Category Archives: Panmacmillan

Interview with Chhimi Tenduf-La: Author of “Loyal Stalkers”.

So I had just finished reading “Loyal Stalkers” and had a few questions in my mind for the author. I was lucky enough to have been in touch with him on mail, so I could conduct this interview through the web. Chhimi Tenduf-La is a world citizen in the true sense. His stories are of ordinary people and yet seem so extraordinary that they cut across territories of geography, mind and emotions. A collection that I loved reading and truly cherished.

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Here is a short interview:

What made you write a collection of short-stories, after two novels?

I started a couple of stories in Loyal Stalkers as novels, but I felt they were better left with some things unsaid, whereas if I fleshed them out they would have lost their subtlety. When I found I could connect them I knew I could advance an over-riding story through a number of different characters and plots. This was enormously enjoyable and allowed for much more freedom. When writing a novel I may think of a character I want to write about but cannot fit him into the plot. With a collection I could just write a new story for him.

Your characters aren’t redeemed easily. Why so? Why is there a constancy in not letting them see the light of day?

I guess I had not thought about this much, until you asked this excellent question, but one of my pet hates is people acting with impunity because they know they will not be punished whatever they do. Here in Sri Lanka money and connections can get you off most things and that annoys me. As you point out, all my characters, although they have redeeming features, pay for the crimes they commit.

Chhimi book 3

I am intrigued by the title. How did you choose that for the story (a little obvious, yes) but then why stick to this for the entire collection?

I feel this whole book could have been written by a nosey aunty obsessed with what her neighbours are doing. I think it is indicative of society here that people are more concerned with other people’s lives than their own. Most of the stories have some stalking theme; the maid obsessed with her boss, the abusive relationship, the loyal dog following his special needs friend. I wanted the title to be creepy, but also reflect Colombo society in some ways; everyone is invested in each other’s lives, they can be a little annoying, but yet there is that closeness and that feeling that there is always someone nearby to help you when in need.

You’ve been a citizen of the world and yet this collection restricts itself to Sri Lanka. Why so? Why not give the characters space to see the world?

As I found my feet as an author I felt safest writing about what I know best. I have been here so long I have forgotten what it is like to live elsewhere. Yet now you have said it I do want to explore what some of my characters would be like living in another country. How much would it change them? Thanks for the idea!

Your top 5 favourite books and why?

I have limited this to books I have read recently.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared 
by Jonas Jonasson 

Comedy in literature is hard to balance. Endearingly silly, or annoyingly farcical. Jonasson gets it just right in this inspiring tale about Allan Karlson who goes on the run to avoid celebrating his 100th birthday. As he does so, we travel back through a hilarious twentieth century history lesson, in which Karlson mingles with great leaders and tyrants; at one point he convinces Stalin to shave off his moustache, and he regularly has a young Kim Jong Il sitting on his lap. Genius.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Great movie, greater book. The prose, slick and punchy, suck you in, slap you back and forth and churn you out. With great twists, cool dialog, and an abundance of quotable lines, Palahniuk tells an extraordinarily original story with awesome ease.

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilika

It is more than a novel about cricket; it is Sri Lankan modern history through the eyes of an alcoholic. It is recognition of the tragedies, often self-inflicted, that tore at Sri Lanka’s core. It is a detective story, a mystery, a thriller, the search for a genius Tamil cricketer whose name and records have all but been wiped out of Sri Lankan history.

The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War 
by Rohini Mohan

A 368 page lesson about Sri Lanka’s civil war. In fact, this is the definitive lesson about any war; about child soldiers, mistrust, disappearances and lies. This book reads like a novel, whereas it is fact. Rohini Mohan messes with your emotions; she humanises people we thought were monsters. She makes you root for them, understand them, believe them.

What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

I had to pluck up the courage to read this a second time because it is an incredibly disturbing book for a parent to read – but it was all worth it. Munaweera’s writing is brilliantly fluid, emotive and captivating and personally I felt this was an even better book that her prize-winning Island of a Thousand Mirrors.

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Was writing “Loyal Stalkers” a cathartic experience? Did you live some of these stories yourself or through someone else?

I find all writing to be cathartic and relaxing. But yes, Loyal Stalkers touched on a number of issues that all of us in Sri Lanka should be more aware of. Since writing it I have become more sensitive to others affected by these issues, be it a friend battling homophobia or a maid not getting enough credit for the work she does.

Chhimi as a writer…

I write purely for enjoyment at the moment. I have never felt pressured into it or had writer’s block; maybe I require both to improve as a writer. I have a fairly wild imagination so this is an outlet for it. I write two hours a day, but nothing on weekends and I read back my work hundreds of times to try to see if it flows. Once it is printed I hate looking at my writing because it is too late to change anything I don’t like. I try to be snappy, hip, humorous and sensitive as a writer but probably fail in all regards. My story-telling is more inspired by movies than by books, for some reason, maybe because I don’t want to write like anyone else (not that I could).

How important do you think it is for the short-story form to be recognized in India and why do people prefer the novel over the story?

I was told by a UK based publisher that the issue they have with short story collections is that it is very hard to get the leading lit critics to review them, unless the writer is very well known. If a book does not get reviewed, book shops are reluctant to sell it. Maybe the problem with short stories is that readers may love one, but lose momentum if they don’t quite dig the next one. It is a lot of stopping and starting I guess, whereas with a novel you have invested in the characters already and so each time you pick up the book you’re not taking a blind leap of faith. This is why I have tried to link the stories in Loyal Stalkers, and have the characters popping in and out of each other’s lives. I love reading short stories myself because they are standalones; I can read one each night and if I don’t like one I have not wasted too much time on it. In some ways short stories are more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily bookworms and thus they are important to India if they can get more people to read. They can also get more people to write; almost anyone can sit down and write a short story, whereas a novel requires a different level of commitment and craft. With such rich culture and tradition, as well as the complexities of class I am sure there are hundreds of thousands of people in India who could write an important short story.

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Your 5 favourite short-story writers

I’m inspired by R K Nayaran,  Alejandro Zambra and Raymond Carver. To understand how to appeal to a large audience, Jeffrey Archer. Of current South Asian writers Prajwal Parajuly, Sandip Roy and Ashok Ferrey. (I know this is 8 and not 5, sorry).

What are you working on next?

I have taken a break because I am not entirely sure in what direction I want to go. A novel, a collection, a movie? Maybe I will focus on writing more articles for a while. I have had many false starts with writing because I jump into new projects too fast, so now I am trying to be patient and I hope a killer idea for a novel will start growing on me.

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

51PgEc+wSIL-2Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781509853786
Genre: Fiction, Science
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I don’t know what to say about this book. SupaarWoman from Twitter introduced me to it and then I didn’t bother with it. In fact, I didn’t even have it on my TBR pile or with me as well. But what I do know is that I read it this month and cannot get it out of my mind. So thank you Supaar for this recommendation. I can’t thank you enough.

Now coming to the most crucial part: What is the book about? Well, honestly, I cannot tell you more than what is already on the back cover of it. The gist is what I will give you and nothing more, because trust me, you have to read it to be wowed and in a trance that the book will leave you with.

Some might guess what it is by the title, but you might be surprised. Those who won’t be able to guess, will also be in for a surprise. Either way, you will be mesmerised by its plot and pace. All I can tell you is that Jason Dessen is living a great life with his wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie, till one fine day, his world (literally) changes and he is transported to a world that isn’t his but he is Jason – just not an ordinary college physics professor.

The book is a thriller which is closely connected to science. It is a science thriller. I will not call it science fiction, because to my mind it isn’t that. At the same time, to fit it loosely I will categorise it in the Fiction genre. Crouch’s writing is clear, lucid and simple. There is no convoluted plot or writing. It is a breezy read but like I said it will haunt you, so be prepared for it.

Matilda’s Cat by Emily Gravett

Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett Title: Matilda’s Cat
Author: Emily Gravett
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 9781447218623
Genre: Picture Books, Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was introduced to Emily Gravett’s books by a dear friend and since then I have not stopped reading them. I know I am not a child, but who said children’s books are meant just for children? Picture books are in fact I think meant more for adults who want to escape the drudgery of daily living and hide in a book or a couple of books that make them smile and grin at the end of it all.

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Children’s books are therapeutic at best and that is why I love them so much. “Matilda’s Cat” by Emily Gravett is but of course about Matilda and her cat and the relationship they share. It is about Matilda’s Cat who doesn’t like to do things that Matilda does, but there is a funny and lovely twist to the tale at the end that will make your heart burst with joy.

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The book has lovely illustrations and just goes to show how picture books can be brought to life. “Matilda’s Cat” is the sort of book that can be dipped into anytime and of course it won’t take you too much time to read it, but you will keep going back to it again and again like I have done since the past two days. It is a treat you do not want to miss out on.

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness, From an Original Idea by Siobhan Dowd
Publisher: Walker Books, Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1-4063-4700-5
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 237
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I started reading, “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness, I did not imagine that I would be so taken in by the story, that I would be impacted by its plot to this extent, that I would cry at the end of the book or for that matter not stop thinking about it. I rarely cry when I read books but some of them just compel me to because of the connect we share in some way or the other. Books do that. So do movies. Music even. Any form of art. This one sure did.

“A Monster Calls” is about thirteen-year old Conor and his mother who is suffering from cancer and there seems to be no hope for her. Conor has nightmares which he cannot speak of. He cannot share them with anyone, till one fine night a monster comes knocking on his bedroom window and his life changes drastically. The monster is the yew tree monster, who stands dull and strong in the daytime and arrives precisely at 12:07 am (on the first night and a couple of other nights as well) to tell tales to Conor, wanting to hear his last truth and tale. This winds up the book and answers any questions that the readers might have towards the end of the book.

Conor’s character is complex and yet at the same time he is like any other teenager, who wants things to be perfect and knows that they will never be the same. The monster is crucial to the story (but of course). Conor’s mother, Dad, and grandma along with his once best-friend Lily and other bullies at school, make for the rest of the characters of the book.

The book from the look of it is set in England. The landscape and the descriptions could have been a little more detailed to add to the book’s atmosphere. I was a little disappointed with that. I liked the narrative and the story. The idea originally belonged to, as Patrick also says, to one of the finest Young Adult Writers, Siobhan Dowd, who passed on due to breast cancer. Patrick was approached then to work on the idea and he has tried to be true to it.

“A Monster Calls” is human and above all describes loss, love, and redemption in the most beautiful manner. It could have been longer and I would have liked it to, but it is alright I guess. Patrick Ness is brilliant at his craft and as he has also highly recommended Siobhan’s works, my next new found author would have to be her.

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Interview with Aroon Raman

I loved The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman. And right after reading it, I had to interview the writer. So we spoke and spoke some more and here is an interview with him. I loved the book and here is my review of it.

1. What prompted you to write The Shadow Throne? How did the story idea germinate?

In the months post May 2011, post the bin-Laden assassination, I could see seismic shifts happening both within Pakistan and relations between Pakistan and the West. The country’s self-image was, of course, the first casualty; but equally important was that the carefully cultivated image of the ISI and the military as frontline guardians of the country’s security was also shattered. External relations with NATO, and especially with America, hit a nadir from which even today they have not recovered.

India too was in its own – self-generated – crisis: a crisis of governance and political will, that continues unabated. A government tarnished by a series of scandals, each bigger than the other; reports of bureaucratic dysfunction have abounded, and some stories – such as the bugging of the telephones of extremely senior government officials – have created an unprecedented sense of crisis. The military and intelligence arms of the government have been inevitably drawn into this mess: witness the recent fracas over the Army Chief’s run-in with military intelligence.

So we had a situation that to me seemed ripe with many possibilities; Pakistan with its back to the wall, India in its own crises of governance. The idea of TST germinated against this backdrop. The intent all along was to maintain an authentic feel to the plot: keep it chilling but believable.

2. Not many Indian writers have explored the thriller genre successfully. What made you? Weren’t you apprehensive to begin with?

A writer has to write about what excites him or her; in other words I must play to my metier. While I read non-fiction extensively, and literary fiction as well, I have been drawn to yarns of adventure and the thriller as a genre from an early age. Rather than being a hindrance, it has actually helped that the well-written Indian thriller is still relatively rare – at least in English. It seemed to me that it was therefore easier to make a mark with a fast-paced, well researched thriller than in literary fiction – where plenty of talent already abounds!

3. Like I said earlier, I felt that Meenakshi’s character had not been given her so-called, “due”. You think more could have been done to extend her part in the book? Does she progress to become essential in another Chandra thriller?

Though she does not appear as much in the book as Chandra and Hassan, I’d like to think that Meenakshi punches above her weight—so to speak. She is critical to the book; she is responsible for all the major breaks in the case: the early fix on the Kushans, the cracking of the code that leads Chandra and Hassan to Bamiyan and suggesting that the final rescue of Hassan is effected by Gul Mohammed. She is important enough that the bad guys move to eliminate her: an attempt she defeats with real courage. I also needed her in Delhi to provide the foil for the action in Afghanistan so that the plot switches back and forth between the two countries. This switching of locale is always something that adds to the plot and is very useful in a thriller.

That said, TST is well set up for a sequel, one where Meenakshi might well become central in a big way!

4. Your literary inspirations…

I cannot do better than quote Tolkien in his preface to The Lord of the Rings where he said, “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” The relative strengths of these emotions may vary depending on the type of book, but my deepest desire (as I believe that of any writer) will be to ‘grip’ the reader powerfully, take them out of themselves and hold them in the book’s embrace till it is done.
There are several writers who are my icons and inspiration. Conan Doyle has to have pole position ( he created not just Sherlock Holmes, but a large body of thriller and historical fiction), closely followed by Tolkien, Rider Haggard, Peter O’ Donnel (creator of the Modesty Blaise series). Modern writers: Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follet, Caleb Carr, Stephen Hunter…these are just a few in a list that is very long!

5. Aroon the writer…

Believes there is a story within us all. Even in the most mundane of lives, there is the dramatic, the unusual. As a writer, I’d like just to be awake to what life offers us each day – little vignettes that can be the stuff of big stories! Another thing: one writes for ‘the market’, but one also writes for oneself. The key to success is to bring about a happy accord between the two. That is exactly what I strive to do as a writer.

6. Aroon the person…

Is a jack of several trades, trying to balance it all. Roughly 50 per cent of my time goes to running my R&D business and the rest to a mix of writing, trekking, travel and working with NGOs. There is so much to do, and so little time to do it!

7. There are so many books flooding the Indian market. By this I mean the local home-bred writers. What do you think of this mass production? You think there is a demand for every kind of book that is being published?

The mortality rate of new books is extremely high in India. We have to remember that Indian writing in English has exploded recently – in the last decade or so and the market is still developing. New writers are flooding the scene and there is necessarily a slew of books in practically every genre. Is this too much? It’s hard to say. India is also a big, complex reading market. I recently visited several book distributors across the country and was amazed at the numbers and varieties of books that sell – including local language translations of Western authors. So while there may not be a demand for every book that is published, there is certainly a demand for a huge number and variety of them. I believe that as with any market, this too will settle over time. In final reckoning the reader is the king…or queen!

8. What will the next book be like? Another thriller?

My next book is an adventure story set in Mughal India at the time of Akbar. It is also fast-paced, filled with action, and with an authentic feel of the period. A small band of animals led by a young boy make a hazardous journey through Hindustan to warn the Mughal Emperor of an impending threat to his Empire—from the fabulous treasure of Malik Kafur, long thought lost. The book is completed and will be published sometime next year by Pan Macmillan.

9. How has the book fared? It has been successful for sure. What do you think of yourself as a writer basis that? Has that changed anything? Do you expect more from yourself now?

The Shadow Throne has hit No. 8 in the bestseller list (HT Nielsen BookScan)in the very first week (ending September 15th) of its release. In that week, not all stores still had the book displayed, and so to get to this level of sales so early has been great for me as a debut writer. I’m waiting to see how it will do in the weeks and months ahead.

The early feedback from several readers and sales figures themselves validate the one most important expectation I have as a writer: that I’ve hopefully been able to establish a strong ‘connect’ with the reader. My plot, pace, characters and writing style have resonated with my target audience. This is a huge boost to my confidence as a debut author, and that in a less-populated genre. The experience of being published has also matured me as a writer; the feedback from people, even my own editing team have all deepened my perspectives of what works.

Obviously, we are still in the early stages of the introduction of TST and time will tell how well it will succeed. Still, expectations of myself for my further work have become more ambitious consequent to the early successes we have seen thus far. Building on a broad-based reader feedback is as a good a spur any for improving as a writer.

10. Your biggest reader compliment…

Kris Gopalakrishnan, the Vice Chairman of Infosys wrote in to say he felt compelled to finish the book in almost one go. This in fact has been the reaction of practically every reader of The Shadow Throne so far and the biggest compliment that a thriller writer can expect!