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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Author Interview : Abirami M Krishnan, author of 'How to Screw Up like a Pro'

I have read quite a few interviews, some of which I have liked, and some others which I have respected for the genuine thoughts that they came with. But not in a debut author. This one is a tad different.

Abirami M Krishnan is honest, frank and eager to share, and that is something I have rarely seen. It reads like a novel, her interview does. Though, she does have a touch.

Read on as she describes how her novel came about and why she picked subjects that are funny and yet have the humane touch. She also advises writers of today, what they can do if they want to write. You could read the review right here. 

So, read on for her interview…

How did ‘How To Screw Up Like a Pro’ happen? Could you describe the journey?

I read somewhere that everyone has a story within themselves and I started wondering if I had one within me too. That is how it began. I started small. I wrote a short story and sent it in to a magazine, and to my great surprise and delirious happiness, it got published. Then I began to think about how to properly write a full length novel, the technique and the skill required to write one and began to teach myself.

There are umpteen books about how to write novels - by authors who are novellists or where several novellists have contributed, and I read them all voraciously. Of course there are major contradictions about what to write, how to write, how to edit with each author's instructions, but that is part of the fun, to figure out what works for you, individually.

How did the story, especially Akola’s come out? Did you have a lot of personal experiences to go with it?

Every adult remembers some childhood memories very fondly. As I grew up, I too thought that there were parts of my childhood that were great, and some that were the opposite. 

While some of the experiences that the protagonists have in How To Screw Up Like A Pro are my own, large parts of Akola's story is imaginary.

What about the medical element? What kind of research did you put in?

I have two doctor parents too, just like the siblings in my book :-) Most of the information in my book was bugged out of them, and the remaining is from the internet and libraries.

What according to you is different about your book?

I think mental illness is mostly portrayed negatively in books. As if even people who admit to having mild depression are to be pitied. So, I wanted to write about mental illness differently within a novel format.

That mental illnesses, like other illnesses are largely temporary and treatable. I'm not talking about schizophrenia or MPD here, but much milder forms, which are what, affect most people who have mental illnesses.

But, the public perception of mental illness – to give you an example- is to imagine that someone has been diagnosed with end stage cancer and treat them as such when all they have caught is the common cold.

Another aspect I wanted to explore was child abuse. I wanted the parent and the child to make up with each other and find peace as the pain from such an abusive incident or life period fades away with time.

I find more and more of my contemporaries having a very transactional relationship with their parents, mostly because they have hurt each other too deeply or have developed misunderstandings that take up the entire space in the room. Do parents and their grown-up children know each other as people, as persons, with likes, dislikes; hatred and flaws, as opposed to a parent-child model that needed to exist when the children were young?

What was the most challenging part about writing ‘How to Screw Up like a Pro’?

I actually wrote the manuscript within a three month period, but the challenging part was the editing. It was slow going, agonizing and life-sucking :-) Mainly because as a first time author I was new to the editing process and the approach that an editot will have to a manuscript. It was trim, trim, trim every word that was unnecessary to tell a story.

And the problem with any new author is learning to cut mercilessly. I think I have learnt it now. Or my next editor will find differently, much to her anguish :-)

What are the most fulfilling parts in your book?

In any book/movie of this sort, resolution of the emotional conflict is the most fulfilling part. It is like when Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan make up in the mall in K3G, for me the best part was Akola and Parvati making up.

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?

I identify with both Akola and Anjana, because of their gender and age, mostly. As I grow older, I think I will begin to identify with Parvati and then if I grow old enough and am still alive, Lakshmi Patti :-D

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

I had an English teacher in high school, who encouraged me to read more widely and write more often. But otherwise, there wasn't anyone who told me I could become an author.

I love words and books and cannot imagine a life where I am not reading or writing.

When will you next book be out?

I am working on the next novel, but it will be a couple of years before it will be fit to be read.

Which book are you currently reading?

James Rollins – 'The Eye of God'.
Who are your favourite authors and why?

Jane Austen because, duh, who doesn't love her characters.

Arundhati Roy, but only her novel- 'The God of Small Things' because that was the first novel that made me cry.

Other Indian authors I like are Vikram Chandra and Amitav Ghosh. I also love the way Amulya Malladi writes.

I read a lot of fantasy (George RR Martin, Jim Butcher, Jonathan Stroud etc), women's fiction (Jennifer Weiner, Cecelia Ahern, Marian Keyes etc) and popular mainstream fiction (David Baldacci, Jeffrey Archer, Matthew Reilly etc) and love different
authors for different aspects of their writing.

What else do you do on a daily basis?

Got to eat, so I go to work. Otherwise, I potter about in my balcony garden or I bake sinful, calorie laden treats that I'm not supposed to be eating, but I eat anyway.

What advice do you have for the young writers of today?

It is absolutely true that old adage – write what you know. I will just slightly modify it to – Write what you know first, the rest will automatically follow. There is truth to another adage about writing – it is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If your butt is not in the chair and your fingers not on the keyboard, your brilliant idea for a book will never turn into reality.

There will be rejections, but it is part of the game. Learn, adapt, re-write and resend – unless what you have written is absolutely un-publishable (If you have read enough you will know what is and what isn't publishable, and if you haven't read enough, you shouldn't be writing anyway) your writing will get its space.

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