Category Archives: Harper Collins

The Midnight Gang by David Walliams

the-midnight-gang-by-david-walliams Title: The Middnight Gang
Author: David Walliams
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-0008164621
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I’ve always identified David Walliams with the show “Little Britain” and the tongue-in-cheek and absolutely obnoxious humour mostly and nothing else. Till of course I got to know that he wrote books for children a couple of years ago and I must say that he is quite a good writer. His latest book “The Midnight Gang” released last year in November and this is the one I shall be talking about obviously.

“The Midnight Gang” ideally may not even be for me (given the target audience and all that) but I thoroughly enjoyed it, just like his other works and cannot wait for the next one to be released. Lord Funt Hospital in London is the setting of this novel and it only gets exciting. It is a children’s hospital but not the ideal place for children to stay at. And yet, the kids who come here manage to have midnight adventures which are quite unusual and thrilling. Tom is the latest entrant and he is going to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, once he meets the other kids of the ward.

The ideas and the writing are splendid. I mean I would even go this far and say that Walliams needs to be placed close to Dahl when it comes to storytelling where children are concerned. He takes a simple idea and turns it around magnificently – thereby just giving the reader so much to look forward to with every turn of the chapter.

The characters are the usual – you might even find them in every other kid’s book, however the illustrations are superlative – done specifically by Tony Ross for this book. “The Midnight Gang” is all sorts of heartwarming as well – when you least expect it. The humour will make even a grown man laugh out loud (as it did in my case). Read it if you’re in the mood to read something light.

365 Short Stories: Day 3: Boyfriend like a Banyan Tree by Sharanya Manivannan

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The story I read yesterday, the 3rd of January 2017 was a story which just flowed. To some extent, I couldn’t understand what it was about but then I reread it and reread it because I loved it. The story, “Boyfriend like a Banyan Tree” is a story of desire, of wanting what you do as a woman and not be ashamed of it.

The story is of a woman who wants a boyfriend like a banyan tree and she tells us why. It could also be a metaphor. It could also be highly erotic (which it is by the way and sensuous like no other story in the book, according to me). It could be interpreted anyway and I loved that about Sharanya’s writing. I have read four stories from this collection and I can tell you that you have to pick this one up.

Interview with Karan Mahajan

Few books enter your soul and manage to shake and stir it. Those books remain with you, no matter what. “The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan has been one such book for me this year. I am dazzled by it and will remain so for a long time to come.

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I was excited to get a chance to be able to interview Karan and here is the interview. The review to the book is here. Please do read the book. It is beyond super.

Keeping in mind the title of your book, why are small attacks not remembered? Why do you think they erase themselves so quickly from memory? What are in fact, small attacks through small bombs?

They’re not remembered because we have a limited bandwidth for tragedies that involve others. Modern India is a feast of tragedies. It’s not surprising that the smaller bombings are covered for a couple of days and than overridden by larger fires, train collisions, scandals, terrorist attacks.

The book is all about people who are affected by a small attack or lead to a small attack’s occurrence. How did the story come about? I know it is a rather cliché question, but we sure would like to know.

All good novels come from a mysterious emotional source. I must have felt, at the time when I started writing the book, all the way back in 2009, that my personal experience resonated with the pain felt by the parents, the Khuranas, in the opening of the book. I remembered the Lajpat Nagar bomb vaguely from my childhood but it came rushing back to me with a great violence soon after the 26/11 attacks. In a way, it was a sort of gift—a negative gift. Suddenly I had this thing—this world at my disposal. I spent the next five years figuring out what it was trying to say to me.

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You bring out the real and human and very insipid daily acts of terrorists in the book. Why did you do that? Did you want to show them as more human than they really are? Do we in our need to objectify confuse humaneness with just being a human being?

I like the word “insipid” in this context! Basically, I wished to erode the negative glamor around terrorism. I wanted to say: these are the banal steps that lead to a bombing. Don’t be in the thrall of these figures: they are often bumbling, sad, confused. That said, I don’t downplay the evil of terrorists. Their actions are inexcusable. But it’s possible to be evil and petty at once, or to be evil and stupid. It’s our collective imagination that transforms terrorists into these god-like masterminds.

I was most taken in by the family that disintegrates because of the terror attack. Were they always dysfunctional? Were the cracks always there but never seen?

Yes, the family was always dysfunctional, in my mind. Vikas Khurana has never resigned himself to the bourgeois trappings of his life—his extended family, his kids, his wife—though that is his life. He sees himself as an artist primarily, but the lie of that premise is already showing through when the novel starts. The bomb widens that gap. Deepa and the kids live in a stalemate alongside Vikas’s brooding. We tend to believe that the best parts of people can emerge during a tragedy but I wanted to show how the worst parts can come out too.


What were your favourite books growing up? Did they have any impact on “The Association of Small Bombs”?

I’m sure they did have an impact. “Growing up” isn’t quite the right place to look—I’m sure reading PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie affected my prose style, but I don’t think they’ve had a bearing on other aspects of my sensibility. I think Naipaul, Narayan, Hemingway, Bellow, Conrad, Ozick, some of (Arundhati) Roy, Philip Roth, Yashpal, Rushdie—these have loomed larger as influences. I tend to find Naipaul a bit chilly for my tastes, but I love the speed of “Half A Life.” It’s a book with an actual narrative—which a book like “A Bend In The River” lacks (with every year it seems more like an academic text than a novel to me). I connect with RK Narayan’s humanistic humor—particularly in books like “The Vendor of Sweets” and “The Painter of Signs.” Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” is brilliant, but again, quite sluggish to read. I took some of his world-weariness but threw away the odd sensation that the narrative isn’t moving forward. I aspire to the loose, conversational style of Bellow. I don’t like it when writers lyrically sermonize from a mount. The key is to be intelligent, direct, musical, conversational—and to appear to do so without effort.

There are a lot of observations throughout the novel – either first person or third person based. Sometimes from a vantage point and others in close quarters. How do you bring that in your writing?

Instinctively. There are some moments that require a zoom lens and others that require an aerial view. Let’s take grief. We can obviously empathize with a couple that has lost two kids in an attack. So there’s no need to remain yoked to their perspective the entire time. It might be more interesting to view the social context around their grief or even the strange ways in which their moods shift. I guess POV is a way of deciding what’s interesting in a moment and going boldly toward it.

Male friendships are a major part of the book. Why do you think they needed to be there? Any specific reason?

Terrorist groups, religious groups—these tend to be crowded with men and divided by sex. Religious individuals are often uncomfortable with people of the opposite sex—it’s the job of religion to divide the sexes. So showing male friendships in all their complexities was necessary.

How is your writing schedule like?

I write best in the mornings and I tend to research or write non-fiction in the afternoons.


How is Karan the reader and the writer? Do you get critical when reading?

Being a writer has ruined reading fiction for me. I can only focus on fiction when it seems it might feed my work, which is unfortunate: a lot of great books have fallen by the wayside. But I find it easy to get lost in non-fiction and films: these are the two mediums I enjoy the most. And yes: I hate the critical part of my brain when I read. To open my own novels is to experience tremendous pain. I know exactly how I would have rewritten or improved every sentence. I have no choice but to close my eyes and live with a million imperfections.

So this was the very erudite Karan Mahajan on his book “The Association of Small Bombs”. It is definitely the read of the year.

Tales on Tweet: Edited and Curated by Manoj Pandey

Tales on Tweet - Edited and Curated by Manoj Pandey Title: Tales on Tweet
Edited and Curated by Manoj Pandey
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Genre: Short Stories, Tweets, Flash Fiction,
Pages: 116
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Flash fiction on social media is not a thing of the past. It still exists. It has been existing since social media sites began and everyone suddenly had a story to tell. I also started something known as ’55 word story’ way back in 2012 in Twitter, which seemingly got a great response. Having said that, Manoj Pandey starting tweeting stories in 140 characters in 2011 and randomly started tagging authors whom he liked, the likes of Atwood, Rushdie, Teju Cole and more. To his surprise they started responding with their stories in 140 characters and the rest is history.

This book is edited and curated by Manoj Pandey – the best of the stories which he has received from people, celebrities and just someone who has a story to tell. The stories are often bizarre, some complete, some not, and some just left for interpretation by you.

My favourite tales are written by Prajwal Parajuly, Rushdie, Sandhya Menon, Carrie Dcker, Safwan Amir, Neha Malude, Ian Murphy, and Sarah C.S. Ashworth. What makes them even more worth it are the beautiful illustrations by Yuko Shimizu. Loved each and every illustration by her. One star to the rating only because of them.

These micro tales form worlds of their own – of loneliness, passion, deep-seated anger and of changes that come about in bursts and spurts – sometimes with unnerving consequences. “Tales on Tweet” is quite a breakthrough in presenting stories and I hope more people do that. A must read if you’re on Twitter or not.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate Title: Crenshaw
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-0007951185
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

If a book like “Crenshaw” doesn’t warm your heart, then I don’t know what will. I absolutely adored the book. I knew it would end soon (barely about 250 odd pages) and I so didn’t want it to. I had read “The One and Only Ivan” two years ago and couldn’t stop recommending it to people. I loved it. I cried, I laughed, I wept like a baby, and I needed to be consoled after the book ended. I was scared picking up “Crenshaw” thinking I would feel the same, but surprisingly I was perhaps stronger or the story sailed me through the parts when I came this close to burst into tears but did not.

“Crenshaw” is an imaginary cat. He is ten-year-old Jackson’s friend and times aren’t easy for Jackson and his family. The landlord is at the door. There is not much to eat in the fridge. His parents are trying very hard to keep their family afloat. And in all of this an imaginary friend comes along and changes his life forever, making him realize how to hold things and people dear to him.

The plot of Katherine Applegate’s books for children is threadbare. What infuses life into them is language, the fact that you can not only relate to them but that the feelings resonate, and you then realize that it is absolutely okay not to have answers to everything in life, because life doesn’t work that way anyway.

“Crenshaw” is a big-hearted book for people who have a long way to go. It is not only for children or teens but most certainly for adults as well. Our lessons after all do come from places where we least expect them to pop from. I love that about life and about books that teach us that.