A mum’s tale

Shantanu was sitting at his usual spot, at the head of the table and I was at my usual spot, near the wall, at the alcove, to his left.
He was all worked up, my Shantanu. I wanted to ruffle his hair and say life would be ok. But I decided against it. He was already late for work you see. He wanted to reach before his team came in. Soon the monstrous morning traffic would consume every available space on the roads and my Shantanu hated traffic. It gave him the headaches, he said.
Shantanu folded the papers and drummed his fingers impatiently on the table. He was hungry. I knew he would be served those bland oats and some fancy fruits whereas Shantanu loved my tangy vegetables and Rotis.
I sighed.
Just then Noyinka walked in from her morning Yoga classes, bellowed for breakfast to the person battling in the kitchen.
“Bhaiyya has to leave, Jhumki!”. Noyinka then plonked herself next to Shantanu and chatted non-stop about the world around, without waiting for him to reply. Poor boy! It has been a Noyinka centric world ever since he married her against my wishes and brought her home.
Oh, I haven’t introduced myself have I? I’m Amma, Shantanu’s mother. Noyinka and I have had a frosty relationship at the best. She tried and I tried too. But somehow it didn’t work out and eventually, we decided to ignore each other while Shantanu fretted and fumed. Fed up he, chose work over us. On hindsight, it turned out a good decision.
Anyways, coming back to the present, I watched Shantanu push that bland fare down his throat, kiss his wife on her forehead and rush out. He didn’t even look at my direction. I sighed again, silently followed him, settled in the passenger seat quickly before the driver revved up the engine. Shantanu hated car-conversations. He checked his mail while the driver cursed, cussed and honked and I sat quietly watching the daily drama. Shantanu got down at his office, told the driver to come back later in the evening after carting Noyinka around and walked inside briskly without saying a word or bidding me goodbye.
I exhaled deeply again. Well, I knew it would happen.
I came back all tired and settled near the alcove.
The blessed maid, knowing fully well that Noyinka wouldn’t be back for some time, was sprawled in front of the telly, thoroughly enjoying some regressive Saas-Bahu serials. How unrealistic and far removed from real-life these soaps are I tell you, two women fighting for control of the house or over a man! Just imagine!
With nothing much to do, I settled next to her, watching those numbing serials in a loop.
After some time Noyinka called Jhumki with a fresh set of dinner instructions. Cursing, Jhumki got up reluctantly, switched off the Telly, without even asking me and got to work.
I decided against letting Jhumki know how I felt, quietly settled by the alcove and waited for the evening to fall.
It was almost 9 pm by the time Noyinka and my Shantanu returned. I beamed the moment I saw him. He briefly looked at me and asked for dinner. Jhumki brought out some unpalatable fare. Shantanu looked exhausted, he sniffed at the food, barely nibbled at any. Noyinka didn’t seem to sense any of this. I sat next to son, wanting to soothe him. But then, suffering is personal, isn’t it? I sat by him without a word.
Dinner done, husband and wife retired to their room. I wanted to follow them there too but then there are some boundaries right?
So I settled in at the alcove for the night.
In my photo-frame, on the photo-stand, which is gathering dust by the second.
This stupid Jhumki doesn’t clean the alcove and my son whom I love so much, so much that, I still stick around, doesn’t change the faded garlands adorning my photo often.
What can I expect from Noyinka anyways? Her happy period began when she became the queen of this abode of mine when I popped off suddenly five years ago.
Maybe I will spook that lazy Jhumki tonight.
Just for fun and bide my time till my Shantanu wakes up!

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 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 Archana Sarat Talks About Getting Inside the Criminal’s Mind

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.40.25 PMCrime 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, Archana Sarat talks about ‘getting inside the criminal’s mind‘. It is gripping.

5th session of on by  16/5/19, 8PM on ‘Getting Inside the Criminal’s Mind’ The best question wins a copy of her book.

Getting Inside the Criminal’s Mind

By Archana Sarat

Narrating the story of Swarna, in Birds of Prey, through her own eyes, can easily be called as the biggest writing challenge I’ve faced till now. Here was a woman loved and respected by all; she was timid and caring. She loved children and could never harm another living creature. How could she ever be a criminal? A perusal through the newspaper every day is enough to acclimatize us to the fact that criminals come in all shapes and sizes, gender and background. A qualification, or lack thereof, makes no difference to the mind of a criminal.

Causes of Crime

While the government seems obsessed with dealing with the results of crime, it is the duty of writers to ponder about the causes of crime. When we understand what made our criminal what he is, it helps us write and understand him better. Every criminal is aware of right and wrong and they know the potential consequences of their actions. Still, they can shut off this awareness long enough to commit the crime. While some of them regret their actions later, most of them have a fanciful tale of how it wasn’t their fault.

While all criminals refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions and blame others, there are others who would do ‘anything’ in their pursuit of money, power, and control. Some of our politicians are examples of this! For some criminals, this is an easy way out. Stealing the music player or the tyres of a parked car can be an easy way to fill the pocket when compared to working for an entire week to earn the same money.

Understanding the different kinds of criminals, and the causes that shape them can help us write them better. Poverty is the first and primary reason why most people turn to crime. Sadly, the divide between the haves and have-nots is continuing to get wider; crime will only increase in such a society. It is not surprising that most criminals are from the poorer sections of society.

Not all criminals are poor. Some of the goriest crimes are perpetuated by the ruthless rich. What makes a rich person commit a crime? What drives him? What makes him lose his empathy? A history of childhood neglect and abuse is one of the most common reasons for crime in such sections of society.

Not all criminals are abused. Sometimes, a man has everything —a loving family, a good job, financial security—but still, he becomes a criminal. Mostly, in such situations, the man falls prey to a habit of alcohol or drug abuse. A problem of addiction, coupled with low self-esteem, could prove to be dangerous.

Not all criminals are addicted. Sometimes, a person commits a crime in a moment of passion. A flash of fury can be dangerous if a person does not know how to control his anger. One interesting thing to explore in such situations is why does the person have anger management issues?

Not all criminals are angry. Sometimes, the cause of crime runs deeper. Just like any other physical or mental ailment, this kind of criminal suffers from the lack of a sense of empathy and a sense of understanding. Right from a young age, this criminal cannot control himself from injuring others. Sometimes, he feels guilty too. However, his lack of empathy soon overpowers his guilt and he continues his life of crime. This kind of criminal requires psychiatric help.

Stepping into the Shoes

When I wrote about child sexual abuse in Birds of Prey, one of the first questions that was shot at me was whether the abuse was my personal experience. While I was delighted that I could write in such a manner that readers mistook it for a personal experience, writing those particular chapters was traumatic and distressing.

Before working on those chapters, I read extensively about child sexual abuse. Next, I went through medical examination reports and postmortem reports of actual crimes. Some of them had explicit photographs that still haunt me and give me sleepless nights. After that, I had the opportunity to speak to a few victims. I spent more than a month on this research to understand the level of brutality and callousness needed to perpetuate such crimes.

I put myself into the shoes of the victim and agonized over every hurt and every wound. Words froze and it was one of the worst writer’s blocks that I went through. I couldn’t believe how one could do such things to poor, innocent and helpless children.

It was time to put myself into the shoes of the criminal. This can be one of the most challenging activities for any writer. Unless you are a seasoned criminal yourself, it could be near impossible for you to imagine why you are doing what you are doing. This is where it helps to understand the causes of a crime. Now, you have situations to put yourself into that shows you why you became such a person.

Finally, the words started to flow, and the book was written. Getting into the mind of a criminal and exploring your way through it is a must for every aspiring crime writer. It is definitely not a pleasant experience and could scar you for life, but it makes your writing stronger, sharper and better.

 

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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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When Anurag Anand Talks About Writing Political Thrillers in Sensitive Times

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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, Anurag Anand talks about political thrillers.

Writing Political Thrillers in Sensitive Times

By Anurag Anand

Cloaks and daggers and a little bit of gore,

A thriller is but life and a tad bit more.

Greed, lust, ambition, and passions,

Myriad motivations make up its core.

Such a cocktail when one sets out to stir,

Of politics and politicians and their heirs…

The rope is tight and the margin so thin,

Of ruffling feathers there’s always a fear.

The times are sensitive, they say…

For, by old rules, they’ve long ceased to play.

There’s the white and there’s the black,

As we go on to write an obituary for the grey.

A writer’s role, as he takes on such a task,

Is, to be honest, and sincere to his readers’ ask.

And to stand by his pen in the wake of accusations,

Of tilting right or to the left or standing on half-mast.

       Politics ranks right up there with Cricket and Bollywood in terms of the passions it ignites amongst us Indians. The myriad characters and machinations that make up the political landscape are discussed and analysed at length at roadside eateries and office cafeterias alike. Come election season and this buzz magnifies, permeating our lives in more ways than one would wish for. It was this widespread appeal of the subject that got me thinking of a story that finally took shape of an exciting political thriller, The Assassination of Rajat Gandy.

Once I was satisfied with the way the story structure had shaped up, I got down to penning its expanded version. This was the easy part. I had enough material from lifelong observation of the Indian political system – greed and lust for power, duality of behavior and fractured moralities – to allow the characters to chart their own course through the pages of the manuscript. Here, the only choice I had to make was whether or not I should mould my characters on real people. I opted for a balanced approach, drawing inspiration from living politicians, but only just. This allowed the story to develop its own unique flavour, without compromising on its relatability for the readers. After all, it was an honest political thriller that I had set out to write.

It was only once the manuscript was ready and I began sending it out to potential publishers that the sensitivity of the subject dawned upon me. Many of the A-list publication houses loved the plot but were weary of commissioning it for they believed it had the potential of ruffling a few feathers. An unwarranted eventuality that they were not willing to risk for the sake of putting out an exciting story.

Their stance wasn’t entirely surprising. The political narrative in the country has never been as polarised as it is now. People are wedded to political ideologies and personalities almost in a manner of blind faith, not willing to acknowledge any faults in those that they side with and unable to see any positives in those that they oppose. I have seen, on social media and otherwise, normal discussions on politics taking ugly turns and friends turning into foes on this account. Passions have undoubtedly been running high, and it is only fair for entities in the publication business then to want to steer clear of any possible controversies.

I went through the manuscript again, chopping, pruning and rewording the potentially flagrant sections, without compromising the essence of the story. I sought opinions from my friends in the legal fraternity as well, before recirculating the story for evaluation. At this stage, I had realised that the one thing that my story couldn’t be accused of – was being politically motivated. If it had to attract brickbats, it would do so from both polarities of the political spectrum. It was an honest story that didn’t take sides. And this, to me, was a source of much confidence as an author. By way of my sincerity of approach, I had managed to create a sense of balance about the story, albeit not in the appeasing sense, and it was now time to put it out there and let the readers pass their verdict.

I was fortunate that the team at Readomania shared my passion and belief in the story and were willing to burn the proverbial midnight oil to get the book out in record time. The Assassination of Rajat Gandy is now out on the stands, and if the initial reader reviews are anything to go by, it has turned out exactly the way I had hoped it would.

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When Sourabh talks about penning relatable Crime Fiction novels

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Festival 2019, Session 2 with Sourabh Mukherjee, author of The Colours of Passion and In the Shadows of Death.   on ‘There’s a Killer Inside Everyone’

What drives an individual to crime?

Because Murder is the last resort of the weak‘ (From Colours of Passion)

Sourabh Mukherjee who writes stories about human relationships and the way the emotions unfold, says the biggest challenge to a crime fiction writer is to create characters that are relatable because readers of today are extremely evolved, as they are reading content across the world. The readers are also exposed to diverse storytelling platforms.

He further adds, given the shorter attention span of today’s global reader, it has become imperative to craft stories that are relevant and topical.

Sourabh also touches upon the various developments that have taken place in this particular genre.

  1. The Protagonists or the crime-solvers aren’t larger than life characters. They are as human as you and me with inherent weaknesses, battling their own failures and short-comings.
  2. It is perfectly okay to have the reader figure out the ‘whodunnit‘ right in the middle rather than reveal it in the very last para
  3. More than the Who, and How, the Why is more important

Crime fiction in India is very mature and nuanced, unlike the traditional western crime fiction writing which dealt with thefts of valuables and more.

His advice to the budding crime fiction writers –

  • It is important to maintain the taut pace throughout the novel by revisiting the written chapters.
  • Hooks are paramount. So is setting up the atmospherics for an immersive experience for the reader.
  • Short chapters help to keep the readers’ engagement with the novel constant and sustain their interest.
  • Play out the crime. Delve deeper into the psyche of the killer. The moment leading up to the crime is very important. Do relevant research for a solid retrospective crime solving.
  • Relatable and realistic narrative maintaining the flow

To understand more about Crime Fiction Writing, do check the link embedded.

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