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Updated: May 10, 2013 19:15 IST

From character to plot

Budhaditya Bhattacharya
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Lavanya Sankaran.
The Hindu
Lavanya Sankaran.

Author Lavanya Sankaran talks about “The Hope Factory” and her journey from short stories to novels

“An old fashioned story about a contemporary situation.” That’s how Lavanya Sankaran describes The Hope Factory, her recently published novel. It tells the story of two people on opposite ends in the class ladder — Anand, a successful entrepreneur who faces the task of procuring land for his factory, and his family maid Kamala, who is concerned about the fate of her wayward, but caring son Narayan. Their different, but eventually connected lives play out amidst the contours of the rapidly changing metropolis of Bangalore.

Tale of the moment

The novel, which took six years to finish, follows her debut effort The Red Carpet — a collection of stories set in the author’s hometown Bangalore. The work was well-received at home and abroad.

Talking about the transition, Lavanya says, “With a short story you are writing about a character in a situation at some moment in their life. You use that moment to highlight what happens around them. To go from that to a novel is very different because a novel is a journey… you need an engine that moves the narrative forward. But short stories train you to take every moment along that journey seriously.”

The structure of the novel highlights the disparate lives of the two protagonists. The chapters alternate between their points of view, highlighting their individual situations and histories.

“That was a very easy decision. I wanted both their stories to have an equivalent weightage…I wanted the stories to flow into one another. They’re actually happening at the same point in time. Towards the end of this book, this becomes very important,” the author says.

Lavanya says she begins with character rather than plot. But given how the lives of both these characters are unfamiliar to her, how easy was it to get into their minds? “Kamala’s story wrote itself. It was like a gift. I just had to put it down. The character of her son also sprang to life,” she says. The trigger for Kamala’s character lay in the writer’s own experience with her domestic help who would absent herself frequently from work, and the difficult step of firing her in the presence of her son.

Anand was more complicated. The writer had to do a level of research, including meeting lawyers and visiting shop floors to get a feel of his job. “It also took me time to step inside Anand’s mind. But who he was became clear later.”

The writer will soon embark on an international tour to promote the book, before it is readied for launch. Does she imagine an audience while writing? “When I am writing I put myself in a bubble where I am not thinking of anybody else. Because I get a writer’s block if I feel that someone is a looking over my shoulder.” she says.

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