Nilanjana Roy spent most of her adult life writing about humans before realizing that animals were much more fun; The Wildings published by Aleph is her first novel. Her column on books and reading for the Business Standard has run for over fifteen years; she also writes for the International Herald Tribune on gender.
Her fiction and journalism have appeared in several journals and anthologies, including The Caravan, Civil Lines 6,Guernica, The New York Times’ India blog, Outlook and Biblio. . She is the editor of A Matter of Taste: The Penguin Book of Indian Food Writing. At one time, she used to blog as Hurree Babu at Kitabkhana, India’s first literary blog. She lives in Delhi with two cats and her husband, and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nilanjanaroy.
• Soaring into heaven moment:
There were a few. Discovering after six years of not writing The Wildings because I kept telling myself that I was not a fiction writer, that the story, and the cats and the cheels of Nizamuddin,
were still alive in my head. The first chapter I wrote that didn’t have to be dumped into the (very large) Outtakes folder because my characters finally seemed to walk across the page and into life. And going for a virtual jaunt across Delhi with a tiger and a kitten. That
was a lot of fun.
The unexpected surprise of having David Godwin and David Davidar say that they loved the book, even at the messy first draft stage. They were The Wilding’s first readers, after my husband, and their enthusiasm made such a difference.
•That Infernal fire time:
I’d spent years as a reviewer myself, so I wasn’t afraid of being judged—you know that some people will love your book, some won’t, and so long as you’ve done the best you can, you take what’s useful and discard what’s not.
But the most terrifying moment was picking up the few pages I’d written in 2007, looking at them again in 2009, and wondering if I had the courage to start writing again, to put the story and myself “out there”.
Oh, and killing off a character I’d loved very much. That was really hard, like losing an old and much-cherished friend.
•The purgatory point:
Not writing for so long that I had no voice left, in fiction; and feeling that the journalism I had loved doing for years was now becoming mechanical. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing the next Ulysses or a novel about a clan of Delhi cats. At some point you have to stay true to whoever you are inside, and if that someone is a writer, then you have to find your voice. Realising that I had once loved what I did for a living—reading, writing columns—and that it had begun to feel like freelance factory hell was hard. Oddly, opening the door to fiction brought back my love of journalism.
• …….years, …….drafts and ……….words thereafter, would you do this differently and again?
Again? Since I’d mentioned Joyce: “Yes I said yes I will yes.” The sequel to The Wildings is in the works, and I realize that writing is a little like morning yoga: it’s a series of co-ordinated movements that you go over again and again, always hoping to do it better, knowing that there’s no finishing line; it’s a routine, everyday habit and you’re one of a thousand practitioners; and when it changes your life, it does so slowly.
If I could have changed anything, it would be the years of not writing. I suppose we all want to write our books better, but perfect’s not a goal for me in the same way that continuing to show up at the desk is.
If you’re lucky to have good editors—and I did at Aleph—you can take risks, you can go out and attempt something that might fail, knowing that someone will prevent you from making the very worst mistakes. The rest is accepting that you’re just a learner, and enjoying that space.
Fear the most?
Losing language or losing the love of language. Also, I believe everyone has their private daemonophobia—the list of weaknesses in oneself—and I fear the ones that would stop me from writing fully, or living life as richly as possible.
Desire the most?
Freedom from fear.
More writing time and space. The sense of open, unconcealed awe and joy I had at the world when I was a child, and that I’m too cynical to admit to as an adult. More time spent playing, more time with friends and close family. Peace of mind, and to that end, more dark chocolate.
Hate the most?
This is odd: I don’t really have a list of hates, though there’s the usual list of fears etc. Cruel people? No, I’m scared of cruel people and unhappy people, but hate’s still hard to carry—it’s such a toxic emotion that you don’t want it in your life.
I could hate anti-storytellers, I suppose, people who are so scared of challenging ideas that they will shut other people’s stories, real or written, down. Also: stewed tomatoes and limp, boiled cabbage wedges. They’re disgusting.
Now I have to go and raid the fridge for dark chocolate to get that taste out of my mouth.