In fiction, we don’t have a boss or a brief, says author Chitra Viraraghavan, as she talks about her debut novel, The Americans

Life might’ve been rather laborious for Chitra Viraraghavan a few years ago. A textbook writer, her day revolved around constructing lessons in humanities for school books up to Class 8. “Writing for children is quite a task,” she says, “We’ve to write in a way they’d understand — both in terms of subject and content.”

At this time, a few other stories were running in her mind too. Like a systems administrator uncovering a government plot to deport him. Like a songwriter who is forced to become a hero. And, a college student who brings a poem to life.

And thus, The Americans — her debut novel — was born.

“I started work way back in 2008,” she recalls, “But I couldn’t get myself to devoting a lot of time to it then. I re-visited it in 2010 and it took about three years to complete.”

The novel features 11 different stories and has a woman from Madras who has a link with all of them. But why 11 characters? “For me, a character is like a device. As I wrote, characters kept forming and it just happened that there were eleven. It was a big challenge for me to research on all the eleven of them and flesh out their profiles,” she explains.

The book is set in the U.S., and that perhaps explains its title. Will that work with local audiences? “Don’t we all have a relative or friend there,” she asks, “The novel is a collection about my observations of life in the U.S., where I lived in the Nineties.”

What is the basic difference between the two forms of writing she indulges in? “In fiction, we don’t have a boss…or a brief. That’s the most exciting part,” she smiles.

Ask her who her favourite writer is, and she replies immediately, “Ashokamitran. I can’t read Tamil, but I love reading the translations of his work. It’s almost like there’s no prose in his work — he cuts to the chase in emotions.” Tim Winton, the Australian novelist, is another writer she loves to read. “In a way, he’s a bit like Ashokamitran. The language is so good that we forget that there’s language.”

Once promotions and publicity for The Americans get done, she plans to move on to her next. “That might be slightly more autobiographical,” she reveals, “But, there’s also the storyline of a historical murder mystery running in my mind. And then, there are a few short stories that I might just put together.”