Having written a number of romantic-mystery books, writer Manjiri Prabhu’s latest offering, “In the Shadow of Inheritance”, (Penguin India), holds a special place for her. “My friends gifted me a big notebook for my birthday, wishing me good luck in becoming a writer. I used it to write ‘In the Shadow…’, my first full-fledged adult novel,” she says in a telephonic interview from Pune. The book is eighth in her list of published works.
Centring around Tara Khanolkar, the female protagonist and an heiress, the book deals with ancestral legacy and people with deep, dark secrets. The mystery-romantic story originally titled “The Chatelaine”, was penned by Manjiri during her college days.
“I used to read Victoria Holt’s books (1906-1993) which were Gothic romances full of suspense. I liked the whole format and was naturally impressed. I decided to write the genre and gave it an Indian setting.” Surprisingly, she wrote an entire book in a month. “I wrote at a stretch as the story was already there in me.” About changing the original title, the author says, “Realising it was little too French for the Indian readers who may not relate with the word, I decided to give a new title.” Though she did try to get the story published, it was rejected. “Disappointed, I thought perhaps it was not working. Much later, my elder sister, who has always been the first reader of my stories, persuaded me to try again and it was taken up for publication in 2013.”
Manjiri, a post-graduate in French, holds a doctorate in communication science and began writing at the age of seven. “I always wanted to write, ever since I was a child. Having read Enid Blyton, I created my own stories and a fictional world — all mystery stories involving robberies, thefts, lots of disguise but no murder.” Being passionate about writing, she realised on growing up that these tales would not work. “I started writing mysteries in the Indian context. I would sit under a tree and write for hours and hoped to get them published,” she adds.
The fulltime writer, who also makes advertisement and short films on drama, fiction, social messages, etc., considers mystery as her “natural genre”. In an interesting comment, she says, “I used to believe as a child that I was Enid Blyton reborn to write more mystery books.” She asserts, “I do not write such stories because it sells. It is innate in me, a compulsion. When people ask me to write novels with social messages, I reply, ‘Yes, I will do it with a mystery underlining it’.” Describing it as a challenging genre, Manjiri says, “It requires a lot of analytical skill to keep the reader hooked while retaining the element of surprise.”
The story examines how greed, the need to control and gain power through money, land, etc. leads to major ills. “Power corrupts and keeps percolating to all angles and facets of one’s life,” she explains. It is set in Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar and a fictitious small town called Kesarli near Goa. “I had been to the two first places and found them perfect for a romantic suspense novel. The third locale gives the flavour of a Konkani village, Indian but not very traditional or conservative.”
Having written several suspense stories, when asked what makes a successful one, Manjiri states, “The most important thing is the plot. Then comes the characters and their development who make the storyline, followed by instinct, which is not trusted but is a very helpful and powerful tool in deciding the question ‘whodunit?’ Finally, one must take the narrative in one direction and at the end suddenly change it towards the opposite course, thereby giving a dynamic twist to the tale.” Rating the importance of suspense, she adds, “It has to be given 100 per cent weightage. If you cannot keep it and hold the reader’s curiosity, you have lost the goal of the book. You have to keep tricking the reader, make him believe that he knows and when the secret is out he should enjoy it.”
Manjiri’s next book, “Snowflakes in Summer”, a futuristic fantasy, is ready and she is planning to write a new mystery novel based in Salzburg.