Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview with Kiran Manral, author of The Reluctant Detective

Kiran, a warm welcome from me and the readers of Radio Parul. Congratulations on your first book. I am looking forward to talking with you about the book, your inspiration and everything else. Let's warm up with a  few questions about our industry.

They say this is the best time in India to get published. Everyone knows at least one person who is writing or has written a book. What are your views on the subject? Some people say that a lot of this writing is strictly mediocre. What gives?
I think there is a growing segment of people who are interested in writing from India that they can relate to, which is not exoticised or romanticised. Also, there is an entire generation of people who have grown up with English as their primary language in education and who are more comfortable in this language, reading and writing than their mother tongue. Also 'being an author' seems to be a glamorous profession these days, and with authors from very diverse backgrounds, giving up day jobs to get into serious writing, it seems to be here to stay for a while. Apart from this, there is a demand for writing that spans the gamut from that which is easily read, to that which is, err, meatier. A lot of the writing might be mediocre, who am I to judge or comment on that, a lot of it might be in a language and syntax that the modern Indian reader is comfortable with, but I feel there will be a shake out, and eventually the spate to get published will abate and the wheat as they say will separate from the chaff.

A website published this photo-article recently. Would you have liked to feature in this? Why or why not? 
Oh. I would be very flattered if they had selected me to be featured in this. But simultaneously I would feel a trifle offended, you know. I would actually rather not be on a list which categorises me according to my appearance. The way one looks adds or detracts nothing from the work, just makes for pretty pictures at launches and in interviews. At the end of it all, the writing has to hold the reader and get him or her to read the book.

Some time back, this had made an appearance in What do you feel about this?  
Why? Why do writers have to be glamorous? Or sexy? It is an add on if they are, and if they consciously choose to project themselves as such, but I think it is grossly unfair to expect them to be so. Are we asking movie stars to start writing and reveal their intellectual side? I see this is a manifestation of the hyper-aestheticism that has taken over our society, where everything seems to be judged on the basis of appearance and externals. From people to things, we are in pursuit of external beauty, and demand that everyone and everything conform to the notion that beauty is goodness and desirability essential. 
A lot of people seem to revel in sending brickbats to Chetan Bhagat and Chetan-bashing is a sport almost at par with cricket. Your views?
That is unfortunate, because Mr Bhagat has completely redefined publishing in India and drawn in a completely new segment of reader which hitherto never touched an English fiction book ever in their lives. I travelled to Nainital, Almora a year or so ago, and visited a relative's home where his young, college going son had every book Mr Bhagat has ever written. I asked him if he had read any other author and was told that he found Chetan Bhagat the 'easiest' to read. And reading Chetan Bhagat had given him the confidence to start reading, and enjoying books in English. Which, for a young boy, with a shaky grasp of the language, was a huge positive. All said and done, Mr Bhagat's sales figures are the stuff writers get wet dreams about, so all those who bash him, write such best sellers and then do your
It is being said that it is not sufficient to be a writer anymore. One needs to be actively and intensely involved in marketing and publicizing. What do you feel about this trend? Do you think it takes away the time that writers should be spending on improving their craft?
No. Let's be realistic. Marketing a book takes around a couple of months away from the rest of the year one has to write, and at the end of the day one has to make people aware of the product, ergo, the book. People will buy if they are curious about it, and they can be curious if they read a bit about it. But yes, I do feel, things have got a little too aggressive these days, authors are every where and at all times. But then that is a personal choice they do make, as to how much time and effort are they willing to devote to promoting their books. And yes, the days when the readers were content to have the authors as a jacket cover photograph are long gone. Readers want to interact with authors, see them as flesh and blood people and be able to relate with them. And if an author wants their work to sell, it seems to be the norm to do the promotions that go with the territory.
About the book 
How did it feel to hold your first book in your hands?
You've been there before me, Parul. You know the feeling. It's like holding one's child in one's hands. Inexplicable joy, pride and an overwhelming sense of responsibility about what one has put out there
in the world.
For the ones who haven't read it, could you describe the book in a tweet?
A curious suburban housewife gets down to snooping about two murders in her neighbourhood & becomes 'The Reluctant Detective."  (Ah well, use deckly long post for this tweet).
So it's not a detective novel, is it?
Nah. Not at all.
How do you feel about the cover? Who did the design? How has the response been?

It was designed by Mishta Roy. I was ambivalent about it initially. It looked lovely, and I am a shoe-aholic, so I did love it visually. So far, people seemed to have loved it. It has earned the moniker of 'Woh Jootey wali kitaab' at bookstores as the wondrous Aneela Babar of tells us.

What do you want the reader to feel when they turn the last page of the book?
A sense of sadness that it is over. And a hope that there is another Kay story out soon.
Tell us about something about your central character that has not been covered in the book. Will Kanan Mehra make a comeback or are you done and dusted with her?
Something about Kanan Mehra that has not been covered in the book? Perhaps the fact that while she enjoys the life of leisure she leads, within herself there is this niggling fear that she should be doing something more with her time. Kanan Mehra should make a comeback. I can't be done and dusted with her.
So many books these days inspire movies? Have you dreamt about the same happening to the Reluctant Detective? Tell us about what this movie would be like. Which books do you feel have been successfully turned into movies?
I haven't actually. Not when I wrote it. But now that many people have read it they seem to think it would be great as a movie. And who am I to dissuade their train of thought. I am of the old school of thought that believes that few books can translate into a movie successfully. Amongst the classics are of course, Satyajit Ray's movies based on Tagore's works. Rebecca, Gone With The Wind, and more recently The Lord Of The Rings series, The Bridget Jones series and One Day. A lot many more elements need to come together for books to make the successful jump to the screen, than a regular screenplay does, to start with there is the reader's perception of a character who is described--and the actor chosen to play that character needs to fit in with that perception in order for that entire movie to work for the reader.
How do you feel when your book is classified as chick-lit?
Strangely enough, I haven't read much chicklit. One book of the Shopaholic series. The Devil Wears Prada. And a couple of Indian authors I read in the course of my professional reviewing. As for my book being classified chicklit, hah. It cuts away half my potential readers immediately so from a purely mercenary point of view that hurts. But other than that, if whoever reads it, enjoys it, I really don't have an issue with any label given to it.
About the author 
You are almost forty, aren't you and have written for newspapers and magazines for many, many years. Why did it take this long for a full-length novel to arrive?
I am over forty. Yes. I have written for a while. Why did I not write a full length novel all these years. Simple. I never thought I could. Also, I was too busy trying to meet deadlines and ensure that the
business of living was taken care of.

Do you have an Ideal Reader in mind when you write? Tell us a little bit about inspiration, muse and the process of developing the story. 
I don't actually. I just write. Inspiration for this particular story came from the demographic I come from, the mid thirties woman, who has been a career woman but, post marriage and babies, has given it all up to be a homemaker. And finds nothing to occupy herself with. I find this all around me, a huge pool of manpower, trained, efficient manpower that is out of the workforce because we have such terrible childcare in this country. So a lot of it was drawn from real life and the people around me, and I placed the protagonist in a situation that was close to home, and yet something that shook her daily routine. Nothing that was radical enough to shake her too much out of her comfort zone.

Which authors have inspired and influenced your writing? Which books are timeless reads for you? Which book was the pick of 2011?
Authors who have inspired me are as the cliche goes, too many to name. P G Wodehouse, Jerome K Jerome are my gods. After them Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl, Stephen King, J R R Tolkein. In some way, I think they've influenced my writing. Authors I enjoy going back to over and over again, strangely are the classics, Tolstoy, Charlotte Bronte, Hemingway, Steinbeck and the
like. My book for 2011 would be 11/22/63 by Stephen King and the Steve Jobs biography, oh yes, I finally finished it.

What else do you do other than writing up a storm?
I am bonded slave to my eight year old, I run a house (and that's a full time job), I write freelance articles, I look after the creative aspects of an advertising agency business I co-own with my husband and I do work for India Helps, a volunteer network I initiated that looks to provide long support and rehabilitation to disaster victims. We've worked with 26/11 CST victims as well as 13/7 blast victims.
Tell us about the facets of popular culture that fascinate you.
Movies. Surely. I love to see how the 'Bollywood' still exists and there is a breakaway movement within Bollywood for themes and movies which go contrary to the formula, which are very different in terms of treatment and narrative and still reach out to an audience.

Which is the strongest female voice you have ever heard in a book? Do you ever feel that is missing these days in books? Why is that happening?
The strongest female voice I have ever read in a book. That needs much narrowing down, I would say Toni Morrison's Beloved, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. From the male authors, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Flaubert's Madame Bovary. In recent times, Sarita Mandanna's Tiger Hills had a fabulous female protagonist and a strong voice. There are strong female voices out there, but not as strong as any of these. I have wondered on this too. We don't have the kind of female characters in our books these days which could haunt you. I wonder why too, there are enough and more women out there writing.
Does your son read? Do children read enough these days? What can a parent do to get their children interested in reading? Which books are the best gifts to give to children?
My son, alas, is a non reader. I have done everything in my power to get him attracted to books but alas he doesn't take to the written word that easily. It is only now that he can be induced to sit down with a Roald Dahl or a Superhero book. I wish I had the answers to the next two questions. Of course, I blame this lack of interest in reading completely on the Y chromosome.
Could you share some interesting bits and pieces about you?
Hmm. My shelves have to be stacked colour coded. My primary uniform is black tee shirt and denims. I will die before being caught in public with a chipped manicure and no lipstick. I was an ideal student in school, terribly boring and well behaved, the nerd so to say. I cannot read one book at a time, I skip between two or three books. I also am ruthless with books I cannot read through and put them away forever. I cannot cannot bear the smell of raw onion and run the minute mile if it is in the vicinity. And yes, I am the world's official expert on horror movies.

What's next? What's on the wish-list? What themes would you like to explore for your future books?
More books with Kay. I think she can go on bumbling through various wierd situations. And I am writing something that is rather dark and grim, which I've been grappling with for a while. I don't think we have much horror writing in this country, and am putting down my name to rectify it. Mine, of course, wont be out and out horror. But perhaps more in the realm of Dahl and Poe, slightly macabre and haunting.
Given a choice, what would you take, popular success or critical acclaim? Why is that?
Both would be ideal but that never happens. But I'd go with popular success, it will pay the bills.

Anything else that you'd like to add?

Thank you, Kiran. That was fun!


Curious about The Reluctant Detective? Visit the blog. Yes, that's normally the answer.