Writing fiction takes a lot of talent, of practicing the craft, of endless learning. As part of learning craft, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing authors, teachers and agents— and sharing their wisdom with you on this blog. Today, as part of this series, I bring you Indian author Krishna Udayasankar who has penned the mytho-historical series, The Aryavarta Chronicles, an exciting part of an emerging trend of historical fiction set in India.
1. Your first book, Govinda is based on an Indian epic, the Mahabharata. To an audience that doesn’t know the background, how would you sum it up in a teaser?
I’m going to borrow a reader’s comment here and call it: The Indian ‘Game of Thrones’. My own teaser would probably be to call it a story of political intrigue, war, action and social transformation set in what is often called the ‘Epic Age’ of Indian history. Read it also particularly for the characters.
2. Mahabharata is full of magic and myth. You’ve stripped fantasy from it and given your readers a historical socio-economic novel. What was the impetus behind that?
Understanding the history, the kernels of fact behind what has subsequently been aggrandized and used to legitimize or justify social elements, is an essential way of understanding the cultural and moral fabric of the society we live in. Consequently, I wanted to explore the scriptures as the epics as tales of humanity, not divinity; as something that could have been history and not some improbable fantasy-tale that defied all logic and science. The more I tried to find these explanations, the more I caught on to the idea of the epic ages as a time of socio-political revolution, and my story as one of change in the status quo.
3. For you, what are the challenges of writing historical fiction, and what are the rewards?
The biggest reward is a sense of closure. The attempt to demystify these stories and their injunctions is almost like a quest for a more believable truth, an attempt to make these amazing characters and stories more ‘real.’ If I can take the liberty of being dramatic: it helps me make my peace with the world around us.
As for challenges, research is an enjoyable but tough part of the process. It can take many months, even years of painstaking work trying to reconcile legend with logic and scholarly evidence and variations in popular narratives across the world – depending especially on what region and eras you are writing about.
I think the other bittersweet dimension comes up when what I write questions deeply ingrained beliefs or contravenes popular versions of the stories that people know. It has, on occasion, led to pretty strong feedback (if I can call it that) from readers. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good debate any day and more than open to discussion on my books. But the comments do get personal sometimes and I’m still learning to laugh at them, rather than get upset.
4. Who are your favorite authors, and why?
Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Asimov, Kalki Krishnamurthy and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name some. As for the why – it’s the mythopoesy, the world-building, not to mention Kipling’s way with words and phrases. I’m also a fan of the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson. My favourite book, though, is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I also enjoy poetry a lot.
5. What was the last book you read?
I finished both Julian Barnes’ ‘Levels of Life’ and Terry Pratchett’s ‘A Blink of the Screen’, recently. Am now reading John Williams’ ‘Augustus’ and have Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’ lined up on my shelf.
6. What is the aspect of writing that interests you the most?
Daydreaming! Wordsmithy. Writing pithy dialogues, especially between characters that are good friends. Describing emotions usually not explored. Detailing sensations and feelings. Reading to write. Reading, wishing I could write that way. Writing crap and feeling miserable enough to go into existential angst.
Oh wait, you asked me for the aspect that interests me the most, right? That one is easy – I hang out with a really awesome bunch of imaginary friends almost all the time.
7. As an Indian author of historical fiction, what is the one concrete piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fiction writer?
In general, I believe all writers should listen to, and then promptly ignore, all advice. Having said that, I’ll also add, more as a reminder to myself than for the benefit of aspiring writers: Treat your subject/story/material with respect. The story (and this is particularly true for historical fiction) has endured in memory and myth for a long time; it has a life of its own and is bigger than you are. Respect that and engage with the story. It was here before you and your writing, and will probably stick around long after you are gone.
8. Tell us something about your forthcoming publication. Where can readers find the Govinda?
Both Govinda and Kaurava are available in major bookstores as well as online. They are also available as e-books. Kurukshetra, the third volume in the series is expected to be out by this November.
Krishna Udayasankar is the Indian author of Govinda and Kaurava: Books 1 and 2 of The Aryavarta Chronicles (Hachette, 2012; 2013) a bestselling series of mytho-historical novels that have received critical acclaim. She is also the author of Objects of Affection (Math Paper Press, 2013), a collection of prose poems. A co-editor of Body Boundaries: The Etiquette Anthology of Women’s Writing (The Literary Centre, 2014), Krishna holds a PhD from Nanyang Business School, where she works as Lecturer. Her current projects inclu
de a novel based on the mythohistory of Singapore’s founding by a Srivijayan prince. She lives in Singapore with her family, which includes two dogs with varied literary tastes.
Do you read or write historical fiction? Have you read any historical fiction set in India? Ever read a book by an Indian author ? Would you like to read the Aryavarta Chronicles? (Fire away in the comments and one of the commenters would win a copy of Govinda!)
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This sounds like a fantastic series – will definitely be looking for it!
Govinda and Kaurava sound great. I’ve read a lot of Western fantasy, and since who knows when the next Game of Thrones book will come out, I might really enjoy reading these books.
Thanks for the review!
Reblogged this on Reckless Indulgence and commented:
An interesting discovery! Looks like I have yet another book to add to my TBR list! 😉
Lovely interview, Damyanti, and Krishna’s books sound really great. I am a sucker for Indian mythology and all the research that goes into creating the historical novels. will definitely give these books a read. Good luck, Krishna with your new launches, and Damyanti, look forward to discovering new authors with you :0)
Wonderful interview, Damyanti. I am most intrigued by your book, Krishna. I love the combination of historic fiction and mythology, can’t wait to read your book. The teaser is awesome, and immediately got my attention 🙂 Best of luck with this book.
Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy the books 🙂
I like where she says: “In general, I believe all writers should listen to, and then promptly ignore, all advice.”
Recently, I went to a publishing house in Nairobi, and on the noticeboard was a list containing “core” advice for an upcoming writer. One of them read: “Give us something we can believe.” But I had a different idea. I was thinking: how much can you believe? Asking me to give you something you can believe is tantamount to imprisoning my imagination within your the limits of your own thoughts. Another one read: “Make your character flawed.” Of course I understood what this meant: our stories are a product of our failures and imperfections. A good story is a perfect rendition of imperfections. But it is almost like asking one to encourage the flaws.
I shall confess that the piece of advice in question is easily given, but I find it tough to follow myself, at times. It’s taken long to let honesty (for better or worse) show through in my work, and I still wonder if that’s not too self-indulgent of me – just like said advice… If that makes sense!!
Loved this, especially the answers to question 6! I love all those aspects of writing too, except for the pithy dialog. I think that is the part of my writing I most need to work on! I always admire that so much in others’ work! This novel sounds like part of an amazing series! Thank you for posting!
Thanks! Btw, I can’t quite take any credit for the pithy dialogue bit – the characters speak, and I just try to eavesdrop and scribble down what bits I can!
I think it’s great that we are taking on historical fiction. I can’t wait to read this series!
Hope you enjoy it! 🙂
I’m glad there are book reviews on here. I was sort of expecting that. Perhaps someone will be able to rekindle that fire for me that I’ve been moping over on my own for no real reason. Really confusing.
Also I think that the title of the post is misleading…. the book or the series needed a mention.
Aryavarta series- Is it Indian game of thrones? or
Can Govinda challenge Game of thrones?
Game of thrones has a new contender- Krishna and her Govinda!
Hope you don’t mind. Could not stop myself 🙂
Wow! I am impressed and then some more.
Let me explain…. First a glimpse into mythology with the most famous Mahabharata and then a series on it.
Just want to read it to know what spin has the good author put on a tale already so popular?
The last historical fiction I had read was The Shiva Trilogy and by the last book I was begging for mercy.
Guess I did not learn my lesson and want more 😉
Second I like the way the author expresses herself, I am sure she is a woman of substance if her words here are anything to go by; but then I don’t expect any fluff from your blog Damayanti.
Thirdly, I am ashamed to admit I was surprised to realize that the author is a woman – my mistake to think this genre with was a man’s forte. I was not aware of this series or the author as I don’t follow Historical fiction very pro-actively.
Happy to know my stereotype has been smashed. I am now off to know more about the book on kindle.
My best wishes and kudos to Krishna Udayasankar for her books and thanks a lot to you Damyanti for introducing us. 🙂
Well, I don’t fault you in the least for thinking the books were written by a guy. You’d be surprised at the number of people who expect that the books lack political intrigue and action, or else comment that I write action scenes ‘like a guy’! They mean well, I’m sure, but I find both readers and fellow women writers are willing to subscribe to the stereotype. The latter especially makes me sad! 🙁
You should be proud and happy because you are breaking a stereotype just like Damyanti who writes great fiction …….well like a guy.
It is because traditionally women were never associated with blood and gore…etc.
You have the opportunity to surprise and emancipate so many readers who will be die hard fans. Since I have not read your book as yet but hope to do it soon you need not be sad. Sterotypes are meant to be broken.
I am sure Amish Tripathi is one worried guy right now 😉
Congratulations for being Leaders!
( Pioneers in olden days )
great interview. love historical fiction. reading indian epics from different angles and authors always bring grat pleasure to me.
will sure want to check out your books.wish you all the best with them.
Thanks! 🙂 enjoy!
Thanks for following my blog. I am just about to exploring yours!
Love your imaginary friends:) Sometimes they are the best kind:) Great interview and upbeat answers. Good luck with your Game of thrones style book
Thanks Birgit! 🙂
I hope I can get to this at some point. I love the mix of history and myth and India is certainly rich in that!
Great timing. I’ve recently noticed a lot of historical fiction set in India and since it is one of my places of interest I’ve been compiling a TBR list for myself – with a special focus on pre-colonial periods. This sounds perfect. Can’t wait to dig in. Enjoyed the interview. Thanks for putting it out there.
The covers are very beautiful – and so is Krishna. She’s brave to write historical. It’s too hard for me. I’m wishing her and her “Indian Game of Thrones” much success! 🙂
I know – aren’t the covers amazing. All credit to an artist by name Kunal Kundu 🙂 Thanks for your wishes.
Usually I gravitate to fantasy and I’ve enjoyed reading myths and legends from India, so at first I was disappointed this wasn’t fantasy, but actually your approach sounds fascinating! You’ve won me over, I’ll try it! 🙂
YAYYYY! 🙂 Hope you enjoy the books 🙂
An effort similar to Mr. Udayanskar’s, although much less ambitious and smaller in scale, was undertaken by British journalist Harriet O’Brien in her 2005 book _Emma and the Vikings_. It describes, in part, the 19-year reign of King Cnut (Canute), who ruled not only Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden but also all of England from 1016 CE to 1035 CE. It was a time of great prosperity and peace for England and could have resulted in a lasting bond between the English and Scandinavian peoples, with England and Denmark possibly remaining one country to this day. Sadly, Cnut died of what appears to have been a sudden illness in 1035, not having named a successor, so that his Great Sea Kingdom immediately fell apart and the various countries came to be mismanaged by incompetent heirs and pretenders until the Norman Conquest of 1066 CE. The Normans set up a military dictatorship over England and destroyed most of the evidence of Cnut’s rule, so that very few records survive. O’Brien does her best to illuminate this poorly documented period of English history, with frequent, highly readable commentary on the reliability of her sources, but her book is really about Cnut’s wife Emma (English name Aelfgifu), who was of Norman origin and one of the major reasons why William the Conqueror laid claim to the English throne after her death. tl;dr just as Mr. Udayanskar endeavors to demystify history, O’Brien tries to debunk the distortions about English history that were promulgated by the Norman conquerors and hold sway in English historiography to this day.
I’m not a huge one for fantasy, so it’s really interesting to me that you’re exploring the social, historical and cultural reality behind these myths – it sounds fascinating, and I hope it goes well for you.
I’ll try to read this book sometime. I am intrigued more and more by Mythology, and the life lessons they offer. And I am also intrigued by Game of Thrones. Nice concept, combining the two!
Hello Damyanti, I haven’t read or seen the Game of Thrones, but have been encouraged many times to do so. This post and interview is extremely interesting, and the book is one that has stirred my curiosity. I like to read historical fiction, in fact most genres, and enjoy getting lost in their adventures. Thanks for sharing this.
I like the idea of taking the magic out of the tales and telling them as if humans could have pulled if off. As a fan of fantasy fiction, I used to think this was a boring approach until I read some of Jack Whyte’s books, like “The Sky Stone,” tales centered around the family history and military history of King Author, Merlin and Camulod. I think I’m going to check out Krishna’s book just for that reason.
Ooh! Thanks to you, I now have a new series on my reading list. Shall definitely check out The Sky Stone, thanks 🙂
Yes do they are fascinating. You get to see how Excalibur was forged, Merlin as a military leader and King Author’s grooming as a great leader under Merlin.
I have not read nor watched Game of Thrones, but with all the free time I have, I should! I’m just skeptical about all the blood and gory!
So good to know that Kalki was one of the favourites of the writer. Kalki I would say is an unparalleled historical writer to my knowledge.
Love kalki’s novels. Yen manamaarndha valzthukkal to Krishna! Would grab a copy soon! 🙂
Nandri! Mikka maghizchi 🙂 Hope you enjoy reading my books too. But please don’t expect Kalki-sir level and all – Avaru yengeyo irrukaru!
Haha! Even kalki would not have become such a writer in a shot! Things thinkable is doable. Yen manamaarndha valzthukkal!
This interview made me want to read this series, but not for the Indian ‘Game of Thrones’, I’m afraid(I find them a little too gritty for my taste).
But I loved the answer to question 6! Daydreaming and hanging out with my characters is my favourite part of writing too 🙂 Well, everything in that answer is my favourite part of writing, so… 😀
Enjoyed reading this amazing interview of Krishna. Damyanti ha worked hard on the questions. I really enjoy what new age writers are doing, interpretation the mythical characters which is so much fun. Sad that religious debates get personal. I’ve been toying with idea of writing my own version of Ramayana, making Raavan and Sita siblings. Any idea? You think, I should read the full Ramayana for that. Will check ur books:)
Thanks. I’ve heard that there is a version of the Ramayana where Sita is Ravana’s daughter. There is also a lesser known version where Rama and Sita are siblings and not married to each other.
I definitely want to read it. I love historical fiction. One of my favorites was The Terror by Dan Simmons. It was about the Franklin Expedition. Amazing book.
I’ve never read a book (that I can think of) that was based in India, but I’d give it a go. Books like Game of Thrones are my favorite types of books to read. I love the political intrigue mixed with action.
Going to have to check this book out. thanks
I think I’ve read a couple of books written by Inidian writers living in the west. I’ve also read some by British writers about Indian history, from various perspectives. I found a wonderful fantasy mix-up called A Thousand Perfect Things, which I thought was really good. I’m looking forward to reading Govinda now – thanks for a wonderful interview, Damyanti and Krishna.
Woaw…Its being really interesting.
I havent read any Indian Writers books yet. But after this inteview, i m thinking to read the Indian Game of Thrones. I guess it would be interesting, just like the HBO’s GOT series…
Special Thanks to you @damyantig for such an interesting interview.
Thanks – hope you enjoy the book!
Ya me too…Just ordered the books…
Hope to receive them upto tomorrow evening…
Fabulous review! This is my kind of author–I could easily hang out with her and her imaginary friends! This epic sounds amazing. Definitely something I will read. Thanks for posting!
Hi Charli, my characters and I would love to hang out with you too! But don’t say I didn’t warn you – the nice ones are known for chugging beer back at a pretty impressive rate! 🙂
Hey time and again….you come up with these latest publications and the upcoming trends …I really like to read though not comment for each and every….this helped me in adding one more to my ‘do read’ list.
I know! Isn’t Damyanti just awesome!
Nice Interview. I have read both her books and also had an opportunity of interacting with Krishna through twitter. While many authors are penning mythological tales, I find her style very refreshing and rich in writing.
Sounds extremely interesting, I haven’t read much in the ways of historical fiction (especially indian), but I recently written a short story on the parallel between the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado and a full scale alien invasion.
Check it out if you feel so inclined.
I would very much enjoy reading this style of book I beleive.
Hi! Could you please tell me where/how to find your short story? The premise sounds interesting!
Always hesitant when books are compared to bestsellers, like that whole Indian GoT blurb. I bought this for my girlfriend a few weeks ago! Will be reading it at some point in the future.
Great interview 🙂
Nice interview. And the books sound interesting, too. I haven’t read any Indian fiction before, and would like to expand to reading from several countries. It seems I read mainly from American and British authors and the occasional Canadian author. No Australians yet.
Jay Dee: Welcome to a whole new world 🙂 Hope you enjoy exploring Indian fiction.
Thanks! I look forward to it.
I will Call it a “God and Game of Thrones”.There was not only the games there was some other things full of holy thought .I don’t thing there is any reason or comparison between “Mahabharat” and “Game of Thrones” except that war of due to throne .
Art of Drone .
Holy speech of Krishn.
There was more than just throne.
and background of each character is not dark
Actually, I’d say philosophical thought, rather than holy – I’ve tried very hard to tell the story as a story of brave women and men, rather than a story of gods and miracles – which is also why you don’t have characters that are totally dark or totally good – everyone has shades of everything. Wouldn’t you agree?
Even i am not talking about Holy thought .
Yes it is right that characters has shades like Borbarik Who only knows that protect the weak people whether they are good or bad .
But there was nothing like thrones in the centre of all to Mahabharat a Indian Games of Thrones ….
There was a Brother Shakuni who did all bad things only because of Brother sister Bond .
There was many friendship Drona – Drupad ,Krishn – sudama ,Duryodhan – Karn with lots of thoughtful events .
So giving a name like Games …. i personally don’t like …….My comment is not for the book only for Title …..
Historical fiction is always more interesting than the real stuff which can get dry and boring. Certain characters like Desiree and Scarlett O Hara bring to life those turbulent times, making history easier to remember and enjoy.
Thanks for this lovely interview of the Aryavarta chronicles…indeed you’ve spurred my interest.
TY! Hope the books do justice to your interest!
These sound like stories I would love to read. I really like historical fiction and have been searching for something different. Will have to take a look.
Great interview, and wonderful author! I’m looking forward to checking out her books and recommending them at the library 🙂
Thanks /blush blush 🙂 You know, I can never ever get over the excitement I get from the sheer thought of my books being in a library – I mean, its like a place of honour in the most sacred of sites kind of feeling, if you know what I mean!
That sounds fascinating. I will have to look these up!
I’ve read only a bit about Indian history. It’s on my reading list as something I need more of. Thanks for this.
“Oh wait, you asked me for the aspect that interests me the most, right? That one is easy – I hang out with a really awesome bunch of imaginary friends almost all the time.”
LOL! That’s my favorite part of writing, too — I’m hardly ever in my world because I’m always in theirs. One of them taps me on the shoulder with his sword, gives me a wink, and off we go. 🙂
/whistles. Hey, the horses are over here. Come on, lets go! BTW, meet these cool friends of mine, while I say hello to yours… 🙂
Don’t forget the snacks. Adventuring can make you hungry! 🙂
PSSST – Are the wine bags full? 😉
Nice interview, her favourite authors, even Calvin & Hobbes…are my favourite too 🙂 ..historical fiction is a flourishing genre and I’m an ardent fan…have read and reviewed quite a couple of them like Sharath Komarajjus ‘s ‘Winds Of Hastinapur’ , Doyle’s ” The Mahabharata secret” etc…. currently reading ” The Rise of the Sun Prince” by Shubha Vilas…. 🙂
/quietly slides you a copy of her books 🙂
Such great advice. I too love the part about listening to and then ignoring all advice and treating subject and characters with respect. Respect, it seems is a universal constant ingredient for doing something well. Thanks for another great interview!
Hi Dan. well said! Respect is integral to allow the living nature of any story to come through. I’m always terrified that my ego might run away with me, and I’ll kill the story!
Fan of Calvin and Hobbes! Awesome.
I actually know a bit about the Mahabharata from another blogger I follow who had written tales about it.
“In general, I believe all writers should listen to, and then promptly ignore, all advice. Having said that, I’ll also add, more as a reminder to myself than for the benefit of aspiring writers: Treat your subject/story/material with respect.”
I love this advice. It hits home for me because I started to write an historical novel about Plato’s life, I did the painstaking research, then switched to a contemporary tale based on Plato’s philosophy, with Plato and Socrates’ lives in mind. The purpose of this was to get into the mind of Plato, to make my interpretation without hemming and hawing. I have been given a lot of advice along the lines of “This voice is too scholarly” (it’s from the POV of a philosophy professor), “This is for a niche audience,” etc. Then I dumbed it down and felt bad about it. Others could sense I had dumbed it down, and didn’t appreciate it. When they told me so, I wanted to kiss them.
Now I’m back where I started! I decided to run with it…the story wants a mathematical explanation of the equality of the middle segments on the divided line. So be it. This is the way I respect the material—I assume my audience is the most intelligent person I can imagine and I try not to bore that person to tears. My story IS cerebral. I can make it tangible without sacrificing intelligence. That’s what Plato did, after all!
“Mahabharata is full of magic and myth. You’ve stripped fantasy from it and given your readers a historical socio-economic novel.”
Kudos on this. I’m really intrigued. I don’t know much about the “Epic Age” of India, but I really want to know now.
It sounds like a colossal undertaking and a unique perspective.
Great post, great interview.
Wow! Your books sounds awesome! So how far along are you? Can’t wait to read it.
PS. Know what you mean by the whole dumbing down thing – Sometimes it feels like I’d be selling a character short just to improve my sales (not that they’d improve), but…
Haha…yeah my book isn’t likely to be a bestseller, which is strangely liberating. If I try to think about sales while I write, my head will explode.
I’m about finished with the first draft, but I’m right at the climax chapter where I have to vomit forth something really explosive…it’s building within me, I can feel it! It’s just so intimidating to have come this far and to finally get to this point…I’m just standing back, figuring out my exit strategy.
Good interview, very interesting.
Really great interview; some excellent insights into the writing process, coupled with good questions on your own part, all of which of the author answered thoroughly and clearly. My compliments on an excellent post..
With such awesome questions, was super-easy to give the answers. I had so much fun doing the interview. So Damyanti, thanks to you, and thanks to echoesofthepen for your kind words 🙂