Posts Tagged With: Fiction

The humorous world of children’s books

kapdia payal

A year after her children’s novel, Wisha Wozzariter, won the Crossword Award for Children’s writing, author Payal Kapadia is back with a new book. This new offering is “so absurdly horrid that it would make kids laugh.” Horrid High, published by Puffin India, is set in the world’s most horrid school where most of the grown-ups are utterly despicable and the kids are left to their own devices to save the day.

The book has five lead characters, each one blessed with an extraordinary skill to help them through school. “They have names to match those qualities too,” says Payal. We meet Phil Fingersmith who can crack all kinds of locks and Fermina Filch, a pickpocket par excellence. And then come the baddies. From the English teacher Vera Verbose who makes the kids read dictionaries to Coach Kallus who makes them run on their knees, these evil folks fill the book with their malicious designs. It is a melange of all things horrid. Payal laughs, “I figured the more horridness, the better! I have to confess: I couldn’t get enough!” And then there’s her favourite grown-up character: Granny Grit, who can save a school or a planet just as well. “Because it’s about time that grandmas figured in a big way in an action-packed children’s adventure!” she says.

Interestingly, she notes, the hero, Ferg Gottin, is an unremarkable-looking boy who might be easily forgotten, but he realizes that he also brings some valuable qualities to the final mix. Talking about how she etched this character, she says,”I needed to ask myself: do heroes have to be blatantly heroic, or is heroism about the choices you make when you’re cornered?”

Payal, an erstwhile journalist, always wanted to be a writer from as far back as she could remember. “Fresh out of college and looking for a credible Master’s degree option, I turned to journalism,” she says. “It would quench two desires at once, I supposed, a desire to write and a desire to change the world.” Journalism was meant to be a pit stop, a platform to develop a worldview and an authorial voice. But after ten years in the field and just around the birth of her first daughter, she was convinced that this pit stop would become a full stop unless she bit the bullet and wrote the books she had always dreamt of writing. “I was on the cusp of motherhood, poised to see the world again as a child. I had become a voracious reader of children’s books. Writing my first book for children felt like a natural choice at this time,” she recalls.

She is currently working on book two of Horrid High which “gets more horrid,” in her view. What does she think about children’s literature at present? Is writing for children different from writing for adults? She answers, “I think the gap between children’s fiction and adult fiction has closed considerably. The best children’s books have complicated plots and characters and even allow for satire and moral ambiguity. Children these days can handle sophisticated thought—maybe they always could, but we never spoke to them as equals, which is a big mistake; they make for very savvy readers.”

The one distinction she sees is that children’s fiction can be unapologetically imaginative. She says, “Children are much more willing to suspend disbelief, thank god for that!”

Horrid High Details of the book: 

Title: Horrid High
Author: Payal Kapadia
Publisher: Puffin Books
Published: September 2014
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780143333173
Genre: Children, Fiction
Buy the book here

Watch the trailer of the book here:

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Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Author Interviews, Books, Children's Fiction, Penguin Books | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back in Time by Andaleeb Wajid

Back in TimeTitle: Back in Time
Author: Andaleeb Wajid
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Pages: 168
ISBN: 9789384052935
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 4/5

Author Andaleeb Wajid is a consummate writer and she has time and again proven her knack in etching characters that have strong convictions, be it women who are tormented by inner conflicts, those who are not afraid of love or those who will go to any lengths to right a wrong. They are always charming, intelligent and resourceful. The book, Back in Time, the second in the Tamanna trilogy after No time for goodbyes, is no different. By telling the story of a strong female time-travelling protagonist, Wajid subtly touches upon human emotions like love, longing, belonging, anger by carefully weaving a delicate and pristine love story. The book is also a portrait of Bangalore of a long time ago, which earned the first book much critical acclaim.

Tamanna, who once again finds herself in the past, is now torn between her love for Manoj, a younger Suma’s neighbour, and her yearning to be back in the present, where her parents are going crazy with her state of unconsciousness. And to make matters worse, the camera, which would transport her back to the present, is stolen and hence, she is trapped indefinitely in the 80s. What happens during her stay in the 80s, how she comes back to the present and what happens to her love life — this forms the crux of the story.

I picked this book up at random; as I was awaiting a package of new books to arrive that evening, I wanted to read a book that would fill the gap in between. This book is a refreshingly fast read (I finished it in four hours with breaks) with a simple yet tightly-woven narrative. Though a Young Adult fiction, with time-travel at the core, it is a pleasant romance, which will leave you chuffed to bits, no matter how old you are.

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Categories: Bloomsbury Publishing, Books, Fiction, Young Adult | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barracuda: Coming of age tale of a young athlete

barracuda-usTitle: Barracuda
Author: Christos Tsiolkas
Publisher: Hogarth
Published: September 9, 2014 (First published October 26th 2013)
Pages: 448
ISBN: 9780804138420
Rating: 3/5

It seems like the idea of Australia in the 21st century, with its cultures and subcultures, politics, middle class families, love and angst are themes you have come to expect from author Christos Tsiolkas. The same sardonic undertone present in The Slap (Remember “Welcome to Australia in the early 21st century”?) can be witnessed in Tsiolkas’ new book, ‘Barracuda,’ with similarities in the manner in which he dissects feelings of belonging and isolation.

We follow the life of Daniel Kelly who battles his inner turbulences, his relationship with his family and his mates at his new school, all through swimming. As a swimming prodigy, he is awarded a scholarship to a prestigious Melbourne private school, referred to in the novel as ‘Cunts College.’ Here, understandably, Kelly feels out of place. The only way he is able to insulate himself from all the slights directed at him is by swimming and winning. He assures himself, that he is the ‘strongest, fastest, best.’

But even as you, as a reader, start picturising laurels at Olympics for him, you are thrown off-kilter. In what is the central piece of the book, we watch passively as Kelly is almost a mute spectator of Sydney Olympics, battling again with his inner demons who keep nudging that he is a failure and also the country’s politics at play.

One of the key aspects of the book is the author’s handling of the narrative. We know from the start about Kelly’s phobia towards swimming pools, his time in prison, his relationship with his partner Clyde, but everything is mingled together so the crucial details are tantalisingly out of reach to the reader. The story, you can say, all over the place. This non-chronological approach, in effect, is Tsiolkas’ way of portraying the different dilemmas of his protagonist which in a way evokes some sympathy and pathos. Kelly’s dreams and aspirations, narcissism, violence and brutality and then gradual isolation is grudgingly very moving.

But even then, you can’t help but feel something is amiss. For Tsiolkas employs a manner of spelling out every single feeling experienced by Kelly rather than letting us see it for ourselves. This irritates the reader to the point where you stop sympathizing with Kelly. You find him way self-indulgent too.

Coming back to the style of the narrative, another grouse you may have is the author’s constant switching between third-person to first-person narrator: it can be awfully distracting when you are in the throes of reading an antagonizing story.

But you can easily forgive these imbalances as the underlying plot is bigger than the manner of portrayal. You inherently feel for Danny, weep as you grasp his rise as a swimmer and merciless decline and the sub plots, one of which is a gay couple pondering of parenting a baby.

His language, with visceral references and slangs reek of originality adds to the overall quality of the book. If you can stomach this and the poignancy and shame that occupies the book, Barracuda deserves a read.

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Follett tweaks beststeller formula

Ken FollettIn the world of books, Ken Follett is the stuff of legends. His writing is rooted in real events, be it the 1978 novel Eye of the Needle, a taut thriller about World War II espionage or Pillars of the Earth about the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. He weaves stories that imitate life. His latest project in the Century Trilogy, a collection of historical novels chronicling life around the world wars, is another set piece in his literary game.

Edge of Eternity

On September 16, the book Edge of Eternity was released in India by Pan Macmillan and Amazon India. Continuing the story in Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, the book traces lives of five families through the Cold war and civil-rights movements. In an email interaction, Ken Follett remarks about the premise of the book, “The terrible thing about the Cold War was that it could have been the end of the human race. If there was a nuclear holocaust, with the Americans bombing all the communist countries and the Russians bombing all the capitalist countries, we would all be dead. So although it never came to that, there was the constant fear during this period that nuclear war would break out and the human race would end.”

Moving from thrillers to historical fiction

‘Pillars of the Earth’ emerged from his profound interest and fascination with medieval cathedrals and the people who built them. To his surprise and everybody else’s, the book became even more popular than his thrillers. “It seemed that readers would enjoy historical novels from me as well as enjoy thrillers from me. So that’s how the switch came about and eventually I decided that historical novels were more fun to write and more pleasing to the readers too,” he tells us.

Then, after completing World Without End, Follett admits that he thought to himself, ‘I must do something like this again because people like it so much.’ He thought he should write another long historical novel but he didn’t want to write another medieval story; he wanted to write about a historical period that was dramatic. “That’s when I thought, why not write about the 20th century because it’s the most violent era in human history. We had two world wars and we had the threat of nuclear war. And also, it is the century that tells us where we come from.” And soon, as he was thinking about it, he realized it would be much better to write three books instead of one, a book for each of the great wars of the century.

His predilection for strong female characters

Ken Follett was one of the first writers to use strong women characters in his novels like Lucy Rose, the hero of Eye of the needle who kills the German spy at the end of the story. Ken notes, “That was very unusual in the 1970s when I wrote that book. It was unheard of. But nowadays it isn’t so unusual.”

He attributes this change to the difference in attitudes to women and the evolving role that women play in society. He opines, “Fifty years ago women were considered subordinate. So in the novels the men were more important. But during my lifetime, I have seen women question, ‘Wait a minute. Why should women be secondary to men?” This change was reflected in literature too.

The television world came knocking

His book, On Wings of Eagles, a true story about two employees who were rescued from Iran during the revolution of 1979, was turned into a miniseries and The Pillars of the Earth became an eight hour television show. And the Century Trilogy will also soon be made into a television series. But as an author, he finds the process of adapting books into television shows “thrilling but also a little nerve–wrecking.” He adds, “It makes me very nervous because I have been very careful writing the book to make sure that it all makes sense. There are no boring bits, the plot is logical and the characters are interesting. And then I give this book to somebody else, a television producer and he takes it apart. He has a script written which is different from my book. Well, he has to because he has to tell a story in pictures not words. I worry that when they change it they won’t be as careful as I was and they won’t do it very well. But, to be honest, in the end if the television series is well made, I get to look at the screen and see the characters I invented played by very good actors.”

Evolving as a writer

The bestselling author has been writing for over four decades now, having taken to writing when he realised he didn’t love newspapers. He recalls, “I wasn’t a terrible journalist but I wasn’t a great journalist either. Fiction was what I really liked. And it took me a few years to realize that my destiny was not in newspapers, it was in books.”

He went to work with a publisher soon after. And although his first books were not very successful — in fact he wrote ten books before he had a bestseller — he managed to carve out success for himself in the literary world.

Recently on a Reddit AMA (Ask me anything), he remarked, “What does writing represent? It’s my life! It’s what I do all day, every day.” And his wonderfully crafted, genre bending and ambitious stories, that emerge from his knowledge of the world and life, has delighted many a fan around the world.

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The book is available for purchase on Amazon


A version of this was published in The New Indian Express on September 18, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fiction group ‘Inklinks’

“Women understand each other. Most of our stories deal with the finer nuances of feeling — the hopes and disappointments,  joy and love we all experience every day. It takes a woman to understand the inner world each one of us inhabits within the visible outer world,” asserts Malathi Ramachandran. This author, who has published two full-length novels, ‘The Wheel Turned’ and ‘Edge of all the Light’, is presently working on her third one. But it is not just this new book that is keeping her busy. Malathi is one of the members of the writer’s group, Inklinks, a Bangalore-based group of women from diverse professional backgrounds, but with a common interest in writing fiction. She says, “It is a support group that has been a source of encouragement and motivation for me and other women authors.”

Inklinks comprises of women who are doctors, psychologists, teachers, social workers in the age group from mid 30s to 70s. So how did they come together? Writer Khurshid responds, “We used to meet at various book readings and other literary events. Some were friends and some acquaintances, and gradually as we met at these events, we grew close to each other and decided to take our interest in the written word further.” They wrote stories, shared them with each other via email and met every month for discussions. They motivated each other to write and critiqued the work with an aim to publish their work — goals which they have achieved, having published two anthologies of short fiction, Bhelpuri and Door in the Wall.

Talking about the books, Malathi explains, “Bhelpuri (which is an eponymous title, as it describes the book as being like itself, a varied mix!) was published in 2009 by a Bangalore publisher Songbyrde and was sold through word-of-mouth publicity — creditable that the book is completely out of print now!” Unlike Bhelpuri which is a happy mix of all genres of short fiction — romance, suspense/mystery, seriousness and humour — Door in the Wall deals with barriers and how they can be overcome. Malathi agrees, “Door in the Wall has a definite theme of ‘Walls’ between people, between a person and the world, between cultures and so on.” Their books,  written in a simple language, relates to everyday happenings and incidents.

Being an eclectic group, undoubtedly every single member of the group has her own individual style of dealing with a subject and of writing. But this has not deterred them from their common goal which is to pen a story. Adding to this, Malathi outlines the creative process of the group. “It goes something like this: First we decide on a common theme or sometimes that we will write on any topic we wish. Then we set a deadline for emailing the stories to each other. At our next meeting, each one of us critiques the stories. Sometimes stories are rewritten,” Malathi says.

So what’s in store for Inklinks in the days to come? “We have our next topic ready and we can’t wait to get back to the keyboard! We may also add a few writers to our group who have shown interest and potential,” Malathi states.

Published on July 17, 2014 in The New Indian Express. 

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