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Dear Readers,

Our second author basking in spotlight is Ms. Sowmya Aji, Author – Delirium. This is a story based on the backdrop of India-Pakistan match. Since the day, I had my first conversation with her; I have found her to be a perky person. She has a lively and glamorous style of writing and her book is the proof of the testimony.

I am confident that you will enjoy this chirpy conversation with her.

BNI: Tell us something about yourself and your background.
SA: I’m an English literature post-graduate, a political journalist by professionSowmya Aji and day-dreamer by instinct. 🙂 And an ominously focused reader.

BNI: So, what all you have written / published till date?
SA: What all I’ve written is way too big, I write for living as a journalist 🙂 But in terms of creative work, other than Delirium published by HarperCollins, I’ve written an adult fantasy novel, The Wall and a college-based novella, Parallels, both unpublished. I’ve also translated Kannada author K P Poornachandra Tejaswi’s novella Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu, which is being processed for publication.

A short story Another Time Another Place has been published by Penguin India as part of a collection Love Stories That Touched My Heart edited by Ravinder Singh. Another short story Blanks n blues has been published by Femina. Of course, I’ve had the usual poems and short stories in college magazines 🙂 which are so encouraging!

Blog.. I’ve started one in the name of the hero of Delirium, Avinash Katagi. It’s avinashkatagi.blogspot.com and it tells the story of Delirium from his point of view. It’s a contrast to the book as well as a supplementary read …. because so many people told me they wanted more, after reading Delirium 🙂 Now, I am avidly awaiting feedback on the blog.

BNI: What inspired you to write your first book and or this book?
SA: I was present outside the stadium for the high octane day-night ODI, the first in India, played out in Bangalore in 1996 between India and Pakistan. That, in fact, is the beginning of Delirium. The book, though, popped into my mind when I was travelling to Mangalore by road one night to cover some news event in late 1998. I was just thinking randomly, looking out into the night through the car window, and I thought…. what if a TV journalist falls for a cricketer? What if she scoops something in cricket that involves him? And voila, there I had the plot! 🙂

BNI: 30 word tagline for your book.
SA: I can’t do it better than the HarperCollins copywriters :D, so here goes the book blurb: “I was addicted… to him. Sinful and alluring, Delirium is a heady cocktail of intrigue, temptation and betrayal.” I would also like to add: “Read it for a peek into the backend stories of cricket, TV journalism and much more :D”

BNI: How did you come up with the title?
SA: The general state of mind and action in the book is rather delirious. I couldn’t think of a better title than Delirium, and it grew on everyone, including the sharp staff at HarperCollins.

BNI: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
SA: Anyone who loves a good, racy story, I think. I would be happy if it reached a wide variety of people rather than a niche few.. the general reaction has been that it is a rather masaledaar book and can be enjoyed by most people. And I hope that is true.

BNI: Who is your favourite and least favourite character? What makes them so?
SA: Technically, my favourite character should be the cricketer, Indian vice-captain Avinash Katagi, since I’ve spent maximum time delving into his problems 🙂 But, if you can keep a secret and not tell Avinash, my favourite character is heroine Anju’s best friend Kartik Kadabgere. He was not there in the original draft, but he turned out to be the only way I could solve several problems and issues in the book. So naturally, I love him! And I really wish I had met him or had a best friend like him.

Least favourite is kind of tough, but I think it should be Achala. Not only did she cause problems to everyone, she didn’t stand for anything or actually care for anyone, I feel. She just ditched everyone all around (including me) and went off to live her own life without caring a jot for what happened to anyone in the story.

BNI: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
SA: Anjana Narendra, referred to mostly as Anju, is a strong woman with severe ethics and the true hunger of the journalist for that scoop. But she is at the same time a vulnerable, emotional woman, who finally needs to choose between work and emotion. I think she is a very real, flawed person, and I think that makes her stand out.

BNI: What was the hardest and easiest thing about your latest release?
SA: Well, the hardest thing, obviously, was to get a publisher. I had to wait 10 years after I completed the book, to find someone who liked it enough to publish it. But Neelini Sarkar, my commissioning editor at HarperCollins, did find the time to read it and was sweet enough to immediately call to tell me: “I read the book in one sitting, Sowmya! We will do the book.” The sense of accomplishment when she said that was simply fantastic. I don’t think anything has been easy..!

BNI: Share some interesting story about the book writing/cover development.
SA: Book was written over six years, intermittently, as I was swamped with work — those were my peak years as a journalist. I can’t really say I am past my peak now 🙂 but it’s not as frenetic now as those years were. Since it has been published ten years later, I had to revisit it and bring in all modern elements that we didn’t have then. The story is set in 1996, so I had to remind my readers constantly that we didn’t have mobiles, Internet had just surfaced, and of course, nobody had a clue about Skype, let alone IPL :D.

I think it works well now, the fact that I had to go back like that to look at the story. It got more interesting, this way… and I enjoyed working backwards. It now has the nostalgia element along with excitement.. my friend and author Milan Vohra read the manuscript just before it got the publisher’s final clearance and she helped me find flaws and justifications for the actions of my heroine.. to resolve those, I ended up creating Kartik Kadabgere, for which I am eternally grateful to her.

The cover, for which Arjit Ganguly and Shuka Jain worked very hard, was another story altogether. I hated the idea of a bare-chested man on the cover, though I loved the metallic, psychedelic colours they had used. But like the title Delirium grew on them, this cover sort of worked on me, and finally we did an inevitable give-and-take 🙂 It’s undoubtedly an incredible, eye-catching cover. I would also love feedback from readers on what they feel about both: the title and the cover 🙂

BNI: Is there a message in your book/novel that you want readers to grasp?
SA: It’s not a preachy, message kind of novel, as far as I know… it’s more for a pulsating, fun read.. there are some subtle things, like Anju criticising fairness creams and stuff like that, but nothing in-your-face, I think.

BNI: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events? Any plans?
SA: I have met readers at the launch and at a couple of events… I love meeting readers, they have such insightful things to say and push me with questions on things I hadn’t even thought of… the meeting of minds is simply enervating and I wish I could do it more often.. it’s such an incredible pleasure.

BNI: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
SA: Absolutely everyone has said they have enjoyed the writing style and the pace of the plot. Readers have left feedback on FB, some have sent me email… but then, it’s never enough 😀 I would simply LOVE to get more feedback… it really, truly, madly helps me write my next book.

BNI: When and how did you decide to become a writer? Do you write full-time or part-time?
SA: Oh! I write full-time, but as a journo! On a more serious note, it’s not really possible to be a full-time writer and earn a living, unless one learns the marketing skills of Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi , Preethi Shenoy or Anuja Chauhan, to name a few. I’m not even sure if I want to be a full-time writer, I enjoy journalism too much for that. I’m riding two boats and let’s see how long it works… I think I’ve always been a writer, right from childhood, when I loved writing school essays. I’ve attended tons of school and college competitions and won several….So it’s not like I actually “decided” that I wanted to be a writer, it is not a to-be-or-not-to-be question at all.

BNI: Which writers inspire you?
SA: I love Shakespeare.. literature student, what do you expect? T S Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Nora Roberts, J K Rowling, Angie Sage, Eoin Colfer, Suzanne Collins, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson and of course, of course, Jane Austen. And in Kannada, Kuvempu and his son, K P Poornachandra Tejaswi, U R Ananthamurthy, Devanooru Mahadeva.

BNI: What draws you to this genre?
SA: I started reading Mill’s and Boon’s at the age of 10 and still find myself occasionally reaching out for one. So the romance part is a given 🙂 But the book is not just a romance, as I find writing a pure romance is one of the hardest things to do .. how Do these Mill’s and Boon’s guys unfailingly do it? I’m envious.. anyway.. this book is a sort of romantic thriller, and again, thrillers are another addiction thanks to Alistair Maclean, Alfred Hitchcock and Dick Francis, not to mention Sidney Sheldon, Fredrick Forsyth, Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, all of whom I adored in my 20s…

BNI: According to you, what is the hardest thing about writing?
SA: It empties you out, but in a good way.. the satisfaction at the end of it, is worth all the pain.

BNI: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
SA: I hope I can write till the end of my life.. it would be awfully stale, flat, null and void if the writing dried up.

BNI: What has been the toughest criticism and best compliment to you, as an author?
SA: My mother has been the toughest critic so far… and she felt I could have done the book better. The best compliment has come from almost every reader of the book: “I couldn’t put it down.” That is worth everything, just everything.

BNI: What will be your one favourite tip to get through the writer’s block.
SA: I don’t know if it works for everyone. But I go for a walk, read a book and eat hot chocolate fudge!

BNI: What are your thoughts on book series? Would you like to have one for your latest book?
SA: I don’t know if Delirium can be turned into a series, I think that will be kind of hard. But I do have plans for a young adult fantasy… lets see if that dream comes true.

BNI: Any advice for writers budding or established?
SA: Tough one… how about take heart and keep at it?

BNI: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
SA: I travelled to New Delhi for 15 days in 2004 and dropped the manuscript off to every possible publisher there. I don’t think anyone bothered to read it and no one got back to me. It is just ittefaq that I met Neelini Sarkar and the book happened. It is a really tough world, buddy.

BNI: What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?
SA: Favourite chapter is a very, very difficult one and I can’t answer it. The toughest chapter to write was the first love scene between Avinash and Anju.. It has to be one of the hardest pieces of writing I ever did. This is why I am so in awe of the Mill’s and Boon’s writers… How do they do it, book after book, keeping it fresh, interesting and not sordid? It is so hard to express the wonder of love-making in writing…!

BNI: Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?
SA: I learnt that you, as an author, actually have no control on the book. The book just writes it’self.

BNI: Any amusing story about marketing this book, so far.
SA: Not much marketing has happened. I wish I had a story to tell. 😦

BNI: What do you think about – What does your protagonist think about you?
SA: I think my protagonist hates me for writing this book.

BNI: How about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us?
SA: “I stared at the sand. Oh god, Avinash, just tell me once. Tell me it was not like that with me. Tell me I am not just one of those women.

But Avinash didn’t. He quietly stared at the stars as I felt my heart cracking in pain. Finally, he said: “My first love was a bit like you.”

I have also put some excerpts on on my FB pages.

BNI: Many thanks for sharing your experiences with the readers. I hope that you will also enjoy revisiting your answers after being published on the blog! May you be blessed with a successful book!