In Conversation with Author Smita Bhattacharya

I had the wonderful opportunity to pre-read Smita Bhattacharya’s upcoming novel. In addition, I have been lucky to collaborate with her on an interview.

Read on to know more about Smita and her upcoming novel Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney?

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Threw-Draco-Chimney-Nandkarnis-Misadventures-ebook/dp/B08FR4JL3J

The two previous books in the series are

Kiss of Salt: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SB4MIn 2M6

The Secret Angels: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZMR9MB4

Tell us a little about yourself

Author of cosy and psychological thriller mysteries, management consultant, coffee lover, gipsy-in-my-head, living in Mumbai for over 15 years, have travelled to over 40 countries, about 30 of them solo. I have about five published books and counting. I have too many stories to tell, and not enough time.

From where do you draw inspiration for the books you write?

There is no straight path, no direct answer; different books have had different birth stories. It could be piece of gossip someone told me over lunch; I might make a different ending to it, and give a whole new spin to the story. Or it could be a movie I watched and thought about a side character; how interesting she might be if she were to be the main one and what kind of a life might she have. I endure the joys of an overactive imagination. I say endure, because I never sleep well. I have so many stories in my head all the time.

Which book(s) are you currently reading?

I am reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I intend to also take it on my vacation to Goa soon. Yes! Finally! The lockdown eases and we can live as normal people. I am loving this book. It is engrossing, warm, and witty, and a welcome break from the sort of dark books I usually read.

Which is your favourite genre?

I like psychological mind twisters and atmospheric cosy mysteries. They are my ‘go-to’ books, i.e. when I don’t want to focus too much and want the pages to simply turn. I’m specifically fond of British and European fiction thrillers. Something about the dark dreariness of the surroundings, a trickle of blood on the snow, the brooding actors, languages I can’t follow, fascinate me. A few of my favourite authors in this genre are Tana French, Henning Mankell, and Andrea Camilleri. I know most people love fast action, gun fights, and sharp dialogues, but I love soaking in the rolling hills, empty streets, and a small town vibe. ‘Atmospheric’ is the word to describe the kind of books I like. I feel like I’m wrapped in a blanket, drinking a warm cup of coffee during Christmas when I read them.

Who is your favourite author?

That’s a tricky question because I doubt anyone has ONE favourite author. But if I have to mention someone whom I admire because he has managed to blend in good writing with a genre that’s otherwise difficult to master i.e. horror—yes, you guessed it right, it’s going to be Stephen King. He has been churning good content, never losing his touch, rarely getting boring. I think he has the pulse of the market and so, does very well in it. He is an inspiration for authors who aspire to be mass market, and yet, want to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, I have evergreen favourites, those whose books I cherish and will remember all my life. Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Donna Tartt, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth, Chimamanda Adichie. Most recently, I was impressed with ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller and ‘Where the Crawdads sing’ by Delia Owens. I love a mix of authors and genres as you can see, and I can go on and on listing them because I read voraciously.

If you had to pick one book to take away with you on vacation, what would it be?

To reread? One in the Harry Potter series. Or maybe Calvin and Hobbes. Or Agatha Christie.

To read for the first time? If it’s a global location, I try and buy local fiction, if possible local crime fiction. I have shelves filled with books from all around the world, inscribed with postcards and notes from book keepers and store owners. Sometimes, traveler friends.

With reference to your new book, Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? How did you get the idea for the plot?

I don’t know how. I am serious! It all just came together. I wanted a story that referenced the strange eyelets on the roofs of Sibiu—they were everywhere, and they looked so eerie, just as if eyes were following me around. I was also fascinated by the gypsies in Romania. Did you know these nomadic people landed in Romania during the seventh century and they came from Punjab (India)? In addition, I knew Romania had loads of old stories and legends. Of course, you’ve heard of Dracula. So, I decided to mix everything: crazy legends, unfounded rumours, gypsies, eclectic local characters, and the beauty of its villages and towns. A true potboiler of a story!

Why did you decide to focus on Draco in the title of the book?

Naming a book is a tough task, I suppose somewhat like naming a baby: you fear you can never get it perfectly right, and once you’ve given it, it’s stuck for life. Draco is a distinctly Romanian name, and it would be easy to guess where the book is based. Also, a question in the title always piques my interest and that’s what I wanted to do.

Did the town of Sibiu inspire the plot for the book? If so, how?

I already had the basic plot in mind. The town embraced it into its arms and gave it a shape of its own. As I roamed the streets or wrote in my Bed&Breakfast, I could almost imagine Darya walking on the cobbled streets, staring in wonder at the eyelets on the roofs, wondering why they came about.

What did you like the most about Sibiu and why?

Sibiu is a ‘big-small’ city. I had read a lot about it, and when I landed there, I had 6 days to kill, and, so I thought to myself, why not here? Darya could well have come to Sibiu and stayed for her break, as I had myself had come for my sabbatical.

Sibiu is a Romanian city from the 12th century built by the German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons. It is located in central Transylvania and has a population of around 400,000. Despite the flurry of tourism after being designated European Capital of Culture in 2007, it has retained much of its old world charm and grandeur. In 2008, it was designated Europe’s 8th-most idyllic place to live. It has great people, lovely food, and many many things to see and do. And you will not have tourist feet trampling your own as you explore.

Moreover, the Romanians are extraordinary people: blunt, warm, garrulous. Their inimitable personalities and rich culture and traditions added a whole different flavour to Draco’s story.

Where did you get the inspiration for the main protagonist of the series: Darya Nandkarni?

Three years ago, I wondered why there were not too many books with normal female leads in them. What I mean is, the women in the books I read were usually tragic, struggling, or getting over some difficulties, or simpering women waiting for a glance from a hard-hearted (but rich!) man. I wanted to create a normal female lead, like you and I, who did not have to have suffered in their lives and could do fun things. Hence, was born a series and a couple of standalone books, with strong-willed women, who are imperfect and gutsy, not waiting for a man to rescue them, using their cleverness and wit to navigate through their life and its many mysteries.

Do you base any of your characters on people you know? Would you like to give an example, if yes?

I often always do that, but never one hundred per cent. I am guilty is using names of my friends, and selecting their quirky mannerisms, but never replicating any one whole. I think all authors are guilty of being inspired by their near and dear ones, and also their selves. Some parts of Darya are definitely me. Some parts of Alina and Irina are my girlfriends. I often also replicate my real-life situations in my books, because ‘Fact is stranger than fiction’ has not been vainly said.

What about your other books, where did you draw inspiration for them?

My very popular mystery ‘Dead to Them’ was inspired by my workplace. The first of the Darya Nandkarni series – Kiss of Salt – was inspired by my many trips to Goa. ‘The Secret Angels’ is based in Chapel Road in Bandra, a lane I find fascinating and close to where I live in Mumbai. And Who Threw Draco Down the Chimney? is based on superstitions and old stories, the kind I read and heard in my trip to Romania. Inspiration can come from random comments, unfinished stories, a book or a movie watched accidentally. One merely needs to pay attention, use one’s imagination, and have the will to write.

What is an average writing day like for you?

I write every day, even if it’s for 30 minutes. I write for at least 3 to 4 hours on weekends. Creating is a lot of fun, but getting out a good book is continuous effort and dedication. A lot of discipline! Rewriting and revision takes up a lot of time and that’s where it becomes a bit of a grind. Don’t even get me started on the marketing aspect of it. In conclusion, what I’m trying to say is this: writing is a lot of fun and I can do it every day. I have too many stories in my head and not enough time to jot it down. But if only writing was enough, and we didn’t have to do all the peripherals.

What message would you like to share with your readers?

You have everything. You are enough. If you have a dream, you have everything to do it already within you.

Book Blitz: Transit Lounge by Sunil Mishra

About the Book:

“Transit Lounge” is a contemporary book consisting of short incidents, observations and reflections while travelling to 30 countries across six different continents during the last 15 years.

The book is a personal account of travels to places in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

It was interesting to observe all these different cultures and people from an Indian perspective. The book is a compilation of small incidents and events during such travels; it includes losing an air ticket, dealing with difficult custom officials or getting mugged in a prime location in a foreign country.

Book Links:
Goodreads * Amazon

Snippets from Sunil’s travel:

I remember visiting Croatia some time in 2005. It is a small but very beautiful country in Eastern Europe. It could be a must see place for people who enjoy the nature’s beauty.

Plitvice lake that I visited consists of multiple lakes surrounded by mountain and a good amount of plantation. It covers a large trekking area covering the lakes, mountains and the trees.

The lakes are interspersed with numerous waterfalls that make it a great natural sight. The color of the lakes change based on the sunlight, amount of minerals and vegetation around it. Some of these sights are picture perfect in true sense.

Invader in one country is a hero in another.
This statue of Henry Havelock at Trafalgar Square, London reads :-
To Major General Sir Henry Havelock KCB and his brave companions in arms during the campaign in India 1857. “Soldiers! Your labours, your privations, your sufferings and your valour, will not be forgotten by a grateful country.” H. Havelock

About the Author:

Sunil is a software professional with over two decades of experience in the field of banking technology. Currently he is working with Infosys and has earlier worked with McKinsey, Accenture and I-flex solutions. As part of work he travelled to more than 30 countries across six continents. This constituted the basis of his current book.

Sunil is an MBA from IIM-Lucknow and holds a B.Tech from IIT(ISM), Dhanbad. He completed his schooling in Bokaro Steel City.

Contact the Author:
Facebook * Twitter * LinkedIn * Instagram

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

About the Book:

Exit West

Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing—to fall in love—in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it. Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind—when the streets are no longer useable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .

My Thoughts:

Exit West is an absolute masterpiece, that is well crafted and inspires the reader to think about some rather important topics.

I had  the pleasure of listening to Mohsin speak about the book and his ideas at Shakespeare and Co., Paris in January 2018. This was quite an eye opener and helped put the story in perspective. It became easier to understand the plot and what the author wanted to convey.

The story is well-written and the simplest plot line is the story of Nadia and Saeed who find love in an unnamed war torn country. Told through their experiences, Exit West explores how the world around us is dynamic and always changing. Along with this, the people in this world are also changing, both physically and in personality, as a result of their experiences. The choices a person makes or is forced to make, contribute to shaping who they are. This is articulated very well by the author.

The author uses imagery to bring into context the use of “doors” to travel to different places. As an example, we can relate our use of technology as a way of going into another world or sequence, that is quite different from the current reality. Another subtle focus is on the concept of migration and the refugee status in countries. The author brings out the idea that everyone, even if they do not move from the current place where they live, can be considered to be migrants since the world around them is always changing. People move to find shelter and a safer place to live, the basic things that we need to lead a simple life.

As the story progresses, we follow our lead characters as they take a trip through many such doors. Their experiences and adventures seek to shape the story and the messages brought out. At times I found it difficult to relate to Nadia and Saeed. They were lacking in character depth and some parts of the story didn’t work for me. However, I found the concept of the story quite intriguing and I think that it is definitely worth a read! The book has received a lot of praise and it is well deserved.

Book Review: Everyone Has A Story by Savi Sharma

About the Book:

Everyone Has A Story

Everyone has a story.
Meera, a fledgling writer who is in search of a story that can touch millions of lives.
Vivaan, assistant branch manager at Citibank, who dreams of travelling the world.
Kabir, a café manager who desires something of his own. Nisha, the despondent café customer who keeps secrets of her own.
Everyone has their own story, but what happens when these four lives are woven together?
Pull up a chair in Kafe Kabir and watch them explore friendship and love, writing their own pages of life from the cosy café to the ends of the world.

My Thoughts:

I had picked up this book because it seems to have garnered a good amount of popularity. The title of the story is interesting and based on that, I unfortunately jumped into the book with healthy amounts of expectation, just like I would any other book.

The story starts at a cafe, with Meera, the protagonist, sitting there, pondering, trying to find a story to write. In a slightly cliched addition to the story is Kabir, the manager of the cafe who eventually becomes Meera’s friend. As Meera seeks to find a reason to write, she meets Vivaan. Captivated by his desire to travel, and seeking out a story, Meera approaches him and they become friends. All this forms the basis and premise of the story. It seemed to me to be cliched and something out of a Bollywood film.

The author’s style of writing also confused me. The chapters were divided up into points of view, covering Meera’s and Vivaan’s. This was good to some extent as the author tried to give us some insight into the minds and thoughts of the main characters. This worked to some extent, but this being a very short book, there did not seem to be focus on developing the characters. Also, after spending only a little time, Meera falls in love and Vivaan later comes and shares his heart breaking love story.

Apart from a vague introduction to their pasts, there was not much about their current situation, living conditions, family. These are things that tend to add more perspective and dimensions to characters. Also, in our country, the parents do play some role and in the story, when Meera is in the hospital, in critical condition we still don’t see any family coming to be with her. Moreover, Vivaan just runs away, with the need to pursue his dream of traveling the world leaving his friends behind and ends up on a journey of self-realization.

There is quite a bit of philosophy thrown into the mix along with the constant repetition of the phrase – “follow your dreams”. Sometimes, in the practical world that today is, such things are not possible. One thing that stood out was the ending. Though the plot is simple, the author stuck to her point and brought Meera to a certain place in life, having accomplished something that she had set out to do. Reading this part made up for the lack of detail in the rest of the story.

Overall, it’s not a bad story, but it’s way too cliched and a bit difficult to digest. Everything seems to happen too soon and too easily with characters who are nice but not very developed. However, you can give the book a read. It is decent for a first book and I am sure that the author’s stories will get better and better as she writes more! 🙂