Arnab Ray switches from humour to psychological horror in his new book “The Mine”. A chat with the writer-blogger
He's one of the funniest guys on the Internet. After gaining cult status through his blog (Greatbong.net), Arnab Ray turned writer with his book “May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss” published by Harper Collins in 2010. While that was just an extension of his wacky personality online, Arnab's new book “The Mine” published by Westland Books, treads a very different territory. Psychological horror.
The blogger/writer, who has been working as a research scientist and assistant adjunct in the Department of Computer Science, University of Maryland, for seven years now, is currently in India to promote his book. He opens up about the challenges of reinventing himself. Excerpts from the interview:
Are you a “Lost” fan and does that have anything to do with the genesis of “The Mine”? Both are about strangers with interconnected paths brought to a mysterious place where all hell breaks loose with an overarching science versus faith core.
I had actually never seen “Lost.” After I had written “The Mine”, one of the editors said the book had a very “Lost” feel. Then I watched the first season on Netflix. I didn't like it. I have not seen it since. The ‘strangers in a closed place' thing is actually inspired by Agatha Christie's “And Then There Were None,” bastardised as “Gumnaam.” “Identity” is another movie derived from the same source. This whole thing has been done in different forms. ‘Strangers with dodgy pasts' has been a fascinating idea many people have used in various contexts.
How long did it take you to write? Did you know the ending when you started?
I am not a full-time writer. I spend whatever time I can get away from my professional life, writing. I spent seven months on the first draft, four to five months on the second. Normally in the first draft, you want to get the story on paper. Once you are done, you realise some of the dialogue is not believable. Or that there was too much backstory spelt out. So in the second draft, I worked on the dialogues. I had thought of telling the story through an unreliable narrator and the structure of using a double climax in 2004. So I made up the ending, the epilogue was written first and then I constructed the story backwards. Though this skeleton was made up many years ago, I didn't write it. I wanted to write something safe. The nineties Bollywood was an immediate sell to my blog readers. Also stylistically, this idea needed a mature hand. So it was good I did this as my second book.
How easy was it to change gears after your first book and write horror?
I am not hung up on genres. Genres are primarily labels from the consumer's side. If I go to a bookstore, I go to the comedy shelf or the horror shelf. However as a writer, the label makes no sense. For me, I have a story to tell. It could be horror, it could be Chick Lit. I should believe in the story, I should believe it has not been done before and enjoy writing it. My enjoyment is primary. Since I am not a professional author, I need to enjoy writing it. My first book was commissioned by Harper Collins; I got the contract before writing it. “The Mine” was written before I pitched it as a psychological horror thriller to Westland. Horror is a niche not explored in the Indian market. So they were interested in doing it.
The book has quite a bit of gore like graphic details of a rat being tortured to death. No animals were harmed in the writing of this book, I hope. Tell us about your childhood.
My childhood was pretty functional (laughs). It's an excellent question. When you write about deviant behaviour, people think the writer has it. A distinction needs to be made between the author's voice and the author himself, but sometimes that line gets blurred. How can the author be convincing, unless he enjoys torturing? So, in a way, I have cheated. All the barbaric acts described in the book have happened in post-independent India. Like the people in communal riots… I kept the names neutral to leave the politics out. A mother was made to drink the blood of her son mixed in the rice. It happened in Bengal in the 70s. But just to avoid controversy and getting sidetracked, I borrowed the detail, not the politics of it.
With your reputation as Greatbong, how come you chose to leave humour out of this?
The situation here made humour very difficult. There's no sense in introducing a Johnny Lever kind of comedy track. People were afraid for their lives... they wouldn't be making jokes. I wanted to see if there's a readership for the truly-in-the-bang-centre of psychological horror without any humour to dilute the impact of the book.