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Writing off darkness

CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

Q. Tell us about how the story came about.

Many years ago, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron came to India. He was asked if the British would be returning the Koh-i-noor. He said: “I don’t believe in returnism.” That answer dripped such colonial arrogance and insensitivity. It made me so mad that it kept me going through an entire book!

‘All of Me’ tells the story of Castor who has been locked in a dungeon for many years. He emerges from the dark, and with the help of his many personalities, sets out to discover why he was locked away. His search leads him to the Koh-i-noor and the secret that hides behind the jewel in the crown. And – hah – the secret is a clip under the ear for colonial exploitation. Never make a writer mad. They take revenge in writing.

Q. Prior to writing this book, you had an image of a boy alone in the dark, in your mind. Have you pondered upon how this image came to be there?

It is only when you have written several books that you begin to see the themes that your subconscious self is slipping into your work. A child alone in the dark has recurred several times. In ‘The Washer of the Dead’ (my collection of feminist ghost stories) one of the stories has a child locked in a cupboard as a punishment. In ‘Boy No. 32’ the story begins with a boy buried under the rubble of a fallen building, alone in the dark. And ‘All of Me’ begins with a boy locked in a basement with only his multiple personalities for company. Deep in our hearts is darkness, and a lost child trying to find their way home. Writing lets the light into dark places. Maybe one day I will understand what that image fully means to me. Meanwhile I strive towards the light in all I do.

Q. The book delves into psychology as the main character of the book has multiple personalities. What was the kind of research that you needed to do to get this right?

I read whatever I could lay my hands on. But there isn’t much out there that gives you a detailed picture. And in popular literature, the device has mainly been used to evoke horror. I had to let my imagination lead me a lot of the way. In the end I realised that it wasn’t a psychological device I was creating, but a storytelling one. After that it was easy. And the characters themselves stepped out of the dark and spoke with very strong voices.

Q. How did you ensure that the theme didn’t get too dark for young readers?

Children love the dark. They love exploring on the safe space of a page, all the terrors they wouldn’t dare face in real life. Of course you have to balance dark with light and humour – but I don’t think any writer should shy away from darkness if she/he is writing for children.

Q. It is quite common and maybe necessary for writers to take creative liberties while narrating a fictitious story of a real life historical event. But, how does one draw the line?

We are at the end of the day, writing fiction. And fiction is not about facts, it is about the truth. Strangely enough, seeing an event through the lens of fiction may be the truest way to see it. Facts rarely give you the larger emotional, psychological, and moral truth. That is what the writer strives to recreate. So I have no qualms about taking ‘liberties’.

Q. Although you write for different ages, you love writing for kids. What are some of the things you keep in mind to ensure that you have a great read for kids?

Make ’em laugh! If you can make a kid laugh, you can keep them going. Also, remember, a child’s attention span is extremely short, especially in these times of internet and mobile phones. So you have to keep the story going at a spanking pace. Two loose paragraphs and the book will be put away. Lastly, it’s not just a story. Everything children read feeds into the world view they are forming. You have to be very clear about what you are holding up for them to admire and what you are actually saying. If you only wish to entertain children – then please don’t write books for them. Writing is a task that requires you to do much more.

Q. This book in particular was a long time in the making. Have there been times when you have simply discarded a story completely or do you always make it a point to store it and revisit it later?

I never discard anything. I put it away and revisit it later. Some stories just aren’t ready to be told. Each one has its own gestation period. As you gain experience you realise which ones are ready to be told and which are not. It saves you a lot of time banging your head against the wall. Books are funny things. The fastest I’ve raced through a draft is 14 days. The longest is 23 years and counting!

Q. You are also all set to start a new school The Path Shaala here in Goa. Tell us more about it.

Five years ago I pulled my daughter out of regular school. I couldn’t bear to see what it was doing to her. Homeschooling became a journey that we embarked upon together. But, as she got older, I felt she really needed more children to hang out with. The Path Shaala stands halfway between the formal school system, and homeschooling. It uses all the best of the homeschooling ethos – learning through projects, engagement, personalised pace – but it brings in a certain amount of academic rigour. Children prepare for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams. Any teaching is only as good as the teachers that you get, and I am particularly excited by the absolutely wonderful teachers we have managed to convince to come work with our children. We are based in Succoro in a wonderful house that was created by an artist. It is positively whimsical and has an amphitheatre and a cave room. I hope that many children find their path to a lasting love of learning through our Path Shaala.

Q. You are always working on multiple books at a time. Which of these looks likely to be the next release?

In September I have an ‘adult’ book out. ‘Whisper in the Wind’ is a Goa gothic work and unravels a murder mystery set in Portuguese Goa. ‘Murder She Wrote’ is an anthology of thriller stories all written by women to which I have contributed a dark little story called ‘Sister’. And children can look forward to ‘Dungeon Tales II’. Yes, I am finally doing a sequel to what has been my bestselling book.

Q. What are the other projects that you are currently working on?

Writing is a very fulfilling but terribly underpaying job! I am working on a web series that is yet to have an official name. And I have a screenplay that has just been picked up by Aamir Khan Productions. It has been quite the exciting year!

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