Kiran Manral, Author: ‘I have become increasingly self-critical over the years’ - Hindustan Times

Kiran Manral, Author: ‘I have become increasingly self-critical over the years’

ByArunima Mazumdar
Apr 03, 2023 07:09 PM IST

The best selling author and columnist, whose latest book is All Those Who Wander, talks about writing in multiple genres

You’ve written books in multiple genres – psychological thrillers, romance, horror, and even parenting. Which genre makes you feel most creative and why?

Author Kiran Manral (Courtesy the subject) PREMIUM
Author Kiran Manral (Courtesy the subject)

I have always written as the story has taken me. Parenting, chick lit, humour and romance have been written when I was at a different phase in my life. Now I think the crazy and the outré obsess me and I tend to write strange, spooky haunting stories because I am constantly wondering about the what ifs and the why nots. I’ve written about a search for identity and belonging in The Face at the Window, there was some element of spookiness in it, and it became horror. I wrote about a dysfunctional marriage and mental illness in Missing, Presumed Dead, that became psychological thriller. Bereavement, grief and widowhood in More Things in Heaven and Earth plus a ghost, which also became horror. My latest, All Those Who Wander, is about time travel, closure, repercussions, and more, along with a ghost too, but it gets slotted into sci-fi. No matter what the genre, I think, for me, every book remains primarily the story of a particular person in a particular circumstance, and I try to explore their journey through that situation with as much creative honesty (I know that is an oxymoron) as possible.

280pp, Rs399; Amaryllis
280pp, Rs399; Amaryllis

You’ve been writing for over a decade now. How do you think your writing has evolved?

I would think that is for the readers to judge and to let me know if my writing has indeed evolved over time. I do know that I take more risks now in terms of theme and style. I don’t stick to the tried and tested anymore and every book is different. I cannot write the same thing over and over again and have great admiration for those who can stay within the same genre over multiple books.

When I began, I was naively confident enough in my writing to send out my first rough draft to my editor. I have no such confidence now after 15 books. Now, no manuscript leaves my computer until I have worked on multiple drafts and innumerable edits and revisions. There are many versions of each book in my computer, and still after it all, I cannot bring myself to read the published work in its entirety because I’m sure I will find things I want to change and things that make me cringe. I have become increasingly self-critical over the years, and I know it will only get worse with each book.

In your latest book All Those Who Wander, how did the concept of travelling through time and space come to you?

Honestly, it wasn’t actually time travel that came to me when I began this book. It was the question that what if one could change the past in any way or even just have a chance to warn one’s younger self about what was to come, what could happen with that possibility. I wanted to bring an older version of the protagonist face to face with a younger self, and the story flowed from that point. Could you co-exist with a version of yourself in the same dimension? Given my fascination with space, time, parallel universes and all the fascinating concepts that we are still to understand, I naturally just wrote what I could into the book.

A lot of your plots seem to revolve around young women. Has it been a conscious choice to write those characters and storylines?

Actually, I have written about a 78-year-old in The Face at the Window, a 45-year-old in Missing, Presumed Dead, a few thirty something women, a 32-year-old in More Things in Heaven and Earth, mid-thirties in Saving Maya, The Reluctant Detective and The Kitty Party Murder, late twenties in All Aboard and Once Upon a Crush, and across all ages from eight years old to hundreds of years old, beyond what we know of mortal age, in this latest book, All Those Who Wander. So my protagonists, while all being women, haven’t been young women by far. I’ve written across the gamut of ages.

As for writing only women protagonists, Missing, Presumed Dead had half the book from the perspective of the male protagonist, and a forthcoming work in progress has bits from the male protagonist’s perspective too. I have been more comfortable writing through a woman’s lens because that has been my lived experience, but I honestly do believe it is just a writer’s competency to be able to write convincingly across genders and ages. I do need to work on writing any gender with equal fluency and it is a shortcoming I am working on. I don’t know if I am writing only for women readers, though. I am writing women’s stories yes, but they are as relevant for men to read as for women. I don’t write with an audience in mind. At the end of the day, my stories are primarily about the human experience, and that is universal.

The literary landscape of India is ever-changing. What has been your observation with respect to the trends and topics in Indian publishing?

Each generation consumes stories differently. My generation read books and watched television, which was a single channel, Doordarshan. Indian writing in English at that point, was limited to a few authors, and we didn’t have the concept of young adult fiction. There were many wonderful authors in Indian languages we first got acquainted with through our textbooks in school, and then sought out translated versions of their work. Today, we have Netflix, apps, social media and so much more to compete with reading and books for a reader’s attention. But we will always have readers, and books, and stories. We had stories told round the fire in the cave after the hunt, we will have stories being told when we are terraforming other planets. Stories are how human experience and collective consciousness have been passed down through the generations.

Indian publishing is at a very exciting time right now, where the challenge is to keep grabbing the reader’s attention, which is so divided between social media and online entertainment on demand. We’re also at a stage where we have a Booker award for a work originally written in Hindi; the world is paying attention to the writing coming out of India. A lot of exciting new writing is telling stories in a very different way from what we had known earlier, for instance, the retelling of the stories of the women from our mythology from their own perspective, like Koral Dasgupta’s Panchkaya Sati series.

Generations change, stories change, how we consume stories changes. Ever so often, we see a certain trend taking over the list, perhaps mythological fiction, perhaps historical, but what I am enthused about is that there is a vast cross section of voices, telling different stories set firmly within the Indian context. Indians are reading stories about themselves, as well as stories from around the world, and not just writing by international authors. Non-fiction has really surged in popularity. Self-help, fitness and diet, corporate wisdom, mythological reinterpretations, history, politics and more are topping the charts. I see a surge in reading for utility and knowledge as compared with reading for pleasure, and while I am a wholehearted supporter of any kind of reading, this worries me, because I have always been a fervent advocate of reading just for pleasure. But then, that’s just me.

What about readers of thrillers and crime fiction? Are they reading more Indian authors now or have they not moved from Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown?

Honestly, I think they’re reading both, Indian and international authors equally. We have some really strong writing in the space of crime fiction and thriller writing but we can definitely have more. We have a rich tradition of pulp fiction in languages, across Hindi, Tamil, Bengali. Surendra Mohan Pathak is a phenomenon unto himself in Hindi crime pulp fiction.

I see how Scandi/Nordic noir has taken the world by storm and am sure we can have the same here. Perhaps we can have a genre that is India centric noir become a craze globally, if we write compellingly enough. Deepti Kapoor’s The Age of Vice, a potboiler of a thriller, is making waves internationally. Damyanti Biswas tells gritty tales based firmly in India, with her You Beneath Your Skin and The Blue Bar. Richa S Mukherjee has created an endearing local detective with her Kanpur Khoofiya. Ashwin Sanghi’s blend of mythology and thriller tops the charts consistently. We have some fabulous crime and thriller writing right here.

I think we will definitely get to when folks around the world seek out and read crime fiction and thrillers from Indian authors. It remains to be seen how soon that happens.

Arunima Mazumdar is an independent writer. She is @sermoninstone on Twitter and @sermonsinstone on Instagram.

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