Author Interview | Aroon Raman | The Shadow Throne | The Treasure of Kafur


AroonRaman

Today, it is my pleasure to host an interview with Aroon Raman, author of The Shadow Throne [Link to my review] and The Treasure of Kafur [Link to my review]. While the first novel is a contemporary narrative about how terrorists try to unleash a wave of terror in the sub-continent, the second one is a historical fantasy fiction about how the great empire of Akbar is almost brought down to its knees when a rebel renegade happens to come across the legendary treasure of Malik Kafur.

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  1. Talking about The Shadow Throne, it is quite clear from your educational and professional background that the only probably exposure that you have had to crime, criminals, geopolitics, intelligence and espionage is a healthy diet of crime-thriller novels in your life. So how much of an influence do you think the books you read had on how The Shadow Throne was plotted and narrated?

In writing The Shadow Throne, I drew of course heavily on my readings – especially of the many adventure stories I grew up on. Authors that readily come to mind are Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, John Buchan and other late 19th century and early 20th century writers who wrote thrilling stories. At the same time I read widely on contemporary non-fiction, especially on the politics of the sub-continent, especially Pakistan, by journalists like Ahmed Rashid and Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark (who wrote The Siege). The result is a sort of researched mix where fantasy is blended with fact to create what hopefully is a compelling storyline.

  1. Tell us about the kind of research that went into credibly narrating the inner workings of agencies like the RAW and the ISI. Also, tell us if you really believe that there could be situations like the one mentioned in The Shadow Throne which will force these arch-enemies to work together like they did in the book.

I was a bit lucky in that I had some contacts in internal security who put me onto some retired people who had worked at senior levels in Indian intelligence. Some of the stories I heard (of course non-classified and a bit dated) convinced me that truth is indeed, in some cases, stranger than fiction! The scenario I have painted in TST is certainly fanciful, but not by that huge a degree. I believe the extent of policy and administrative paralysis in government under the then government by 2011, 2012 had reached a certain alarming proportion that had rendered large parts of the State apparatus completely dysfunctional. On the other hand, ISI and RAW coming together as they do in the book, is again not impossible. There have been some less-known instances where these organizations have worked together when they have felt their interests converge. This limited co-operations certainly suffered much post the attack on the Indian Parliament.  

  1. It is usually said that in his/her debut novel, the author crafts one character which is very close to himself/herself. Is this true in your case? If yes, which character and what aspects of your personality are reflected in this particular character in The Shadow Throne?

Rather than model a character specifically after me, I have painted the “good guys” with characteristics which are attractive to me: ‘strong, silent type’ that characterizes Chandra, Meenakshi’s quicksilver wit, Hassan’s tough yet poetic strain; so all my lead characters have what I see as being interesting facets to them. None of them, however, is modeled on me, per se!   

  1. In the mail that you had sent to me, you mentioned that the characters of Chandra, Hassan and Meenakshi, the main protagonists of The Shadow Throne are poised to make a comeback in 2015. Request you to please provide us with more details of the same.

I’ve just signed a contract with my publishers Pan Macmillan for the next Chandra-Hassan-Meenakshi thriller. I am pretty excited about the way the storyline is developing into a book tentatively to be called Skyfire. Obviously details are a tightly kept secret at the moment, and I expect to reveal closer to the date! But suffice it to say that this will also be a fast-paced plot with the good guys racing against time to save the country from Armageddon of another kind.

  1. Moving on to The Treasure of Kafur, this book belongs to an entirely unique genre given that it straddles historical fiction and fantasy fiction. What was the genesis of this particular plot which primarily revolved around the legendary treasure of Malik Kafur?

TreasureOfKafurOf the two books I have written, TOK is my personal favorite; one reason being that it was more than 6 years in the making. The idea came to me literally one evening when I had been mulling over my idea for a book for more than 3 weeks, and then the thought suddenly popped into my mind, “Why not a story involving Akbar and a threat to his empire?” The character of this greatest of Mughal emperors has always been an attractive one for me, and with this starting point, one idea let to the other very quickly. I had just finished re-reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and so almost immediately fantasy started to play a part in the story. I’m also a great admirer of Buddhism as a religion and so Panchatantra type animal characters have been in my story consciousness for a very long time. And so it all began to come together in a particular way very quickly once the main plot question had been answered in my own mind.

  1. The Treasure of Kafur follows the ‘three act structure’ in that it begins with Datta and his friends making the treacherous journey to Agra, the second part dealing with how Datta convinces Akbar of Asaf and the final part dealing with how the story unfolds and ends. Was it a deliberate attempt on your part to stick to this oft followed convention or was this something that just happened during the course of writing the novel?

In my style of writing, once the main theme of the story is determined, then the story leads me on. I do not lead the story. So, I had no real thought to split the story into these 3 logical parts: it just happened naturally as the story progressed.

  1. While writing The Treasure of Kafur how much of effort did you have to put in terms of research that needed to be done to get the historical settings as accurate as possible? And also, how much of ‘historical truth’ did you need to bend and modify to suit the requirements of the plot itself?

The wonderful thing about writing a book like The Treasure of Kafur is that the research forms of the picture frame, the backdrop against which all events are made to seem ‘authentic’ and therefore believable. This makes the research crucial. The persona of Akbar, for example, is fully researched and I think the Akbar you see in the book is pretty much the way I think he must have been. Similarly, I read up quite a bit about the Hindustan of the time. Prof Irfan Habib’s Atlas of Mughal India contains a fund of knowledge of how the country was at the time; folk tales that have come down to us over the centuries lend their own texture to the telling of the tale especially in the sketching of characters like Rana Pratap. Last but not least the fun part is that while you base the story on the politics of the time, fiction allows you to play fast and loose with some of the facts in a ways that add greatly to the enjoyment of the tale. So in a word: research provides the flavor and bouquet to the wine of fantasy!    

  1. In terms of future books, do you have any plans to dabble with either historical fiction or fantasy fiction in the style of The Treasure of Kafur again?

It is very interesting to me that I have had a great variety of responses to both my books – given that they are very different from each other. Some have liked TST and other TOK more, and yet others have enjoyed both equally. If you notice, I have left the endings of both books slightly open to the possibility of a sequel. That is being fulfilled now in my third book which is a quasi-sequel to The Shadow Throne. At the same time I’ve started yet another thriller set this time in an overseas setting, and so for the immediate couple of years, I think I will be centered on the modern thriller rather than go back to the TOK type adventure.

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Related links

Aroon Raman on Facebook
Aroon Raman on Twitter
Aroon Raman’s website
The Shadow Throne – Flipkart
The Shadow Throne – Amazon
The Treasure of Kafur – Flipkart
The Treasure of Kafur – Amazon

 

Author Interview – Sumana Khan – The Revenge of Kaivalya


Today on the blog, I have the pleasure of hosting an interview with Sumana Khan, author of The Revenge of Kaivalya, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading (read my review of the book here).

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  1. Given that The Revenge of Kaivalya is your debut book, was there any particular reason that you chose the ‘paranormal thriller’ genre for the same? Or, as is the norm with most debut authors, did the story choose you?

SUMANA: I think it’s natural to write a story that one personally loves to read. Thrillers, horror, crime – these are all genres I love to read. I mean, I would not have debuted with a romance for example … that’s not my cup of tea – the only romance fiction I’ve enjoyed are mostly from classical literature.

  1. While you have provided a reasonably interesting explanation behind the origins of the name ‘Kaivalya’ here in this blog post (link to post), why did you choose the forests of Sakleshpur, Bisle and Kukke as the setting for the contemporary portion of the book? You might as well have chosen Vijayanagara itself given that the story of Kaivalya is inextricably linked to that location, right.

SUMANA:  An important element of horror is atmosphere.  In a well-written horror piece, the place itself assumes a character, almost as important as the protagonist. For example, the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, or Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. Nothing can beat the silent, somber environs of the Western ghats to induce a trace of fear…be it during monsoons, or during foggy winters. On the other hand, today, Vijayanagara stands as Hampi – UNESCO world heritage site – all cheery and touristy. My choice was easy J

  1. SumanaKhanIt is said that most debut authors have at least one character in their books that mirror their personality quite a bit. Which character in The Revenge of Kaivalya, if any, reflects your personality the most? Also, which character in this book is your personal favorite, in terms of the character-arc that the narrative describes?

SUMANA – I’d say none. I think in a good piece of fiction writing, the author should not surface anywhere. I think Matchu is a favourite – I had a lot of fun fleshing him out. But when it came to challenging every cell in my brain – it has to be Kaivalya.

  1. Can we expect more adventures from Dhruv, Tara and some of the other characters in the future? What are your writing plans in general, for the future?

SUMANA – As of now I have no plans for any kind of “part 2” for Kaivalya characters. But, never say never is my policy J Right now I’m knocking on many doors to peddle a set of stories. I’m also working on a full length novel: a psychological thriller.

  1. This particular post of yours (link to post) seems to suggest that writing was a cathartic experience for you in terms of the fact that it was something that you were good at and it was also something that helped you realize that writing was something that defined your personality in more ways than one. Would you be able to elucidate more on what writing means to you?

SUMANA: It is difficult to explain…let me try. It’s like the warmth you feel in the pit of your stomach when you realize you are in love. It just feels right…like it’s meant to be; you just know that come what may, you will be spending your life with that special person. You develop this tunnel vision…everything around you recedes to the background. Writing to me, has that exact same kind of a loud “CLICK”.  I’m sure it’s the same for anyone who has discovered their passion – perhaps painting is their lifeline…or acting and so on.

  1. Most debut authors struggle to have their manuscripts see the light of bookstore shelves. While the second half of this post (link to post) provides us with some details regarding your tryst with self-publishing the book before Westland eventually accepted the same for publication, what was the one part of this entire process that you found particularly difficult/tiresome and what was the one part that you found particularly educative or revealing?

SUMANA: Difficult part is definitely the waiting…(now that could be a good title…The Waiting…)! One must have the patience of a python. When I got in touch with Westland’s chief editor with a query, I was asked to send across the synopsis and sample chapters, as is the norm. Within a day, I was asked to send across the manuscript. Thereafter, I waited for almost a year to hear a decision. Once I finally signed the contract, it took almost two years for the book to finally come out.

Educative – coming from an IT background, I was used to very process-driven work environments. I was now exposed to an environment that really runs on personal rapport – something that I’m quite hopeless at, given my reticent nature.

  1. What is the one piece of advice that you would give budding writers out there reading this interview?

SUMANA: At the risk of being repetitive (I’ve said this in other interviews as well)…no matter what you hear, please don’t take writing for granted. Just like any other art and vocation, writing too requires that you constantly improve, upgrade your skill. So…please don’t settle for a sub-standard quality of writing, and worse, defend that. Yes, and ensure you have another job. Writing may enrich the soul, but it sure does not fill the stomach.

Author Interview – Anurag Anand – Birth of the Bastard Prince


Today on the blog, I feature Anurag Anand [Link to website], author of the recently released Birth of the Bastard Prince : Legend of Amrapali [Link to my review of the book]. Read on as Anurag shares some interesting snippets behind this book and his writing habits in general.

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  1. At the outset, let me ask you whether the story of Amrapali was always envisaged as a two book series by you? And the primary reason for this question is the fact that there was almost a two year gap between the two books hitting the bookshelves?

My motivation behind writing Amrapali’s story was to make it accessible to as many readers as I could. Given that a lengthy book ends up being a major deterrent, especially with respect to occasional readers, I had planned to present the story in two parts from the onset. So, while ‘The Legend of Amrapali’ deals with the early years of the protagonist’s life, her appointment as the Nagarvadhu of Vaishali and her cleverly crafted revenge, ‘Birth of the Bastard Prince’ takes off from where the prequel ends. In Birth of the Bastard Prince, readers will get a flavor of the political machinations that led to one of the most ferocious battles of those times, fought between Magadh and Vaishali, Amrapali’s romantic liaisons with the neighboring emperor, Bimbisara, and how she finds herself in a position where her decision would have a lasting impact on the history of Aryavart.

I have however provided a brief capsule as a prelude to ‘Birth of the Bastard Prince’ that will enable readers to read the book on a standalone basis. This is to make the book relevant to those who haven’t been able to read the prequel yet.

  1. You have written at least five other books in the more regular ‘popcorn fiction’ or the ‘chick-lit’ genre, if I may call them that. Was there any particular reason you picked up the ‘historical fiction’ genre and picked the specific story of Amrapali to tell? Or as they say, did the story pick you?

Well, the five books in the contemporary fiction genre (as I like to term it) aside, I have also authored two self-help books. Writing is a medium for me to express myself and to that effect I don’t like to be constrained by the convention of sticking to a particular genre. I write what I feel like writing, period!

In case of Amrapali, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the story chose me rather than the reverse. Hailing from a village not very far from Vaishali, Amrapali’s motherland, I was exposed to her enigmatic tales right from my childhood. Thus, even as I was dabbling with my first manuscript, I knew that someday I will make an attempt to present her story to the world. It took a bit of time, but with ‘The Legend of Amrapali’ I was eventually able to muster the courage to do so.

  1. Self-2While it goes without saying that you must have had a lot of research and reading to do to write the story of Amrapali, what are the other challenges that you faced when you wrote the Legend of Amrapali series when compared to your earlier books?

Writing historical fiction, especially stories where one attempts to mingle facts with fiction, is very different from writing a story set in today’s day and age. In case of contemporary stories an author can draw his characters and settings from his immediate surroundings whereas for historical fiction everything needs to be imagined in an entirely different dimension of time and space. Some things that we take for granted today might not have existed in that period and this poses a major challenge.

In my case, where I balance a full-time corporate job with my writing, it meant that my pace was hugely compromised as a result. Unlike my earlier books, I couldn’t return from office, pick up my laptop and simply start writing. I had to wait for the right time and frame of mind (mostly weekends) for piecing the story together.

  1. I am sure that quite a bit of extensive research has gone into writing the Legend of Amrapali series. Are there any interesting snippets of information that you came across during such research that did not find its way into the books due to whatever reasons? Would you be able to share something with me?

One of the most fascinating aspects of my research was my visit to the present-day Vaishali. The town, amidst ruins from its glorious past, houses several stupas and pagodas that are breathtakingly beautiful. There are Buddhist temples and shrines constructed by countries like Japan, Combodia and South Korea, and the Buddha Relic Stupa where a part of Gautama Buddha’s remains were buried. It was enthralling to come across a site of such rich heritage and yet disturbing to note the neglect it is being made to endure at our hands. I hope and pray that the region is able to claim its rightful place in the tourism map of the country and the world sometime soon.

I did come across several astonishing facts from the said period too, but I have tried to incorporate most of them in ‘Birth of the Bastard Prince’. Many of them have been a matter of great pride for me as an Indian, like, Vaishali being the first kingdom on earth to have a democratically elected government, or the fact that several weapons of mass destruction were first introduced in the 16-year war that Vaishali fought with the neighboring kingdom of Magadh.

  1. You are still work with a leading MNC company which by nature of the industry it is in probably puts more than enough pressure on you at the workplace. How do you manage to find time to author books in the meantime? What is your writing work ethic like?

As I have already mentioned, writing to me is a form of self-expression, and hence, despite my demanding work schedule, I have never really had to make time for it. It is akin to a health enthusiast finding time to sweat it out in the gym or a television-buff finding time to catch his or her favorite program – unforced and involuntary.

However, when I am writing, I like to give it my complete attention. I hate to be disturbed then, even if it is for being offered a cup of coffee. Thankfully people at home have adjusted to my whims by now and they allow me to get away without offering much resistance.

  1. What can we expect from you (from a literary perspective) next? Are there other books in the pipeline right now? If yes, at what stage of the creative process or publishing process are they in?

Yes, I am working on a contemporary love story presently. The book is targeted at readers who are looking to graduate from campus fiction. My previous work in this genre ‘Where the Rainbow Ends’ was widely appreciated by readers, and that gave me the impetus to pick up another story in the same space. I expect the manuscript to be ready in a couple of months post which the publication process will begin.

  1. Any words of wisdom for upcoming authors? Any parting thoughts for your readers?

It is a fantastic time to be an English author in India as several publication houses are not only willing to back, but are even scouting for homegrown talent. So if you’ve got a story within you, it is time you got down to putting it on paper.

To my readers, I can only thank them for spending their precious time with my books – it truly means a lot – and request them to share their feedback. I can be reached at contact@anuraganand.in, Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/anuraganandauthor and Twitter – @anuraganand1978.