Guest Post: How to multitask as a writer

Kiran Manral is a good friend and a prolific author who multitasks in a normal life. She has published eight books, written countless articles, blogs and short stories and is actively involved in mentoring startups, speaking on stage, involved in curating literary events and handling an awesome family. So of course when she launched yet another book, I had to ask her how she does so many amazing things in one life. This is what she had to say. 


How do you multitask so much, someone asked me the other day.

I had no honest reply to give her, except the very prosaic, “With great difficulty.” If there was a camera fitted in my home, it would make for rather sedate viewing. Get up. 5.45 am. Get to the kitchen. Make the tiffin boxes, morning tea. Wake the offspring, pack him off to school, put the clothes into the washing machine. Now here’s where it gets a little more exciting. Get to the computer, switch it on. At this point this is the most hedonistic you could get. My fingers start flying over the keyboard. That, with occasional interruptions to answer doorbells, put clothes out to dry, deal with the domestic help, organise breakfast, lunch, dinner. Rinse, repeat.

I work from home. I also live life on rotorblades.

You might not see it when you look at me, sitting at my desk, morning to night, my fingers working themselves out to the bone. But at my desk, I have multiple windows open. I have the attention span of a gnat. And perhaps that’s what works to my advantage.

Multitasking, isn’t that what we all do, every single day, without really thinking too much of it. It is par for the course for most women. There’s a day job. There are time bound projects that come up. There’s the offspring and his demands. There are events to be put together. And there is the writing. I chortle when folks say they’re going away for a few months to write. I long for the luxury of doing the same, but I know that in the peace and calm of only myself and my thoughts, writing won’t really happen. What might happen is boredom.

My writing feeds itself on my daily frenetic schedule.

There’s been books that have been written in this chaos, like the dancing stars of the cosmos that emerge out of the chaos of creation.  My latest book, Missing, Presumed Dead, began its life as a novella five years ago. I kept going back to it, the word doc stayed open, tinkering, and tinkering, until it emerged a manuscript that became a 268 page book. Or as my protagonist in this book, Aisha, reflects, it is the everyday routine that keeps us stable. It is routine that is the font of creativity. Or as Gustave Flaubert said, “’Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” It is the discipline of writing with everything spinning around you, that allows your creativity to be the eye of the storm.

Because the books get written while life and work happens, the window to the Word file stays open, it gets looked at in the breaks between work, writing becomes my break from work. Writing becomes my play. And that’s why I wouldn’t have it any other way, but to swamp myself with things to do, and then run away to find myself in my writing.

How research into tantrism helped me find my mojo

“How much of the tantrism mentioned in this book is true?” a woman asked me at an event. She referred to my fantasy thriller series, Anantya Tantrist Mysteries, which has a tantric detective who fights supernatural crimes and is based in a world where tantric organisations run the supernatural world and liaison with the Indian government.

I opted for that cryptic babu reply: “It’s fiction but it reflects what’s real.”

Frankly, I was rather flattered. Here was a lady who had been in the spiritual business of things, attended congregations in ashrams across the country, was exposed to tantrics of all manners and she wondered aloud if the story, a book that calls itself fantasy fiction mind you, was based on true events or not. A whole year of in-depth research into the world of tantrism had paid off. Kaboom.

When Anantya Tantrist first came into my mind, as an urban fantasy series, I knew the 23-year-old was a tantric detective. After all, if you want to base a story in the Indian occult, the first image that comes to you is of a black choga-wearing villain who have an evil laugh, wears skulls while doing badly choreographed jigs and rituals that involve blood. Tantrics, in other words.

“Be careful,” advised my mother, upon hearing my new topic, “Tantrics can do jaadutona.” Continue reading “How research into tantrism helped me find my mojo”

The possibilities of the occult in fiction

How does one research into occult? In the climax of Cult of Chaos, the first novel of my tantric fantasy series ‘Anantya Tantrist Mystery’, the protagonist Anantya and her teacher, Dhuma, an aghori who lives in a cemetery, embark on a complex tantric ritual to call upon a charnel goddess, Shamshana Kalika, to the human plane.

The ritual called Shava Sadhana requires Anantya to sit on top of a corpse on a full moon night. I first came across this dramatic ritual in The Calcutta Review Volume XXIV written in 1855. In true Victorian Gothic style, the text explained that the sadhak, or the one who meditates, sits on top of a dead body, preferably a corpse of a chandala who has died a violent death, on a full moon’s night, so as to gain command over impure spirits like danavas, betalas, bhutas, pretas and other paranormal goblins.  

Image of the published article in Open 

While researching this scene, I sat on top of a corpse, all night, in suffocating darkness with Anantya. We touched the cold, clammy flesh of the swollen corpse and we felt blood pounding in our veins and hearts. Sitting on that corpse, waiting to connect with powers beyond the human consciousness, made me realise the ultimate truth of all human lives:   That the day shakti (alternatively meaning energy, prana, life, or soul) stops coursing through our bodies, we will cease to exist and maggots will consume the bodies we call our home. This relationship with death and life, expressed in such a dramatic, dreadfully mesmerising way, stays with me even three years after I wrote it.

Continue reading “The possibilities of the occult in fiction”

Interview: Sudeshna Shome Ghosh on how to pitch to an editor

If you are a children books author and appreciate editors, you would have heard of Sudeshna Shome Ghosh. A Bangalore-based editor, Sudeshna has worked in the Indian publishing industry for twenty years now. She started her career at Penguin Books India and moved to Rupa Publications and Aleph Book Company thereafter. During this time, she has published authors such as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murty, Subroto Bagchi, Derek O’Brien among many others and was responsible for managing Penguin India’s children’s publishing list, Puffin for four years before she started Rupa Publication’s children’s list Red Turtle. Currently, she is a consultant with Speaking Tiger Books and is building a children’s list for them.

In other words, she’s a treasure trove of inside knowledge of the publishing industry and me being the Curious Cat that I always was, used our friendship by asking her the most delightful personal, almost rude questions over tea at Infinitea in Bangalore. An excerpt

Q) You’ve just completed 20 years in publishing and the thing you said on social media was that you wanted to do it for another 20 years. What about this job keeps you here?

Let me see, where do I start…

There are many things, but the biggest, for me, is the feeling that my work is meaningful, that I am contributing to the creation of a reading culture in children. That the books I commission or edit, are good books that some kid somewhere is going to pick up, enjoy and think about. That, for me, is what keeps me going through some clearly mindnumbing bits, like reading proofs!

Q) Why did you become an editor? Why choose this career?

Continue reading “Interview: Sudeshna Shome Ghosh on how to pitch to an editor”

Bangalore history: A 1949 letter by a missionary on anglo-Indians

How were Anglo-Indians perceived just after the Indian independence? A friend on facebook recently shared two sides of an old postcard written by a missionary in 1949 by a missionary KE Munson to a friend of hers in the USA. I was fascinated by the postcard, her opinions and since it’s so difficult to read, transcripted it here for history geeks like me. Read, enjoy, feel free to share! 🙂


From: K.E.Munson, Baldwin Girl’s High School, Bangalore 7-10-1949

To: Miss Hatte Hughes, New York, USA.

Dear Miss Hughes,

How very good of you to send me such a lot of lovely cards. I had forgotten what lovely cards they have at home. I have been giving them out among our mission workers, a dozen or so to each person and they will send them to other friends when the time comes. The do appreciate them so much.

I have kept some for my scrap book, those by Grandma Moses, Currier and Ives, and a few others. Most of them are snow scenes, maybe because I do miss the snow and the cold weather. I really do not approve of the card habit among our Christians when postage costs so much and means that much less to eat. But of course most of the cards are delivered by hand, and in any case take the place of presents that would cost a great deal more. And they are so beautiful, and are treasured for years by those who receive them.

Today a lady is coming to look over the cards and choose her share.

She’s an Anglo-Indian, with some Indian and some European blood. In the early days the East India Company encouraged the men to make temporary unions with Indian women. When I first came to India 30 years ago I knew women who were still receiving pensions as the children of E.I.C officials. The British government paid them. Then of course each war always leaves a lot of children of mixed blood, especially in places like Bangalore that have been military centres. Then too there probably have always been some real marriages, though these have ben difficult among the Hindus because of the caste system.

Naturally the Anglo-Indians, A-I’s as we call them, resent – and justly so – any imputation that their origin has not been honourable.

I suppose that all of them, or at least almost all have quite lost track of their ancestry. That seemed to have been proved true when so many girls wanted to go to America as brides of the G.I. They had to prove that they were either 51 per cent white or 51 per cent Indian as Indians and English had a quota system then. Unless the mixture was in the last generation it was almost impossible to prove. Most of these A-I girls were fair and beautiful, but unless their father was a British soldier and their births registered in Somerset House, they could do nothing about it. You see in the old days, until World War I, passports were not required and birth certificates were rarely saved.

It was these A-I families, many of whom were on the railroad, that William Taylor hoped would evangelize India.

Continue reading “Bangalore history: A 1949 letter by a missionary on anglo-Indians”

Interview: Author Anjum Hassan and Zac O’ Yeah on their writing course

When I first began writing fiction, I didn’t take any creative writing course. There weren’t any I could find. Instead I learnt the old way—reading, scrounging blogs of writers, emailing authors and haranguing them—till I could build that small little wisp of an idea in my head, through plot building, characterization, structure and somehow fit it into the shape of a novel. Learning the art of writing this way wasn’t easy. And if it wasn’t for the support of a lot of authors who replied back to me over email and tried to help, I would have given up before I finished my first novel.

Does a formal writing course help?

Last year, when I attended a few classes at the creative writing master’s course at Chichester University, UK, as part of my Charles Wallace India Trust fellowship, I realized how these classes could have helped me as a debut author. A formal course would have introduced me to concepts of structures, storytelling style, plot building, scenes, pace, and many other little building blocks that each author needs in order to build the magic wand of writing and shape the story in her head. Plus, it would have introduced me to authors and publishers and made me understand how the publishing industry worked a little bit more.

Which is why when I heard about author couple Anjum Hassan and Zac O’Yeah, starting an intense creative writing course in Bangalore, I decided to write about it, hoping that debut writers, who are scrounging now like I did all those years ago, would hopefully attend and build their magic wands of writing.

An intensive writing course will show you possibilities

Bangalore’s worldBangalore’s World-Famous Semi-Deluxe Writing Course as it’s called is a 12-week program at Shoonya – Centre for Art and Somatic Practices where a conglomerate of authors introduces you to various genres including short stories, thrillers, travelogues, children’s literature, writing for film and television, business writing, poetry and translations. You get to meet a lot of wonderful writers and learn from them. Both Zac and Anjum didn’t want to keep the cost very high as they wanted to encourage everyone who harboured a wish to write and not only ‘corporate types’. Excerpts from an interview.

Q) What brought about the idea of doing such an intensive creative writing course?

Anjum: Because it just felt like high time that somebody starts something like this. There have been lots of smaller and more informal courses over the last few years in Bengaluru, but none that actually follows a thought-out curriculum which takes a broad perspective on writing as a possible career. And with more people being interested in writing, who may want to write a novel or whatever they wish to write, it seemed like a nice idea to do something.

Q) Tell us a little bit about this workshop. What modules do you plan, how will you divide the teaching among yourselves.

Continue reading “Interview: Author Anjum Hassan and Zac O’ Yeah on their writing course”

Author Anita Desai on struggles in writing

While browsing the bylanes of internet i found this wonderful interview of author Anita Desai in The Wire. It’s a deliciously long one, where the author among other things, talks about her latest book, The Artist Of Disappearance and the research that went in In Custody and Fire on the Mountain.  Here I’ve just used her struggles and advice to writers from the interview for my section Witchery of Writing. But do read the complete interview over at The Wire.


What do you think is the purpose of literature? The worth of literature is being questioned these days, certainly here in Canada.

One works on two levels. At the subconscious level one is not working with an agenda, one is working out of a compulsion to tell your story, to put words on paper, to keep something from disappearing. And the joy of using language ought not to be forgotten.

On a conscious level, after you’ve written your work, sometimes it takes you by surprise. You say, oh, is that what it was about? At the end of the book you say, so that’s why it stayed in your mind for so long. What’s the reason for writing it? And invariably the reason is to tell the truth, in a somewhat sideways, somewhat subversive way. You don’t always manage to do that openly, face-to-face, you have to find a kind of a secret way.

The truth about life?

Yes.

You have a strong body of work dating back many decades. Do you have any of your books that are favourites, that have stayed with you?

Continue reading “Author Anita Desai on struggles in writing”

Should you write a romance bestseller?

Have you been tempted to write a romance bestseller lately? The other day, I was chatting to an author about how speculative fiction is such a hard-sell in India. (It’s the usual conversation between science fiction writers. There’s a handful of passionate us, and a handful of equally passionate readers. The others, don’t really care if it’s not mythology.) Immediately, I get a WMA (well-meaning advice):

“Write romance. It sells like hot cakes in winters.”

Umm. Frankly, all Indian writers, be it of any genre or creed, have thought about romance once in a while. After all, it’s the most selling genre in our country. I did seriously consider it for a second. I did!

And then I remembered, that the last romance I read and appreciated was between the Oankali, alien genetic engineers who  touches DNA in humans to have sex and a woman named Lilith. Author Octavia Butler‘s Lilith Brood gave me as many goosebumps as decades ago Sharukh Khan’s ‘palat’ in the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge had done. And  I don’t read much romance myself, unless it has alien spit or monster claws involved. So I turned my eyes away from the temptation of writing that romance bestseller we all think we can write and decided to plod along on the current science fiction mess I’m in the middle of.

Should you write a romance bestseller?

Which is why when I came across this witty sketch by author Sarah Maclean over Twitter, I had to share it on my site. Sarah is a period romance writer based in New York. The flowchart tells you how to decide on whether you should write a romance novel or not. As I read it, I was ‘out’ in the first step itself. If you’re considering writing romance like me, due to a WMA given by another or by yourself, do read and go through this flowchart. You’ll figure out the truth, I promise!


Have you ever considered changing your genre and writing something else that is selling well nowadays, like mythology or romance? Do tell me the truth!

How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896

While reading about early examples of Indian science fiction, I came across a wonderful scholarly tale of how Jagadish Chandra Bose, a physicist and science fiction writer in India in late 19th century, wrote a bilingual science-fiction inspired by a hair oil brand. The article, written by scholars Anil Menon and Vandana Singh, who also write speculative fiction (here and here), has names of  various other writers who wrote science fiction in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Using it on my website with due permission from Anil and with a lot of glee.

 


We have chosen two stories—one by Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), the other by Naiyer Masud (1936—)—not as representatives of Indian speculative fiction but as interesting instances of the genre. Bose’s story is indicative of a special period in the subcontinent’s history and we finally had an excellent translation to work with. We chose Masud’s story because it is a wonderful story.

Of course when the range includes seventeen-odd languages over some hundred and fifty years of scribbling (two thousand plus, if mythic fiction is included), these two choices are more or less equivalent to two hands raised in surrender. We were tempted by the first south-Asian short story in English, Kylas Chunder Dutt’s “A Journal of 48 Hours In The Year 1945” (1835), Shoshee Chunder Dutt’s “Republic of Orissa: Annals From The Pages Of The Twentieth Century” (1845), V. K. Nayanar’s “Dwaraka” (1892), Sarath Kumar Ghosh’s Prince of Destiny (1909), Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s much-reprinted “Sultana’s Dream” (1905), Rajshekar Bose’s Ulat Puran (1925), the satirical Hindi SF of Harishankar Parsai, the Tamil pulp SF of ‘Sujatha’ Rangarajan, Premendra Mitra’s whimsical Bangla tales, and the eerily postmodern folktales recorded in A. K. Ramanujan’s anthologies. We could just as easily have picked Manoj Das’s “Sharma and the Wonderful Lump” (1973), Bibas Sen’s “Zero-Sum Game” (1994), Manek Mistry’s “Stories of the Alien Invasion” (2007), or one of Kuzhali Manickavel’s short stories. We had to sidestep one of the most talked-about works this year, Shovon Chowdhury’s alternate history The Competent Authority (2013). Ultimately, we chose Bose and Masud.

Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose—the “Acharya” means teacher—pioneered research in electromagnetic waves and biophysics, and invented and built instruments of astonishing precision and delicacy to measure plant development. He probably would have been a brilliant polymath in any age, but the colonial time in which he lived and his courageous response to its constraints made him once-in-a-generation scientist. In 1896, Bose wrote a bilingual science-fiction story, “Nirrudeshar Kahini” (The Story of the Missing). The main narrative is in Bangla, but the embedded scientific material is in English. The story is about a man who calms a storm at sea by pouring a bottle of hair oil on the troubled waters.

Hair oil? Continue reading “How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896”

Looking at speculative fiction beyond mythology

Is speculative fiction beyond mythology possible in the literature coming out from our country? Till now, most of the speculative fiction that has come out of the country (even mine) has been heavily inspired or uses characters from our rich Hindu mythology. I take the topic head on in this talk at the LitFestX. This video is from 2015, so a little dated and since I’ve spoken there, there has been a lot of amazing books that have come out in the genre, but I’m adding it now because frankly, at that time, I lost track of things and never added this in my blog. See if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on the topic. Have thoughts, disagree? Add to the comments below.