Writer and publisher Anuradha Roy was in conversation with translator Arunava Sinha recently
Writers have their sounding boards — editors and/or family members who they can share their ideas with, show their work to, and receive feedback from. Anuradha Roy’s sounding board is her dog Biscoot. “As a publisher and a writer you’re constantly dealing with words,” she said, and Biscoot, who also likes watching BBC, provides her the reassuring silence.
The author of An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth and publisher at Permanent Black, was in conversation with Arunava Sinha, writer and translator, recently. The conversation was the 16th in the “writers, etc” series organised by Alliance Francaise de Delhi.
Responding to a question about whether she begins with a set of characters first or by plotting out the events, Anuradha said she begins with an image instead. “At first I have an image and I have to discover the story around the image. The characters are there somewhere, I have to reach them through my writing,” she said. Although she does plot out events, writing a novel is a lot of “groping in the dark”, she suggested. As a result of this approach, the composition of a novel is never a linear affair for Anuradha; chapters are written and then moved back and forth.
Dwelling a little more on the characters in her novel, she said she cannot form relationships with her characters, but every so often, in the interest of the novel, “you have to do something to a character that you don’t want to”. Anuradha compared this process to pottery, where “you are told to take a lump of clay and raise a cylinder. But as you start making it well, you have to cut it in the middle with a string and see the thickness of the wall.” The edifice breaks in two, and the process has to begin anew.
Anuradha has been writing right from when she could write. At the age of 14, she sent her first story to a newspaper and purchased a box camera with the sum of Rs.40 that she received. “I realised writing could make me survive.”
While The Folded Earth is set in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand, where Anuradha lives, An Atlas of Impossible Longing is situated in a fictitious town in Bengal— from 1907 till the 1950s— and “traces the life and fortunes of a family in Bengal through three generations and through their lives mirrors the changes and history of India.”
But whether a space is imagined or real is not a question Anuradha feels cramped by. “I took the same liberties,” she said, in creating the topography of the novels. Arunava observed a distancing from the city in both the novels, and Anuradha confessed to not being a “big city person”, even as a member of the audience urged her to write about cities.
Anuradha revealed having faced a tough time getting her first book published, getting turned down “16 or 17 times” in a span of one year, before being accepted by Christopher MacLehose of MacLehose Press, which also introduced English readers to Stieg Larsson. Her books have since been reviewed favourably in the British and American Press. They are being published in India by Hachette.