Shweta Taneja has tried her hand at diverse genres. She started off with a graphic novel, Krishna, followed it up with a children’s novel, The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, (Hachette) then there is another graphic novel for adults, Skull Rosary and also a series set in Delhi featuring a Tantric detective. In the serene NGMA canteen, the 33-year-old author deconstructs her fascination for writing and fantasy.
“I always wanted to write,” she says. “The only way to write is to be alone. I am a people person and need to cut myself off from everything and everybody to write.” Shweta says she enjoys both collaborations and solitary pursuit of novels.
Kurseong is the story of 12-year-old Kartik Godse who reluctantly moves from Mumbai to Kurseong and is quickly embroiled in a mystery featuring a ghost in the shadowy Iyer Bungalow. Helped by the feisty Opus and the nervous Tashi, Kartik sets out to solve the mystery.
“The book has elements of fantasy, supernatural and the paranormal because I am interested in it. I am fascinated when the fantastic comes in contact with the real world.”
Shweta chose the hill station in West Bengal because she “went on a tea tasting trip to Kurseong. Kartik’s mom, who is a tea taster, is based on me. When ideating about the book, Kurseong just popped into my mind.”
There is an interesting story to how the book came to be. Apparently it was one of the manuscripts “picked out of the slush pile, which is the official term the publishing industry uses for unsolicited manuscripts. Editors in various Indian publishing houses give the job to a junior editor to sift through the slush and see if there’s something really worthwhile in there.
“I now realise that Indian publishers are kinder to authors than internationally where the chances of getting picked up from a slush pile are next to impossible. In India, it seems that most of the slush piles are looked at once in a while. And I am a living example of a debut author's work being picked up by an international publisher out of the slush.”
On whether the book is the first of a series, Swetha says: “I am not writing anymore books on Karthik yet. I want to explore the story in other media. In the detective workshop I organise for children, for instance, it is an evolving story. I give clues — an anagram, a visual and an audio clue. And the story becomes the solvers’. There is also an app based on the book which will be out in a couple of months.
Even though Ghost Hunters is so reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s adventure stories — of children going to a new place for the holidays and encountering a mystery there, Shweta confesses to never having read Blyton. “I hadn’t read Blyton while growing up. I read a few in adulthood but couldn’t connect as much as I would imagine a child to do.”
The self-confessed whodunit fan, is also working on a crime series. “That is for adults,” she hastens to clarify. “I am working on the second book of a fantasy about a female tantric detective based in Delhi. Her name is Anantya Tantrist, and she roams about the streets of Delhi at night, solving crimes in the supernatural underworld. It is my twist on gender and our ideas of evil-good in mythology. I have a publisher for it and book one will be out sometime later this year. I love doing research; it adds to the book. I read about 50 books, offline and online. It helps building the world.”
A fan of Neil Gaiman for his “lyrical thrillers,” and Terry Pratchett for the humour, Shweta swears by Sherlock Holmes as “there is nothing like old wine.”
The author who stays in Ganganagar, near Mekhri Circle loves the city. “I moved to Bangalore in 2009 after I got married. I was given a choice between Delhi and Bangalore and wanted to move here. It was somewhat of a desire since 2003 since I had heard that the live music scene in Bangalore is quite amazing (and I love listening to any genre). But by 2009, the 11 pm curfews were on. In spite of that, the live music scene and the creative sub cultures in Bangalore are pretty amazing and I love the city for it.”
Claiming the city is kind to writers Shweta says she would be setting one of her books here. “I write fantasy fiction, and Bangalore has a lot of rich layers of mythology and history that can quite beautifully weave into a story. I can even see a science fiction in Bangalore because the city definitely has an affinity for technology and science.”
This article has been corrected for typographical errors