When Tanushree Podder Decodes Complex Plots

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Tanushree Podder calls herself a non-technical writer who goes by her instinct and writes about any topic that catches her fancy.  She writes across genres.

Tanushree ma’am says that across genres there are some commonalities  like setting, characters, plots, conflicts,  and their resolution

For a gripping thriller, plots have to be racy. A thriller has to be an adrenaline-inducing experience so that the novel is a page-turner. To achieve this,  the writer needs to scatter some red herrings, twists and turns across the plot line and also leave some hooks at the end of each chapter so that the reader is invested enough with the next chapter too.

The characters have to be strong and enigmatic while the writing has to be a little mysterious. Complex plots can have subplots which can further be developed into stand-alone tales. Complex plots have multiple characters in multiple events across multiple locations. The simple plot is akin to a cloth with a single pattern whereas a complex plot is a multi-colored, multi-patterned cloth, woven masterfully. To create this successfully, it needs great skill. King, Follet, Grisham, and Brown are some of the masters.

A budding writer needs to read at least 100 books before penning one. Research is paramount. A budding author should have a thick skin and keep the nose to the ground, to smell out a good tale because there are stories happening all around us. Among her contemporaries, she likes to read Amitava Ghosh, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Arundhati Roy, Manu Joseph. She hopes to write many many more novels.

Amen to that

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When Ayan Pal Talks About The Difference Between Search And Research

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, Session 6 will be with Ayan Pal on 21 May 2019, author of ‘Confessions On An Island’.

The difference between search and research

By Ayan Pal

I began my tryst with research during Engineering, not for any academic purpose, but to fuel my passion for writing instead. I was working on a historical crime fantasy set in pre-Independence India and the UK and needed to get my facts right, no matter what.

My primary source of inspiration was my prized possession – The World Book Encyclopaedia, a gift from my mom. However, the golden gilded copies could not help me complete my tour de force. In fact, it was an utter failure. I was simply searching for whatever I could find out and trying to fit them into the plot thus making it lose its level of thrill.

Thus, despite have a rock-solid story, and dollops of imagination, a lack of ‘proper’ research made my writing cumbersome and unpalatable. In short, even the ‘world’ was not enough! Having learned my lesson the hard way, I used any and every opportunity thereafter to understand how research can help one elevate one’s writing and make it more thrilling, irrespective of whether it’s a novel, short story, speech, or even a post on Facebook!

Let me begin with an exercise to try and try to use a plot point through Potassium cyanide – a poison most of you would be familiar with for its many references across crime fiction.

Option 1: It was the 24-year-old Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran from Sri Lanka whose paved the path to avoid interrogation if captured for Tamil Tigers. His act of defiance was simple – swallow cyanide hidden within the uniform as a capsule. As he stumbled upon the ground, his mouth frothing, and beginning a slow painful death, a new militant hero was born.

Debrief 1: The above option is an example of using half-baked research by scrounging through undependable sources like Wikipedia. Even though there is documented evidence about the said militant having committed suicide, his exact age and the details of where the capsule was hidden is clearly a figment of the author’s imagination. The last sentence is an absolute flight of fantasy that is more of an ill-construed opinion not based on facts. For starters, cyanide causes almost instant death, thus making the sentence unrealistic as well as incorrect.

Option 2: An Indian man MP Prasad, a goldsmith, who committed suicide left a hastily scrawled note describing the taste of the fatal toxin, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported on Saturday. “Doctors, potassium cyanide. I have tasted it. It burns the tongue and tastes acrid,” he wrote, according to the paper.

Debrief 2: I have just two words to say here – dull and boring. No attempt has been made here of using a fact to elevate the writing in any which way. While this is an example of great research, where the source is also quoted, is it necessary? Would it have been better maybe had it been done in a subtler way, say an Indian character reading the Sunday Morning Herald in Australia suddenly exclaiming to his wife about the taste of cyanide, causing her to immediately stiffen and get an idea that could change their lives forever?

While the above two pieces of writing, though flawed can actually be appreciated for conducting some sort of research, let’s look at an example that became a social-media sensation for its thrilling tone and seemingly factualness.

Option 3: There was a very recent murder case in Australia where an Indian woman killed her husband by giving him crushed Apple seeds. She & her lover have been convicted and sentenced for 22 years & 25 years in prison. I never knew till now that apple seeds contain Cyanide. I searched for the info & was surprised to find that apple seeds do contain Cyanide. This is also one reason why insects hardly hit an apple crop. They know instinctively maybe. Please ensure that the seeds are removed before eating apples. Especially children should not be given a whole apple. Instead cut, remove the seeds before giving it to them. You can google for the veracity of my observation if you have doubts. And do spread the message around to as many people as you can.

Debrief 3: This post is based on an actual case of cyanide poisoning in Melbourne, Australia where Sofia Samand murdered her husband Sam Abraham along with her former lover Arun Kamalasanan. On 21st of June 2018, the Supreme Court jailed Kamalasanan for 27 years and Sam for 22 years. Shocking, isn’t it? But not entirely true. You see, the actual incident had the woman giving her husband orange juice laced with cyanide. However, this half-truth looks almost believable with Google likely to throw up numerous results about the fact that apple seeds do contain poison. Imagine writing a book or delivering a speech to be recorded for posterity (say a TED Talk) based on fake news. What would that make people think about you?

The need to impregnate a sense of expertise and authority in the reader’s and/or listener’s mind through the use of factual data is a must, provided you vary of sources of data and actually speak with experts if you cannot experience it yourself to ensure you get the facts right no matter what.

In my novel ‘Confessions on an Island’, I have used vivid descriptions as well as dialogs to share a whirlpool of facts that not just help you understand the settings better, but also present clues that you will be able to relate with when the denouement presents itself. It being a psychological thriller, and with me being an Engineer and not doctor, I decided against doctoring the reactions of the characters and/or basing them on what I was most likely to do.

They were instead based by researching about patients who have faced similar mental issues, interacting with people with disorders like Bipolar, and actually feeling some of the many things that the characters faced. There were research and facts, there were various sources, but they were also used in sporadic amounts to ensure the content never overwhelms the countenance.

In my opinion, research is like the thread that holds the pearls of any story together, one that stays in the background and lets the real assets – the story, characters, plot, and twists shine. It is a foundation upon which the greatest of stories can be built. The moment it tries to become a pearl in itself and stand alone as a tour de force, you will end up losing the sheen in your writing, causing the carefully collected pearls to needlessly scatter.

The next time you try and pursue writing your next story, speech, or even that social media post, may the force of research be with you. Amen!

Book-CoaI

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When Archana Sarat Deconstructs Writing About A Criminal Mind

, Session 5 with Archana Sarat, author of Birds Of Prey and Tit for Tat.

Getting Into a Criminal’s Mind

By Archana Sarat

There are two pillars of a crime novel – A hero, who fights the crime and a criminal who commits the crime in spite of the odds around.

Why should a writer get into a criminal’s mind? 

It is imperative for a writer to do so to get better writing and reading experience. The writer should examine closely the reasons for a criminal to commit a crime because usually, a harsh punishment doesn’t deter a criminal.

How does crime happen?

Though there are multiple reasons, broadly there are three.

  1. The Crimes due to Poverty.  The divide between the rich and the poor is a compelling factor but most often a criminal is known to explain away his stance without any remorse.
  2. The Crimes due to Addiction like Alcohol or drugs
  3. The Crimes due to Passion. Could be psychological issues like neglect during childhood, lack of love or anger issues.

 

Archana also adds that characterization is very important.  Fleshing out a 3-dimensional character who doesn’t disclose his/her true motives and extensions, is a difficult task as a criminal has many shades.  The other challenge is to buildup the criminal and simultaneously get the hero to deconstruct.

  • Research deep into the crime.
  • Analyze the criminal’s mind.
  • A writer should be careful not to give away all the clues at once.
  • Hence multiple drafts are needed to get that added punch. All this hard work will determine how well the novel will get crafted ultimately.

Archana, the author of ‘Birds of Prey‘ was drawn to crime-fiction as she was compelled to talk about child-sexual-abuse. Crime-Thrillers can be used as instruments of change if they can make even one person rethink. If the cause of the crime can be identified and that cause can be done away with, there could be lesser distress.

Archana is in the process of penning another crime-thriller. (Grey Rocks)

As she confesses, writing about a villain or about crimes of passion is more challenging.

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When Deepti Menon Talks About Thrilling Twists and Turns

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Crime writing is an adrenalin-inducing genre of writing. Readomania has a big and proud list of authors and titles from the genre of crime writing and is bringing them all together for the Crime Writing Festival 2019 in the month of May. Throughout this month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Readomania’s thriller authors will feature in live Twitter discussions and answer budding authors’ questions on everything ‘thrilling’.

The Readomania Crime Writing Festival will also hold a contest on the best ‘original short crime fiction’, the winner of which will receive an ebook publishing deal with Readomania’s digital imprint, ReadoShots. There will also be book giveaways to the best question asked twice every week.

So, be on Twitter this whole month of May and tune in to the Readomania Crime Writing Festival 2019.

Here, Deepti Menon talks about the twists and turns of a gripping thriller.

1. What makes a good thriller? What are the aspects one must take care of while penning one? Using ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ can you elucidate further?

As its name suggests, a thriller needs to ‘thrill’ its readers. Action is vital, characterisation and setting make all the difference, the twists should hurtle in, hard and fast, and the denouement or the climax should be suspenseful enough to make the readers’ hearts skip a beat.

My story ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ starts with a woman falling off her balcony to her death. My characters are strong and well able to hold their own in a sometimes hostile world. I believe that all my twists, major and minor, are vital in holding the interest of my readers.

I also believe that an effective cover makes all the difference to a good thriller. I remember how Dipankar Mukherjee, of Readomania fame, and I hunted around for the right image for ‘Shadow in the Mirror’. Only once he had found the perfect cover, did we breathe a sigh of relief. My lady in blue with the bright red ‘bindi’ and deep brooding eyes would send a chill up anyone’s spine.

2. How does one maintain the taut pace that requires the novel to be a thrilling page-turner? What are the beginner pitfalls one must avoid while penning? 

What is important is that the writer must maintain the taut pace that characterises the book as a thriller. However, this does not mean that the story uses suspense on every page to take it forward. Too much of a good thing can lead to satiety, and hence, the twists and turns should be carefully monitored.

That is one of the pitfalls authors should avoid. Another one is the clichéd plot that comes easy… what comes easy can also be easy for a million other writers as well.


3. How important are the setting and characterization? Should they be noble, distorted or plain grey? How many strong characters should the novel have to balance the yin and yang? How many twists are mandatory? Please describe how you have achieved the same in ‘Shadow in the Mirror’?

         ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ has around four twists. The first one which came in the second half of the story is the one around which the whole story revolves. I was thrilled that not one reader could see the twist coming… it was like a roller-coaster ride which took the breath away. The other twists are comparatively minor, but they propel the action forward. The book ends on a tiny twist as well, a device that most thriller movies and books use to leave the audience off balance.

          Setting plays an important role as it creates a feeling of suspense in the minds of the readers. Imagine a murder taking place in a bright sunny locale, as opposed to one committed on a grey day in a depressing building. Which, do you feel, would work better?

        Strong characters take the story along with them. However, a story that has only strong characters could prove very tiring. Two strong characters would be the perfect blend, with minor characters aiding them to take the story forward.  

4. What is the relevance of language for Crime-Fiction-Writing? Is it necessary to be verbose or would ‘being-terse’ work better?  Which would you prefer?

There is a happy balance between being ‘verbose’ and being ‘terse’. Frankly, verbosity does not work in any genre, as it indicates a hemorrhage of words, dull, stilted and overdone. In ‘Shadow in the Mirror’, as in all my other writing, I have used simple words, descriptive in parts and action-oriented in others. As a Literature buff, I can never reconcile to writing that truncates words. My young friends often tease me when they read my messages on social media because call me a grammar Nazi, I cannot even leave out a comma or a full stop.

  However, when it comes to writing a taut, action-packed scene, the description takes a back seat, while the atmosphere comes in to play a significant role. For example, in the chapter which deals with my major twist, I have made use of descriptions like ‘dark icy winter chill’, ‘a dreadful ringing inside her head’, ‘an atmosphere of suppressed menace’ and the like. Likewise, the building in which the death takes place is described as looming “ominously in the dusk, wrapped in an air of mystery.”

5. How essential are hooks? How should an ideal crime fiction novel end? Tantalizingly open-ended or all ends neatly sewn up? If you were to rewrite ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ what would you change?

Hooks or red herrings are employed to reel the readers in, and leave them in a state of bewilderment. Most readers prefer to let the story go by at its own pace, but as I have said before, there are the Hercule Poirot readers who love to use ‘their grey cells’, peering at every clue to try and solve the mystery before it is revealed.

According to me, an ideal crime fiction novel could end either way, open-ended or all ends neatly sewn up. What is important is that the readers should find themselves satisfied at the end; left with a feeling of having been fed with a good story.

I don’t think I would want to rewrite ‘Shadow in the Mirror’. I like it as it is.

6. How imperative is reading your peer writers to fine-tune your craft? Who are your favourite thriller writers and why? Please name some.

Oh, I think it is imperative to read the books of one’s peers to fine-tune one’s own craft. Not only does one learn from their writing, but one also finds relaxation in styles alien to one’s own.

If you ask me, I tend to find something to learn from every piece of writing I come across, mostly in a positive manner. Of course, there have been times when I have also learnt how not to approach a subject in a certain manner. One lives and learns!

Favourite thriller writers? Agatha Christie is on top of that list. I also enjoy Conan Doyle, Jeffrey Archer, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon and Gillian Flynn. One of the best thriller writers I have ever read is Daphne du Maurier whose writing resonates in my heart still. Another book I must mention here is ‘She’ by Rider Haggard, a book that needs to be savoured and read.

7.  What advice would you give a budding writer?

All I can say is that a writer should love his or her own writing. If you put out something which does not appeal to you, it will not appeal to your readers either.

Also, the grammar Nazi in me would want every piece of writing I read to be well edited. As Zadie Smith put it, “The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.” Never send out a piece that is not edited for typos and spelling errors can irritate the living daylights out of any reader.

Thank you so much, Anupama, for these intriguing questions. I enjoyed answering them. God bless!

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Amma & Beta

IMG_2050I took the bite. And I took the plunge finally, after dawdling over the decision for months.  Thus I have come to the profound conclusion (of course subject to market risks) that Binge Watching might be good for the brain but is terrible for the body!

Now that we have dispensed with the conclusion at the very beginning, let us proceed further.

Though my son and most have been raving about ‘Sacred Games‘ I was skeptical about taking the plunge. Why you may ask. ‘She is a prude‘, you may conclude. Well, you will understand my predicament better, once you understand my watching patterns.

Once the family has been fed to my satisfaction and Hmm-Husband vacillating between IPL and sleep while Darling-Dotty wonders looking at her mountainous pile of books, ‘what is the aim of all this grind?’, I finally settle with my plate of piping hot food for some serious streaming on my laptop, content with the knowledge that I have seen this day through.

When the very first scene is all blood and gore, naturally you can’t chew on it. Neither food nor the scene. But yesterday was different.  I was in a benevolent mood towards self, as I managed to finish penning a chapter. I was willing to traverse the whole nine yards. ‘Sacred Games‘ was my reward. Like a true blue binge watcher, gave up on beauty sleep and finished the entire series in less than 24 hours. ( Let me gloat Ya, a record for me 😀 )

All through Ashwathama…Sarama…Yayati, I plodded on, pushed myself,  ‘ab aayega twist, ab aageya twist.‘ Only to have the end credits roll. Concerned that I might have missed a vital point somewhere, I called my son to reconfirm the plot. Apart from the marriage of convenience between Bollywood, Mantralaya, Police, and Ganglands, with religious violence thrown as a seasoning, what else was in the offing? ( of course, this is a very simplistic and uni-directional summarisation of the two-threaded plot)

Wasn’t all this already dealt with in Satya or in Black-Friday?

My son answered, ‘Maybe so. I will Google about Satya. Some Manoj had an awesome role na?”

I counted till three and said, ‘Bhiku Mhatre! Manoj Bajpai!’  Sonny said, ‘Mom, my generation has loved the clarity, the sheer honesty with which this ganging up together has been shown in Sacred Games. It is very raw.’

I: ‘You mean this marriage of convenience between powers-to-be and unsavory fringe elements of the society?’

Sonny: ‘ Yup mom. You will take time to get this!’

At that moment it hit me of how paleolithic I was.

But I wasn’t giving it up so easily. ‘At least you wouldn’t categorize me as pusillanimous. Would you? I am open to watching a farrago of content’

I thought I had the last word.

Sonny: ‘Looks like someone is getting ‘Tharoorised

Uff! Me thinks, I won’t go bananas. I gotta ‘scale‘ it down and watch the boy’s head weight.

Who knows what will crash and when?

We are headstrong alright! Mommieee!

Revolt of the Lamebren: Book 1 of the Super-Dome Chronicles – Manjiri Prabhu

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What if you are born with a termination date? Would you be ready to die at sixteen?

I’m in the midst of completing ‘Revolt of the Lamebren: Book 1 of the Super-Dome Chronicles‘ by Manjiri Prabhu, the feisty lady who wears many hats –  Director of PILF, a filmmaker and an author – very adroitly.

This book is a captivating Sci-Fi work, which is a commentary on the present times, where the man in his greed for the rapidly depleting environmental resources, has become oblivious to the repercussions. Is doom in store? Will the man script any changes to his destiny? Can compassion become relevant again?

In the Super-Dome of the future, Altklugs are born with the super-knowledge and efficiency of 6.25 human years, in their one year.
Zinnia is one of the Lamebren, normal humans missing the ace inputs in this world. As she and others like her grapple with their clipped, carefully monitored and suffocating life in the Super-Dome, they face the looming threat of their termination dates.
Startling events and unexpected dark secrets reveal the decay, cruel intentions and repercussions of the Altklug world, making Zinnia realize that it is up to her to challenge their pre-decided destiny.
Through a vortex of extreme adversities and life-threatening danger as well as painful self-realization, Zinnia bravely fights the world of the Altklugs for justice and equality.
Would she and her friends ace the fight for the survival of the Lamebren and beat their termination dates?

That is for you, dear reader to pick a copy, read and decipher.

I recently had the opportunity of asking some questions to Manjiri and this is what she had to say. The answers are precise, incisive and straight from the heart!

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a) Authors are often asked this question, but everyone has their own reasons. Why do you write? What motivates you?

I will say the same thing that I have said elsewhere…I write because it’s a need, because I imagine, dream, feel, love and reciprocate.

And because I have a story to extract from my interactions, from my emotions, whether in imagination or reality and turn it into a fictitious reality.

I want to create a world of my own and enjoy the trials and tribulations of the journey and finally when it is done, sit back and let the world see my creation.

I write because I want to create memories, because I want to learn, explore and live many lives and travel with many characters to lands known and unknown. To feel fulfilled, to remind myself how blessed I am!

I write because that’s what I can do . . . …and love to do!

b) How did you decide upon the genre of science fiction for your latest book, ‘Revolt of the Lamebren’, considering you are known as the Agatha Christie of India?

Every story needs to be told differently and every idea needs to unfold in a manner appropriate to its complexity. When I contemplated the world of Altklugs in my mind, it was obviously futuristic and had to be narrated as such. I call it a futuristic reality, hence the treatment is not exactly science fiction, but more a futuristic adventure. So, in a way, my instinct of writing mysteries also played a major role in the writing of this novel.

c) ROL talks of a futuristic world, which is not totally impossible. Did you have to do a lot of research in fleshing out this world? We would love to read some examples of how your research was converted into the world, as depicted in ROL.

It certainly was a tremendous amount of work, which began with the unlearning of what I had always taken for granted. For example, what would trains be called in the future? Or what would video cameras be called? I worked around a lot of combinations and possibilities and finally came up with words like Rattlers for trains, Digi-Eyes for cameras, the Snarl for a forest. Or Dissolution Crypts for Death Chambers. Even the lame-brained children were called Lamebren, lame-brained boy was lamebroy and a lame-brained girl is lamebirl.

The process was very exciting and a huge pleasure when I finally saw the Super-Dome and its inmates, including the Lamebren, take a solid, credible form.

d) Why did you choose women as protagonist and antagonist? Is there a hidden message? Do you think women would rule the world in the future?

Women are powerful beings with untapped power. They have the capacity to rule, create, love and nurture but also an equal capacity to hate, destroy and destruct. A woman has two sides to her and it is up to her which side she wishes to project. By having a female antagonist, I acknowledge this dark side of a woman and her capacity to scheme and be cruel. But by having a female protagonist, I establish more, my faith in her, as she counters and stands against her own dark side.

Yes, definitely women will rule the world in the future. In a way, they already do.

e) Zinnia is a very believable character, a strong, brave and determined person, almost like a role model. Did you draw parallels with what women should be in today’s world?

Zinnia is a lot like my sisters Purnima and Sonia. Strong, brave, intelligent, capable and overly emotional. They will do anything for justice and for what is right. And I do feel that Zinnia is a good example of how to tackle issues. She is a child but yet so mature in her outlook, she cares and loves her friends with abandon, is selfless and possesses a positive, unfailing will. There is a lot to learn from Zinnia.

f) Do you think each of us has a Zinnia within us who is constantly fighting for her independence and identity in this patriarchal and misogynistic world?

I do believe that there is a Zinnia within us, operating at sub-conscious levels, questioning and trying to override established norm. Often subtle.

But most of the times, from what I have seen, we are so conditioned and used to reconciling to a situation because of tradition, parental teachings, other pressures that we forget that the Zinnia in us can actually help us establish a new way of life. But first, it is up to us to acknowledge the need to do so, consciously and then allow the Zinnia in us to question and confront that which goes against our better thinking. But yes, she lives within us.

g) Did you enjoy writing this book more than your crime thrillers? Would you write more of this genre?

I thoroughly enjoy every book I write – its conception, journey, research. I wouldn’t write it otherwise. But yes, The Revolt of the Lamebren provided a unique challenge and it was a completely satisfying experience.  I have two more to write in the trilogy and I am quite looking forward to it.

h)RoL must be read for many reasons. What is that one reason that you think it is?

It should be read to understand that if we aren’t careful, we are going to be heading the Altklug way soon. We already are…My one message is clear – there is no option for love and compassion if we wish to survive as a human race.

i) Are the processes for writing a sci-fi or a destination thriller any different?

Every writer has his or her own process of writing. So do I…I sometimes follow a set pattern, sometimes I allow the pattern to follow my gut instinct. A destination thriller requires meticulous planning and research….I have a responsibility to the destination, the reader as well as myself. In a sci-fi like The Revolt of the Lamebren, since the world is all mine, the responsibility is towards this world, my characters, myself and the reader. I am answerable to my own creation. I believe therein lies the difference. Otherwise largely, plot development etc go through similar dissections and journeys.

j) What do you enjoy reading? Does it help your writing? Would you recommend the same to other writers?

I used to enjoy reading mystery novels and have devoured classics but nowadays, to be really honest, nothing seems to satisfy me. Perhaps the writer in me is too critical, perhaps I am just plain bored with what is being written nowadays. But I have yet to read something that will really excite me. I long for that headiness, that excitement of reading a book non-stop, through meals, throughout the night and which will leave me enraptured at the end of it. I haven’t read such a  book in a long, long time.  But I will find it soon – I am very hopeful, that this phase is temporary and that one super book will find me too!

k) You have done many things in your professional life – films, books, events. Looking back, what do you think excites you the most? Did straddling across so many art forms aid in your creative evolution?

It all depends on what mood I am in. Writing certainly excites me but so does a film. Organizing a Litfest is really hard work and the enjoyment hits after it is over.  On a serious note, though, organizing a Litfest does give me tremendous satisfaction.

But I believe that it is my traveling and writing that has really been responsible for any creative evolution in me. The constant need to seek something out there in the world and try to apply and merge those experiences, ideas, and thoughts into my world of imagination, is a continuous, heady process which requires my hundred percent involvement. That connect with unknown landscapes and cultures, the challenging of boundaries and comfort zones is what keeps me clued in, alert and energized and I feel is the source of all my creative energy.

l) PILF is now an established name. How has been your journey as The Director of PILF?

Challenging, extremely satisfying and exciting. I am very proud of what PILF represents, its uniqueness and its potential.

m) Given the increase in the number of literature festivals, do you think they are losing relevance? What according to you is the main objective, the essence of such a festival?

In my mind, a literature festival has to create an apt platform for writers and creative professionals to meet and create new readers and audience. It has to be aspirational and inspirational. There has to be a definite takeaway for the audience. I wouldn’t say there are too many litfests. How can we, when there are so many authors and only some select few get represented at these litfests? A litfest would only lose its relevance when its focus shifts from writers to something more commercial.

n) What is your future vision for the festival?

Clear and vibrant – a better festival, not bigger; a festival which would never lose sight of its real goal; a festival with a heart and a platform for writers and creative practitioners at all levels of their careers. But mostly I would love to create a world of storybooks and magic and a hub of knowledge and creative energy.

o) RoL was your 10th book and that surely makes you a very senior author. What is your view on the future of reading/writing in India?

Every person I meet is a writer. Stores are cluttered with books. I don’t even know if these books will ever be read or sold. I don’t even know if the books I write will ever be read. But I still write – research and travel and put in the time, energy, money and sit in solitude for months to write a 90000-word book, which I have no clue will ever be read. Why do I do it? Why do so many others? Because of an inherent need to share and express something – ideas, message, something. It’s a crazy need – regardless of the future of the book.

I look at these two as parallel entities -the future of books and writers writing because they believe in it, like two separate islands with nothing to do with each other. I believe that these two islands are quite capable of surviving on their own in the long haul.

p) Given the current pressure on marketing books, is a writer expected to be a complete package? Is writing, only half the deal? What pitfalls should a novice avoid?

Certainly – today a writer is expected to be a writer, an actor, a salesperson, a spokesperson, a host, a magician! Sometimes publishers expect it, sometimes authors go out of their way to draw attention.

A novice should just enjoy writing his novel for a refreshing change, at least his/her first book before he gets sucked into the quagmire called promotions!

q) Is popular and accessible writing far removed from deeper nuanced writing? Or is there a bridge joining the two?

For me, there are only two kinds of books – good books and bad books. Good books can be popular, serious, of any genre, multi-layered, accessible etc. Bad books are just plain bad. No matter who writes them. They have no caste or creed. There is no bridge between the good and bad ones.

r) Finally, what would you want the world to remember you as? Manjiri, the filmmaker, the author or the Director of PILF and other festivals?

Manjiri, the Author!

 

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The History of Mathematics – Archana Talks

In her career as a writer, Archana has spun some terrific tales across genres. Whether it was her short stories, her Novel ‘Birds of Prey’ or the e-book ‘Tit for Tat’, they have all captivated her readers and brought in much-deserved accolades.

In ‘The History of Mathematics’, Archana touches upon known and hitherto unknown legends, mathematical concepts, mathematicians and serves up a delectable fare.

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There are 26 neatly arranged tales (nothing to do with the letters of the English Alphabet) with apt titles, captions, aided by drawings, equations, expressions and pithy quotes by the famous.

Archana Sarat speaks to us –

1. Congratulations Archana! Your book is just out and there’s a great buzz about the response to it. How do you feel?

Thank you, Anupama. Though I feel thankful that my efforts have been acknowledged and the book is loved by the readers, the entire process of writing and publishing is a surreal experience. The efforts of many people go into shaping the book: my editor, Percy Wadiwala, my publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee, my illustrator, Rayee Terdalkar and so many others. It is the Almighty’s blessing that I have all these supportive folks in my life. So, I cannot take credit for everything.

2. You have dabbled across genres. What made you take up writing on this particular subject and choosing it as a conduit for your creative expression?

I love to write very-short short stories, popularly called flash fiction. I had been toying with the idea of writing a collection of flash fiction stories on a single topic.  I have always loved mathematics and I enjoy reading books on the topic. When I chanced upon a book about the evolution of mathematics, the first few stories from ‘The History of Mathematics’ gushed into my head with hardly any effort.

3. How did you approach the writing of your novel? Was there anything particularly challenging when you took up writing on this subject?

Initially, I had just wanted to write stories that show us how math evolved. As my research intensified, I understood that mathematics, as we know it today, is the result of India’s invaluable contributions to this field. This was when I decided that at least half of the book must include India’s contribution to mathematics.

This decision became my biggest challenge. This was because there was hardly any information available about renowned Indian mathematicians like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara I, etc. These men were extremely humble, and they wanted their work to speak for itself and did not believe in attaching their names to their contributions. Did you know that we have no historical data about Aryabhata who wrote Aryabhatiya when he was just twenty-three years of age? Except for that one piece of information, we know nothing else about him though he is our country’s leading astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. So, research became a nightmare while I worked on this book.

4. The scope of the subject chosen is vast. How did you decide, how much to tackle, when and where to leave?

I’ve hardly covered a drop in the ocean as far as the history of mathematics is concerned. In this book, I have covered the time period from early ages till the eleventh century CE. I haven’t spoken about the contributions of China, Egypt, and the Arabs. I’ve also not written about the Kerala mathematicians. I will cover all this in a sequel to this book.

5. Why should anyone read your book? Who is your target audience? Can you sum up the journey of your book in two sentences?

We are at a difficult time in history when half the population is disillusioned with our country and the other half is taking pride in all the wrong things. I think reading this book can help clear our perspectives and allow us to see what a great nation we are.

The target audience for this book would be anybody from 8 to 88 years of age. Both math enthusiasts and history enthusiasts would enjoy the book.

To sum up the journey of my book, I must say that it was a labour of love. Nothing else but the unfettered passion to the idea kept me slogging through a dozen books on this topic.

6. Why do you think some children fear maths? Any tips to them to overcome their fear? Does this book help in any way overcoming those worry pangs?

Not just children, all of us fear things that we cannot understand be it cooking, ghosts or rappelling. The only way to overcome this fear is to make efforts to understand and appreciate the thing that scares us. This is where teachers, parents, and books, like this one, can help. When children read that the knowledge of mathematics is inborn, it dispels their fear of the topic. Also, the book contains a few tips and tricks from the Egyptians that make certain mathematical calculations easy.

7. Some say we are dumbing down as we are becoming tech-dependent by the hour.  Would a peek into the history of mathematics make us more analytical?

Becoming tech-dependent may not be a bad thing. When books became popular for the first time in history, parents chided their children for reading. They wanted them to go out and play. Parents did not allow the kids to read while eating. Now, I’m sure all parents would be happy to allow their child to read rather than sit glued to the computer or mobile screen. So, these things keep changing with the times.

However, even in these times, I strongly feel that being analytical may be good in certain things like reading and studying. The mere act of scratching out numbers on a paper using a pencil feels therapeutic to me. This is the reason why I have included many stories that talk about clay tablets, maintaining accounts using tally sticks, counting using beads, etc.

8.  What next? What defines you? Do you have anything specific to share with your readers that you learnt while writing this book?

My hands are itching to write a thriller next. It is my most favourite genre. It has been a long time since Birds of Prey, my debut psychological crime thriller.

Two things I learnt while writing my recent book are tolerance and perseverance. All new ideas face opposition. People cannot tolerate change and they find it easier to remove the person suggesting the change rather than remove their old habits. This is where perseverance comes into play. Our yesteryear mathematicians stuck on steadfastly and stood for their views. If you don’t stand up for something, you will fall for anything!

9. What do you think is the future of reading/writing in India?

A research study shows that we are reading much more than ever before in history, though this is predominantly in the form of Facebook posts, WhatsApp messages, Quora answers and Scroll articles. The future of reading and writing is bright in India provided the content is engaging and is presented in a pleasing manner. Shoddy covers, pathetic editing and meandering stories will not work anymore.

10. Any advice for other writers and budding writers?

Read.

Read in the genre that you write.

Read in other genres too.

Read bestsellers.

Read prize-winners.

Read all others too.

For every 1000 words that you write, read 10,000.