world at large that you have writer’s block. Instead, just say that you didn’t feel like writing.

image

2. Believe me, this one works. When I feel that the book isn’t flowing like free flow salt from a shaker, I shut the lid of the laptop and I do something as mundane as baking a cake. Or you can take a walk in the park. Go watch a movie with friends or read a book with your kids. In your head, just tell yourself that you’re having some downtime. And it’s okay. You’re allowed to have that. Even if you’re in the middle of a climactic scene in your novel or even if you are just before an all important scene when you don’t know how one scene will segue into the next, it’s okay to take a break. You never know when your subconscious will unlock so check out if you feel like writing after a couple of days. Ideally, don’t take a very long break because then you’ll lose interest and that’s the ultimate killer. Also, one thing I heard from Kamila Shamsie at her book launch last year (and that scared the crap out of me because I’d decided to take a break from writing in 2014), was this – Her aunt, Attia Hosain, told her once that writing is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. 

image

3. I have a select group of friends who always read the books I write, while I am writing them. It gives them the kicks but it also helps me streamline my writing. Of course, we talk about the book but I try not to let their opinions influence my writing. But sometimes, when you’re stuck, it helps talking to friends who know what you’re writing. Even if you don’t want anyone to read your work in progress, you can talk to them about it, give a gist and sometimes something they may say might change the way you view your own work. Friends like these are like sounding boards. Use them! They’ll be most willing to help!

 

image

4. For a clutter lover and slob like me, I am meticulously planned and neat (questionable since my handwriting is such that only I can understand it), only in one thing. My notes. When I decide to write a novel, I take out a note book and start writing notes. This could be a stream of consciousness putting down of what I want in the book or it could be a more organised plan. I like to have a two or three page idea of what I want in the book before I start writing. You’ll see that people who write non-fiction do not or cannot work without a plan. Planning it down to the chapter level is a bit too much for me so I don’t do that but having an outline helps a lot. That way when I get stuck, I just have to refer to those notes and it helps me move forward. 

 

image

5. Picture this. If you’re walking somewhere and you come across a road sign that says, road under construction, wouldn’t you just approach your destination from another way? Or if there’s a boulder on your path, you’ll walk around it, right? Just like that, think of the block as something that you have to tackle from another angle. What also works is if you try writing something else. Do you have a blog? Then write a blog post. If not, focus your energies on writing something else. It could be a book review, or even a short story that you may never want to publish. That’s okay. What helps is that it gets the flow moving. 

 

Is there any other way in which you handle writer’s block? What works for you? I asked this question on Twitter a couple of days ago and these two responses were interesting and useful.
image

Would love to hear your comments on this, either here or on Twitter. You can tweet to me  @andaleebwajid and I’ll get back to you and do a follow up post featuring your tweets as well, provided I do get more responses! 

Till then, kick that block and get back to writing!

Like/Subscribe/Share

Reading Hour with Abhijit Bhaduri

In August, the Reading Hour session was held with Abhijit Bhaduri, Chief Learning Officer at Wipro and author of Mediocre But Arrogant and Married but Available and Don’t Hire the Best.

On a cool Saturday evening, we sat down at Atta Galatta for some conversation and coffee. Thankfully it was not raining and the atmosphere was perfect.

image

image

Abhijit is good fun and I developed a really good rapport with him during the course of our conversation where he cleverly tried to steer the questions towards me instead of answering them right away!

Since the topic was about how authors play God with their characters I asked him if he liked it. His answer wasn’t straight but from what I gleaned I think authors don’t have much choice. So there isn’t really a question of liking it or not.

image

Then we got talking about his love for the oxymoron as is demonstrated in the names of his books – Mediocre but Arrogant and Married but Available. Abhijit joked that if he writes a third one it could be called  Middle-aged but Attractive.

Students are often known to keep derisive nicknames for their professors and he too has kept plenty for his professors as is evident in the book. I wanted to know if he knew what his students had nicknamed him but he didn’t know. Ideally, we should have had a student of his in the audience too!

image

We also spoke about the life of students in the 80s as opposed to the lives of students today. One thing that stands out probably is that students today end up treating support staff like furniture and often don’t even know their names.

One of the things we also talked about was his consistent blogging. I wanted to know how he stays motivated enough to continue it from so long. He admitted he started off by uploading his entire novel on his blog at first and then removing it when he realised that that’s not what blogs are about. Abhijit blogs about his work, his interests and reviews movies and books as well. Check out his blog at his website www.abhijitbhaduri.com

Abhijit also gave us some tips on Twitter. He suggested that people who are either useful or interesting get more followers and ideally you should be a little of both. I’m trying Abhijit! I’m trying.

image

Reading Hour August was enjoyable and good fun. We hope more people will show up for the next session in September. Just a heads up to everyone. We’re getting Anuja Chauhan for September and it’s on 20th September. Don’t miss that!

Like/Subscribe/Share

Five things I can do now that I’ve finished writing my novel

So I finished writing my novel last night. My twelfth novel. I still remember the exhilaration I’d felt when I finished my first one in 2005. Now, it’s more relief than exhilaration. Because now, here’s a list of what I can do, now that I am done writing! 

 

1. I can get my life back. All these days my life was split between the lives of my protagonists and my own. In my head, they took up more place than real life people did. It’s not just that. I created and altered the events in their lives. I had to make sure it all mattered in the long run. Yeah, although I can get my life back now, what’s the fun in that? 

2. I can go back to watching TV shows without feeling guilty. (Arrow, here I am!) I used to sneak in an episode here and there as reward for finishing a chapter. Now I can binge watch. Oh yay! 

3. I can read a book without worrying that what I’m reading will colour my writing. I used to not read books at all when I started writing my second novel. I was scared something from what I read would slip in and I’d end up unconsciously internalising something I’ve read and spew it on my pages. Now that doesn’t happen but even when I’m reading, a part of me stays separate and doesn’t get involved because I don’t want to. 

4. I can finally give some much needed rest to my wrists, palms, arms, shoulders. I’ve gone to sleep some days with aching shoulders and hands that hurt so much that I can’t even dream of holding a pen. Writing is physically hard work guys! Even when the words flow as you type them out, it ends up tiring you, mentally too. At the end of the writing day, you’re strung out and yet raring to go as soon as the next day comes. 

5. I can stop worrying about what happens next because I bloody well know it now. I did know it when I started the book but it was mostly a hazy set of events that I’d constructed and noted down in my notebook. Once I get down to the actual writing, I have to either expand those events or change them altogether based on what’s happening. 

 

So that’s my list of five things I can do now that I’ve finished writing my novel. Anyone wants to add anything to it? Go on. Help me make a list of things I can do now that I am done writing! 

Like/Subscribe/Share

Writing unforgettable characters

When I’m reading a book, what stays with me after I’ve finished reading is not just the plot but the characters as well. So I asked my Twitter friends to tell me some of the characters in fiction that they find unforgettable.

Quite a few people responded and it’s added several books to my reading list as well.

image

The Kite Runner was a book that haunted me too. I recommended it right, left and centre before it became a big thing. I think the little kid in the end, Hassan’s son, stayed with me but yes Amir too.

image

image

A Fine Balance is a book that I don’t want to go back to, anytime soon. It fascinated me but depressed me as well. What an ending!

And there are some books which have been added to my reading list now.

image

image

image

image

And then there are these favourites too.

image

image

As a writer, I’m fascinated with characters and what makes them unforgettable. Continuing my Writing Tips series, I tweeted five pointers about characterisation. A little expanded version is here:

image

1. How well do you know your characters? Do you know what clothes they like to wear, what food they like to eat, what TV shows they watch, what books they like to read, what they don’t like… Everything about them. Keep a notebook about them and make notes about the characters. As much as you can at least. Keep those notes, refer to them whenever you get stuck about something and get writing!

image

2. No one likes perfect people. In real life or in books. Characters with flaws are what everyone can relate to. In fact the more flawed the character, the better the story is, depending on whether there’s a redemption story in there. It’s why we so often fall in love with anti-heros like Sidney Carton. Even if they can’t be redeemed, there’s something so relatable about them that they stay with you long after you’ve rest the book. Like Scarlet O Hara who annoyed me like anything. But she’s still unforgettable.

image

3. Sometimes an analysis of your favourite character might work. Trying to understand them, why they are the way they are. I’ve noticed that layered characters are the ones with rich back stories that allows writers to work their way back and forth. One of my favourite characters is Snape from the Harry Potter series. And what a character he is! Sometimes characters might not have any back story as such or you may not really be bothered with that because they’re so quirky. Whether it’s Hercule Poirot or Psmith, these are characters that live forever.

image

4. When I posted this tip on Instagram, a friend commented that this sounds a lot like having multiple personality disorder! It’s actually true. When you’re a writer, you’re leading multiple lives. Often you’re immersed in the world of the book, the problems of the protagonists and how they’re going to solve them. It’s what gives that dreamy air to writers and causes my mother to lament that I pay more attention to fictional people than I do to real people! Not true by the way. It’s just that my characters are real to me and I like them to achieve whatever they’ve set out to achieve. If they can’t, I stand back and commiserate. And sometimes I just find it hard to let go of them even when the book is written and sent out for publishing. So sometimes I make up fan fiction with them in my head. But that’s okay. You don’t really need to know how crazy I am! But it does give you an idea of the level of my involvement with them I suppose!

image

5. The most important one of all! Contrary to what my family thinks, I’m not always ‘lost in my own world’ because I’m looking at people carefully. I’m observing everyone around me and it all gets stored somewhere in my head where I’m not even aware of, but I draw inspiration from that hidden store whenever possible. The thing is, I don’t do this consciously. Neither the observing, nor the drawing out. It’s a part of my psyche. So try and start people watching (unobtrusively please) and make it a habit. You’ll discover a wealth of information that you might eventually use in writing about a character.

Well, that’s it for now now! I’ll be back with more writing tips on how to deal with writer’s block (err… What’s that?) and other such helpful pointers.

As for my favourite characters –

image

image

Actually I’m sure there are more but these were who I could recall off the top of my head during the Twitter session.

Follow me on Twitter to get involved in other such discussions in future. My Twitter id is andaleebwajid.

Like/Subscribe/Share

Reading Hour with Samar Halarnkar

If you’re in Bangalore, you must visit Atta Galatta in Koramangala. It’s a lovely book shop and cafe that is also home to numerous cultural events. I’ve held quite a few events for my books here and was invited to be a part of Reading Hour in 2014 with Kavery Nambisan and Nandita Bose was the most gracious host of the event.

Here’s an hour long video of the event in case you actually have an hour to spare. He he! Just kidding.

So, imagine my surprise when Lakshmi who runs Atta Galatta with her husband Subodh called me and asked if I would like to host the event in its new avatar. I agreed almost immediately.

Reading Hour is held in collaboration with the Reading Hour magazine that is run by Vaishali and Arun, and they are extremely passionate about bringing back the culture of reading into our lives.

We started Reading Hour in June and we invited Samar Halarnkar as our first guest. Samar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and the editor of Indiaspend.

image

image

I enjoyed reading his cookbook. Not only did it have unusual recipes, it had some really quirky illustrations.

image

Samar spoke to the audience about the economic repercussions of men not cooking and it made for some fascinating listening.

We moved on to talk about the warm and funny elements in his book that perfectly offset the nostalgic overtone. I wanted to know why Samar happily called himself a glutton in this era of Masterchef connoisseurs and his explanation was simple. He calls himself a jugaad or jhatka cook, often assembling ingredients for a meal with the pan on the stove. It was interesting to hear him explain how he managed to conjure meals for his family without being all metrosexual about it.

Samar spoke to us about his love for seafood and fish and of course Old Monk rum as well. We even spoke of how he’s pretty much achieved some sort of foodie nirvana these days.

The audience too wanted to ask him questions about the supposed stigma that’s attached to men cooking for their families as home cooks as opposed to the respect they get by being professional chefs.

It was a perfect June evening for a lovely round of conversation with Samar and a receptive audience who engaged in meaningful conversation.

Like/Subscribe/Share

Book no. 8

Hello! I’m thrilled to report that book no. 8, When she Went Away is coming out in October, 2015. My lovely publishers, Duckbill, finally gave the go ahead and asked me to share the cover with the world at large, so here I am.

image

This book is a young adult novel, and I’ll be sharing the synopsis soon. Duckbill is one of the publishing houses I really respect and I love their work. I’m thrilled to be publishing a book with them.

I’m all agog on social media, sharing this cover with everyone, clogging up their timelines and causing people to probably block me. But it’s an amazing feeling when you can share the cover of a book that you’ve written with the world.

When you start writing a book, that first page, those first few lines, those doubts –  believe me, it takes guts to forge ahead and just write. And write. And that is just the easy part.

Editing, marketing and publishing all these take up so much time and there’s a whole lot of effort that goes into it. So yes, the day I get to share the cover with everyone is indeed a special day. And no, it does not grow old. Even if you’ve already published seven novels.

Like/Subscribe/Share

Five Writing Tips

Many people have asked me over the years about how I write and I’ve always felt weird giving this answer. See, I may be writing my 12th novel, even as I blog here, but I don’t feel like I can honestly tell others how to do it.

Still, people ask me for tips and I thought I could come up with a series of tweets about this and I tweeted them today.

I thought I could get into this, a little bit more in detail here in my blog.

1.

image

Don’t deliberate –  If you’ve always wanted to write something, don’t wait for the perfect moment. Don’t wait to retire or wait for your kids to grow up. Life goes on and writing is like that. It has to go on. The right moment will never come. You have to take a deep breath and plunge into it. And pray it will work.

2.

image

When I wrote my first novel Kite Strings, I wrote it blind. I had no idea how to move forward from the first page on to the next. I had a vague idea of how I wanted the book to end and I stuck to that. But it took me a really long time to fill the space between page 1 and the last page. So despite being a creative person who normally hates plans, I like them when it comes to books. I like formulating the story beforehand. I usually follow a stream of consciousness method of putting down the story and anyone who has made an actual plan might laugh at it but it’s what works for me. It’s just me talking to myself. That’s my plan.

3.

image

Sometimes having something in front of you visually, triggers words inside that may not be there otherwise. Give it a shot. Put up a cork board or even a thick cardboard sheet above your desk. Paste cutouts or use a marker to scribble on it.

4.

image

This is crucial. Finish a chapter and you will feel amazed at how soon your novel will get over. Never leave a chapter hanging. Even if you don’t like how it’s going, go ahead and still write it. You can always change it in the morning. I try to finish one chapter every day when I’m working on a book. When I get more than a chapter written, it’s amazing. But it takes a toll physically. Hands, shoulders, neck usually start hurting so I try to stick to a chapter every day. Once you get that flow going, you won’t want to stop!

5.

image

I love stationery especially notebooks. So I use any excuse to hoard notebooks and since I’m a writer, I don’t really need an excuse. I like to dedicate a notebook to every novel I write. I scribble about characters, about events, about possible endings in the notebook. Then I also like to make notes in Google Keep. It syncs across my devices and I can access it easily. Evernote users can stick to that and there are plenty of note apps out there. I prefer Keep though. Putting ideas down solidifies your intent. Eventually you may not use it but you can go back to it when you’re stuck and find a way to get out of a corner.

So that’s it for now. Hope this has helped! I hope to come up with more such tips and little pointers. Just a request. If you find me obnoxious and pretentious with my advice, just tell me! I’ll probably hate you, but yeah, I’d like to know.

Like/Subscribe/Share