Ever since I’ve taken to writing, I’ve been asked for writing advice. Since I’m far from being an expert, and my writing shenanigans wouldn’t extend into doling out writing advice any time soon, I often host those who are experts in the field. In this way, I get to learn, along with everyone else.
Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my pleasure today to welcome Kiran Manral, bestselling and award-winning author, blogger, journalist, TEDx speaker, columnist, mentor and feminist. I’m very pleased to be know her, be able to fangirl, and host her today.
Kiran is a prolific author and a wonderfully generous literary citizen. She’s here to answer questions on wide ranging topics, from writing motivation, to being an influencer. Please ask her your burning writing and book-marketing related questions!
For Indian readers, there’s a giveaway, so please drop us a comment to win Kiran’s latest comic mystery The Kitty Party Murder which launches today!
Congratulations, Kiran, and here’s wishing this one is also a bestseller! Without further ado, here’s the Q &A with Kiran:
- What does your typical writing day look like?
Very scattered, to be honest. All that is fixed is that I am at my desk from 7.30 am and keep working through the day, some days I may stop by five pm, yet others I might nap in the afternoons, other days I may work late into the night. It all depends on what part of my writing I am at, whether drafting, research, first couple of drafts, reworking and editing. Each stage requires a different kind of time and mental space.
I keep taking breaks for domesticity, so there’s no such thing as a chunk of undisturbed writing time. I envy writers who get that. I’ve learnt to write in the gaps that life gives me, between chores, between bread and butter work, parenting, and other demands on my time. But I’m not complaining. Being able to devote time to writing is a luxury and a privilege.
- Your novels are very atmospheric. For aspiring writers, what would be your top three tips to make the settings of their novels vivid?
My top three tips to make settings more vivid:
- Half your atmosphere is your setting. Choose it well. If it doesn’t lend itself to atmosphere, no matter how well you write, it won’t affect the reader as much.
- Add details, no matter how minuscule, enough to interest and make it come alive. Not so much that it will weigh down the scene.
- Imagine yourself in the place you are writing, and put down the emotions it invokes, not just the physical description of the place. Put down smells, touch, visual responses to the setting. Make it visceral, emotional.
In my books, The Face at the Window and Missing, Presumed Dead, the setting of a hill town, and the atmospherics of thunder, lightning, darkness and storms lent themselves perfectly to the unsettled nature of both the plot and the protagonists. In fact, a storm introduces the paranormal element in The Face of the Window and that chapter I think has perhaps one of the strongest scenes I have ever written. And a storm introduces the stranger in Missing, Presumed Dead as well, when I think about it. I use nature as a character, a warning, a portent in my work.
- Do you outline your novels? If yes, what writing advice would you give to someone outlining their novel? If you do not outline your novels, what are the advantages of writing spontaneously?
I’ve done both. I’ve outlined and I’ve written spontaneously.
With nonfiction, of course, outline is a must.
With novels, some need outlines, some don’t, depending on the genre I’m writing. For The Reluctant Detective and The Kitty Party Murder, which are both in the same space of comic mystery, I worked with rough plot outlines, which I then fleshed out.
For The Face at the Window, Missing Presumed Dead, and the forthcoming in 2021, More Things in Heaven and Earth, I wrote spontaneously. But these are of a certain dark Gothic nature and allow themselves to the spontaneity of exploration during the writing process.
Each kind of writing has a different joy and different challenges. When you outline, you are in control, you know where you and your characters are headed, and you know all that they would come across in their journeys. It becomes a matter of just fleshing it out.
When you are a pantser, it is a lot of back and forth, a lot of writing that may need to be deleted, directions that won’t work, characters that don’t behave the way you think they should, and situations that emerge as thunderbolts in your fingers as you type. It can be frustrating, take a lot more time than you had imagined, (The Face at the Window, Missing Presumed Dead and the forthcoming, More Things in Heaven and Earth have been three to four years in the making of each, just the writing not even the sending out and the acceptances, rejections, editing, etc, if not more), but it is also such glorious joy when it all comes together.
I think you need to find what works for you as a writer. Some folks are comfortable outlining their chapters and plot. Others like to let it flow spontaneously.
Tips for outlining:
- Get your main premise in place before you begin.
- Define your characters and your character arcs.
- Write the first and the last chapters and summarize each chapter in between before fleshing them out.
- Insert your main scenes judiciously through the chapter outlines, scattered at regular intervals.
Tips for pantsing:
- Have fun.
- Let your characters take control.
- Don’t control the direction of the narrative.
- Don’t worry about the old chestnut that fiction has to be plausible and believable.
- Immerse yourself in the story, live it as you write it.
- How has your career as a journalist and blogger tied into your writing career? Is blogging relevant today in today’s social media age?
Journalism taught me succinctness and brevity and the ability to put the who what where up front in every story. It taught me discipline and the ability to work under pressure, to write through blocks and to treat writing as a a profession, not a whimsical ‘calling’.
To that end, I am very thankful to my days in journalism from disabusing me of the notion that writing is a higher ‘calling’, it is a job I have chosen, and I must give it my best. I cannot be self indulgent because I have chosen to be a writer.
When I became a mother, I turned to blogging. I took to it as a means to chronicle my son’s early years. It became a daily writing discipline, and gave me something that has since been the mainstay of my writing journey. My voice. I owe my confident voice to blogging. My blog also became my book, Karmickids, which was one of the top blogs on parenting for years, and the book was listed among the top books in parenting the year it was released.
It also led to my co-writing 13 Steps to Bloody Good Parenting with dear friend and bestselling author Ashwin Sanghi. Writing my blogs also gave me the courage to dream that I could someday be an author, and here I am, with my twelfth book just out, one more due out soon, less than a decade after I published my first. Two more are on the anvil.
Today, I am completely out of the active blogging scene, but yes, I think anything that gives people a voice and a platform to express themselves will always be relevant, whether a soapbox at a street corner or a blog. A blog can step in where mainstream media fails. Citizen journalism and activism are wonderful examples of where blogs can be disseminators of important information, and become changemakers.
5. You have built up a wonderful platform as an influencer. What advice would you give to writers who seek to do the same?
I don’t know to be honest, because I did nothing except be too opinionated. I’ve become older and wiser now, and I know the world doesn’t need all my opinions and sometimes it is better to just shut up and watch from the sidelines. But it has taken me years to reach here.
• It is important to have conversations, to build relationships, to reach out to others as humans and not as their opinions.
• You can’t keep going onto social media and only promoting your books. No one cares. People tune out quickly–you will become a blind spot on their timeline for them.
• Post interesting stuff, position yourself as a domain expert, be responsive, and above all, encourage other writers. We all could do with some help here.
6. You are a very prolific author of bestselling, award-winning books. In these covid times what tips for a writer struggling with maintaining their productivity and motivation?
• Don’t force it.
• Write the words daily. For your practice, for your sanity. Don’t agonise over it.
• Don’t measure your worth by your word count.
• Don’t measure your worth by how much others are getting published.
• Don’t compare yourself with what others are getting done.
I forget who said it, but someone wiser than me said something on the lines of: those who talk a lot about writing are like those who talk a lot about sex–neither is getting much.
So set your own writing pace, be gentle, and treat it as a time of going into yourself rather than pouring out. Creativity cannot be rushed.
7. Could you recommend books that you have recently enjoyed reading?
- N K Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy which I completely loved for its mix of fantasy, geology and feminism.
- Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, a Costa Award winner.
- Preeti Shenoy’s When Love Came Calling, a heart-warming YA romance
- Maya Shanbag Lang’s What We Carry, a searing memoir of caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s
- Ahalya by Koral Dasgupta, lyrically written retelling of the myth.
- The Wall by Gautam Bhatia, brilliant fantasy. Wonderful world building.
8. You have written in a variety of genre, both fiction and non-fiction. What has your publishing journey been like—and do you wish you had done anything differently? Why / why not?
My first was written on an impulse. It was accepted quickly and at a wonderful publishing house, Westland. I got everything on a platter and didn’t appreciate what a lucky break it was. My second book got rejected everywhere, and I had almost given up when it finally got accepted. In fact, I owe Ashwin Sanghi that book, and that I continued writing books. I was so disillusioned with all the rejections, but he told me I must keep sending it out and wait. Since then it has been a series of acceptances and rejections and commissioned books, and I’ve learnt to not take rejections personally, and not exult over acceptances. Now of course, I have the wonderful Suhail Mathur of The Book Bakers who handles my commercial fiction, and it is a great load off my shoulders. He’s the one who placed The Kitty Party Murder with HarperCollins.
Over time, I’ve realised it isn’t me. Or my book. The rejections are not personal. There will be editors who will love a book but can’t take it because it doesn’t fit their lists, or the book doesn’t speak to them. It is just luck of the draw. It is the destiny of a work, where it will go, who will love it, who will advocate it, fight for it, publish it. No regrets. Life is too short to have regrets. You just keep writing.
9. What is the world and setting of your new book The Kitty Party Murder like?
The Kitty Party Murder is a suburban housewife’s world, a gated community, with all its eccentric characters, situations and complex power interfaces. It’s an incestuous, tumultuous world that looks all serene, aspirational and upwardly mobile from the outside but is a cauldron within, leading to much fun.
10. What is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Kitty Party Murder before they dive into the book?
It’s a funny read. Don’t expect a traditional murder mystery. This is more in the sub genre of a comic mystery, where the humour comes first and then the murders.
ABOUT THE KITTY PART MURDER:
Kanan Mehra, a.k.a. Kay, is bored to the gills with mommyhood, when her detective friend, Runa, asks her to help in a suicide investigation. Kay must infiltrate a ladies’ kitty group and try to unearth their deepest, darkest secrets. Since this includes all-you-can-eat buffet lunches at a new restaurant every month, and the chance to show off newly acquired diamonds, Kay agrees — much to the annoyance of her spouse, who disapproves of both kitty parties and snooping around.
As Kay and Runa try to get to the truth behind the suicide, the building complex is shaken by another mysterious death. The answers they seek lie buried under fancy meals, designer dresses and serious bling — but will Kay risk everything to get to them?
For Indian readers, here’s a question for a GIVEAWAY:
What is your one ability that would help you become an ace private investigator and why?
- Respond to the giveaway question.
- Follow @KiranManral and @damyantig on Instagram and Twitter.
- For bonus points: RT the Giveaway (here’s the tweet) and share the Instagram post (here’s the post).
- Ends 5th December 2020.
Kiran will choose the winner of a copy of The Kitty Party Murder! (Open to Indian audiences).
What keeps you motivated as an author? What books have you been reading lately? Do you have questions for author Kiran Manral?
It is available in India here.
Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.