From a corporate thriller and historical anti-novel to a take on the tumultuous marriage ‘market’ and explorations of the underbelly of urban life, these South India-based debut novelists made 2014 their launchpad year. We catch up with them as they move beyond their first books
Tying the knot
A self-confessed ‘class clown’, Itisha Peerbhoy is a well-known online personality, courtesy her ‘audacious’ blog. With most of her anecdotes coming from daily life, much of the material for her novel comes from her own life. “My protagonist’s awkwardness is from my experiences visiting family in Delhi,” she says. “I used to dread it as I’d always be taken apart,” she elaborates. Inspiration came from the experiences of single girlfriends. “As Jane Austen said, marriage is a serious business, and that’s true today. I wrote a book that is a commentary on something that happens, I did not write it to give advice,” she says. Currently working on a new novel, that ‘moves away’ from the first, she confesses that she’s finding it harder. “You become self-conscious. I’m working on it though,” she signs off.
The dark side
Written while ‘hiding out in Goa’, A Bad Character was four years in the making. But when it came to finding a publisher, the process was swift and phenomenally successful. London-based literary agent David Godwin snapped up the manuscript as soon as it was finished and Knopf, a New York publishing house, made an offer almost immediately. Rights with Cape in the UK and Penguin in India followed soon after, with a French translation forthcoming. A novel that explores the dangerous cocktail of love, alcohol and drugs evokes a dark picture of Delhi, Deepti Kapoor’s home for over 10 years. Before moving to Goa, she learned the city inside out. “I was always curious. I met a guy who introduced me to another side of the city.” she elaborates. With the phenomenal success of her debut, she’s already 20,000 words into her second novel.
Small town chaos
Having garnered rave reviews from publications like The Guardian and The Spectator, Mahesh Rao’s The Smoke Is Rising takes one on a trip around small-town India, describing its customs and its people, humorously exposing its drawbacks and shortcomings. “Living in Mysore, the spirit of RK Narayan never seems to be far, and I began to wonder what Malgudi would look like if it were to appear in a novel today. That was how the idea of a book about a smaller Indian city first came to life; then it developed into a novel set in Mysore,” shares Rao about his debut novel.
Entitled One Point Two Billion, his collection of short stories, which he wrote while waiting for his book to be published, is due to release in October. Each chapter is set in a different Indian state and plots move from a preacher woman making an unexpected appearance in rural Punjab to the troubles of a young wrestler in a UP akhara. “I was experimenting with different styles and voices, trying to encounter disparate worlds, so there’s a lot of variety within the collection,” he reveals.
A 30-year working life provided rich inspiration for RV Raman to pen corporate thriller, Fraudster. “The plot here is driven by business,” Chennai-based Raman begins. While comparisons to veteran thriller writer John Grisham are inevitable, Raman’s writing is more inspired by the older canon of crime writing. “I find Grisham’s style very intense. I see my writing more in the vein of authors like Agatha Christie,” he explains. Fraudster is a series of murders linked to far-reaching corruption in the banking world. “I’ve honed in on malpractice, but the subliminal message is about integrity” he says, elaborating, “I teach at IIMs and see that youngsters find it difficult to navigate corporate life. There are many temptations and it’s so fast-paced.” Raman is hoping his next thriller, inspired by the politics of the Indian stock market to completed this year and published in 2016.
A book that has been described as an anti novel, Meena Kandasamy’s debut treads the line between fiction and history in its portrayal of the Kilvenmani massacre. Talking about her journey towards Gypsy Goddess she says, “You need that time away, the access to libraries, and to just work on one’s writing,” she shares. Lightly poking fun at the predictability of the debut novelist in Gypsy Goddess, Kandasamy elaborates, “When you filter out all the autobiography-masquerading-as-novels, and all the workshop-style made-to-order novels, what remains of the work of first time novelists in India today? They are not as spectacular as they should be.” Working on her second novel, she hasn’t let the rave reviews and accolades go to her head. “Right now, I’m focussing on a translation of Thirukkural’s love couplets into English,” she shares.
All things nice
In an inversion of the usual publishing process, Archit Taneja’s novel emerged out of a creative writing camp held by publisher Duckbill. “The characters came alive and I would come home from the office and write every day, from midnight until 3 am,” he recalls. Part of the joy of writing for young people has been the chance to interact with his fans at festivals like Bookaroo. “It’s important to communicate with kids,” he says, elaborating, “Publishers are adults, reviewers are adults… but wouldn’t it be great to find out what kids think?” In his own work, the dialogue between his child characters is fluid, one of the most difficult things to achieve in a book that needs to reach out to early readers.While he’s currently working on a sequel, he’s got plans to branch out into the fantasy genre and writing ‘a really cheesy young adult romance’.