Madhulika Liddle is a very talented writer. I have reviewed two of her books earlier and can say that she is very good. Here’s a short interview with her.
1. Why not a second novel? Why a collection of short stories?
That’s mainly because I love writing short stories – in fact, of the ten stories in The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, seven had already been written before The Englishman’s Cameo was published. I’d discussed this with my publishers, and we’d toyed with the idea of publishing a collection of Muzaffar Jang short stories first. Eventually, the decision we took was to begin the series with a novel – it helps establish a character better.
2. While reading the book, I felt Muzaffar Jang and his mysteries were taking a different turn altogether. Was this intentional?
If you’re referring to the fact that more of Muzaffar’s personal life is revealed – yes, that’s intentional. And it was done because a number of readers had asked me, “Why doesn’t Muzaffar have a love life?!” (If you’d meant something else by that question, do let me know)
3. Your favourite short story writers….
O Henry, Saki (H H Munro), Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond, Arthur Conan Doyle (and not just the Sherlock Holmes series, but also his boxing stories and horror stories).
4. I have always believed that it is very difficult to write a short story than it is to write a novel. Did that happen to you as well?
No; quite the opposite. I am primarily a short story writer; I don’t like writing novels – keeping track of characters (and ensuring they don’t run away with me), and keeping the plot in place is too much of a pain. For me, short stories are much more fun. They are challenging, especially if you’re trying to write a detective story, because you have to think up a plot, figure out clues and red herrings, and have your detective make sense of it all, in a few thousand words – but the challenge is what I enjoy.
5. Was Muzaffar Jang based on any person? If not, then the process of creating a character from scratch and to fit him in 17th century Delhi would have been quite a mind-numbing task, wasn’t it?
No, Muzaffar isn’t based on any person (though he does share some of my traits – his love for coffee and his interest in birds, for instance!). He is, actually, an oddity – his outlook is more 21st century than 17th century. For instance, even though he’s a nobleman, some of his closest friends (like Salim and Faisal) are from social classes that would’ve been considered taboo for an amir to associate with back in those days.Mostly, Muzaffar is a rather contemporary figure written into a backdrop that’s historical – intentionally, because I thought that would help modern readers identify more closely with him.
6. Favourite story/stories from the collection and why?
Though I like all the stories, two are particularly close to my heart: The Bequeathed Garden and The Woman Who Vanished. The Bequeathed Garden, because even though it’s not a crime story, I enjoyed putting that puzzle together (and read Golestan in the process) – plus, I liked the way it finally came together; I thought it a good example of poetic (literally) justice. I like The Woman Who Vanished because I thought it showed, very precisely, how Muzaffar goes about unravelling the clues. I took a long time to sort out that plot, and I was pleased with the end result.
7. If there was a movie to be made on the collection, who do you think would play Muzaffar and why?
Hrithik Roshan. I thought his portrayal of Akbar in Jodhaa-Akbar was exactly as I’d pictured Muzaffar: the same imposing, yet approachable, character. And, he carries off the Mughal look very well!
You can read my review of the book here: The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries