Interview in CHICK-LIT CENTRAL Print
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Wednesday, 18 May 2011 09:50

1. What is your usual writing routine?
My routine used to be one of enforced discipline back in England, when I was juggling novel writing alongside a nine-to-five job: mad crack-of-dawn writing sessions and weekends when all other pleasures would have to be given up if I had a chapter to finish. But all that’s gone to pieces a bit since moving to India. I used to dream of being a full-time writer but, now that I supposedly am one, I find I need to discipline myself (and everyone else) a whole lot more than before. Indian home and family life can be quite chaotic and I find myself eternally distracted either by unexpected visitors (never more exciting than when it’s a plumber I’ve been waiting weeks for), or a friend in crisis, or a dog that’s just vomited on the carpet.
2. Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, how do you remedy it?
Occasionally. What seems to work for me is sitting before the computer and stubbornly churning out what I call ‘wordage’ – ie. just getting as many words as possible down on the screen, regardless of how close to garbage it is (yes, there’s a reason for which ‘wordage’ rhymes with ‘garbage’). Even if most of it later gets canned, that wordage at least provides me with something to work with and improve upon. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank page to a writer.

3. How do you like to spend your time when you are not writing?
Reading other people’s wonderful books, obviously (I sometimes still find myself asking admiringly, ‘How do they do it?’). I also like going off to nice places that enable ‘blue-sky thinking’ for what I may do next. ‘Book research’ can be a great excuse for merely bumming around and travelling to unusual and exotic places. While I’m quite happy with my own company, I also like hanging around with family and friends, meeting new people and throwing parties.

4. Does someone need to read "Secrets and Lies" in order to understand what is happening in "Secrets and Sins?"
Not at all. They are two totally separate books with no characters in common at all. I’d meant to take one character from “Secrets and Lies” into “Secrets and Sins” (kind of like an in-joke) but forgot!  

5. What was your journey to publication like for your first novel?
It started back in 2000, when I had to give up my job at the BBC because the breakfast shift timings were playing havoc with my family life, in particular my daughter’s care. Stuck at home and feeling very sorry for myself, I started to play around with a brand new computer that we’d bought. My husband had promised to teach me Word functions if I wrote a couple of pages of text (I didn’t know how to spell-check and cut-and-paste back then!). So I sat down one morning to write what was going to be a short memoir. By the end of that first day, I had twenty odd pages and by the end of the week, I had what I knew was the beginnings of a novel. It was like a tap that couldn’t be turned off. When the document had got to novel length, I broke it up into chapters, re-structured it, changed all the names around to make it less autobiographical and spell-checked it (oh yes, I was a whizzo at Word by then!). Then I sent it to David Godwin, who was Arundhati Roy’s literary agent, and couldn’t believe my ears when, a few weeks later, I had a call saying, ‘Hi, I’m David Godwin and I think we can do something with this manuscript you’ve sent us.’

6. You mentioned your plans to set up a residential unit for women with learning disabilities. How is this coming along now that 2010 is almost over?
Incredibly well. I’m working alongside a small bunch of parents and I’ve honestly never seen such terrific team work ever before. Thanks to some determined lobbying on the part of one parent in particular, the Delhi government has given us a large disused community centre on three acres of land to convert into a long-term residential home for people with disabilities. Another one of the parents is an architect so he’s already got to work on the plans. Another is getting a vocational training programme going while I’m listing our staffing and household requirements while also drawing up application forms to start recruiting our residents. We should have our first eight residents in-house by early 2011 and hope to have a fully integrated community on the premises two years down the line. Suddenly it doesn’t feel so foolish to be madly optimistic.

7. What strides do you believe have been made in helping those with learning disabilities?
More visibility generally, although this needs to improve here in India, where the desire is much stronger to keep people with learning disabilities ‘safe’ within the home environment. There’s a great deal of resistance too around the notion of independence, belief that it is the parents’ duty to care for their children overwhelming concerns around teaching them self-help and providing peer-company.

8. After living in both India and England, what is the most significant cultural difference, in your opinion?
I used to think that we who live in the west sometimes drive ourselves batty trying to make things perfect and just-so. But now that I’ve moved to India, I find that it’s the very reverse of that that drives me bonkers – what’s called a ‘chalta hai’ (or ‘It’ll do’) attitude that allows for poor standards and mediocrity to prevail. Something in-between would be good!

9. Do you ever travel to the United States for book tours or for pleasure?
For pleasure, many times – San Fransisco being my favourite city – but never on a book tour, alas! When, oh when, will Hollywood come knocking?!

10. What is your favorite Bollywood film?
I’ll never forget one from the seventies (‘Aradhana’) that introduced me to the world of Bollywood (as a child, I was indelibly struck by all those cheesy songs and fantastic coincidences) and, more recently, ‘Jaane Tu … Ya Jaane Na’ which was cheerful and youthful and laugh-out-loud funny.
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 December 2017 17:04