10 February, 2018

#Interview with Nish Amarnath, #Author of Victims for Sale

About the Author:
Born in New Delhi, Nish Amarnath grew up in many different places including Calcutta, Bangalore, Chennai and Lagos, Nigeria. She debuted as an author at eighteen with The Voyage to Excellence, a critically acclaimed business biography. She has received honours for her short stories from Scholastic and Infosys, and the President of India's Silver Medallion. Nish was managing editor at Euromoney Institutional Investor and a senior journalist at S&P Global, formerly McGraw Hill Financial, where she was nominated for the Alerian Awards [AMMYS] in 2017. She previously led a public diplomacy mandate for the UK Government on behalf of an affiliate of French multinational, Publicis Groupe. Her articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Street, International Business Times, India Today, The Hindu, The New Indian Express and Times of India’s city supplements, among others. She holds post-graduate degrees in media communications and journalism from The London School of Economics and Political Science and Columbia University, where she was a James W. Robins reporting fellow. Her enterprise story, ‘Citi and its Scuffle with the Watchdogs’, originally a Master’s thesis for Columbia University reviewed by Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, was published separately as a book in 2014. A former Londoner, she now lives in New York City.

Contact the Author:
Website * BlogFacebook * Twitter * Instagram

An Interview:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I have enjoyed different worlds, words and characters for as long as I can remember. My father used to tell me stories everyday—convincing and compelling stories that he made up on the spur of the moment, just for me. 
As a child, I enjoyed telling stories as much as I loved reading or listening to them. And that realization came about a few years after a first prize that I received for a kindergarten story recitation competition, where I told the tale of Rabindranath Tagore’s Malancha, while in Bangalore. 
I became increasingly more fascinated with different worlds and alternate realities when I began reading Enid Blyton as I grew older. And some of the stories I penned down, at eight and nine, were possibly reproduced or altered versions of the Magic Faraway Tree series! 
However, the trauma of nearly losing my mother, and my own near-death experience a year later in 1996 were really the catalysts for the birth of my vision as a writer. That kind of self-realization or intuitive sense, back then, guided me towards a path where I began writing for national English-language dailies such as The Hindu and The New Indian Express at the age of12, even as I voraciously read between classes, and experimented with writing novels and short stories.  

What inspires you to write?
I believe that what is real and infinite is the world within each of us. And the external world mirrors what each of us feels within. In the realm of fiction, I have enjoyed traveling to alternate realities and creating new characters in new worlds that I can guide, shape and sculpt into a reality that could be more vivid and more real than the reality we are socially conditioned to believe in. This could perhaps be construed as a form of escapism, which is mostly intrinsic to human nature. The process of writing helps channel that escapism into a passage that eventually transmutes darkness to light. Writing is also a tool to remind ourselves that we are each on a unique journey, which we can best experience when we are the truest version of ourselves. The characters that I portray in my novels and short stories are young women and men who seek to do just that; they take up the challenge of playing with fire.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
My current book, VICTIMS FOR SALE, grew out of my experiences as a freelance journalist. I spoke to people whose experiences and perspectives drove home a realization that the topic of concern which I was investigating, was in fact very real, more widespread than imagined, and under-reported in the media as a critical human rights issue, at the time. VICTIMS FOR SALE has seen several incarnations since 2006, when I first began writing it. But, the essence of the story, and the voice of the characters have remained unswervingly the same.

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Those would be school-setting novels I wrote as a kid. I remember that I wrote quite a few such school-setting novels based on a lead character as part of a series, with each novel in the series taking place when the character in question was in the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Grade and so on—up until the Tenth grade! Those novels were mostly based on evolving relationships between young people coming of age, and the sense of alienation that the lead character experiences as she discovers her own identity and sexuality.  I had successfully completed a few novels as part of that series, and I wrote them in no particular order. But others in that series were either half-done or remained in my head. All of those were hand-written on notebooks, which are probably in a loft back in India. I wouldn’t be caught dead reading any of them now! But, on hindsight, I realize that this school-setting novel series—and tons of books I read across multiple genres—gave me solid grounding as a fiction writer, novelist and a woman who now believes that there is a place for everyone in the world.

Tell us about your writing process.
I believe in good, compelling and relatable yet unique stories with a strong and gripping plot. So, that’s usually the starting point.  Once I feel that I have a good story in place, I set out to determine the setting and the right character(s) to lead such a story. Then I move on to the stage of developing a core plot for the story in question. What follows is a broad sequence of events that will support the plot and bring the characters to life.
I usually prefer penning down plots and synopses before starting to write. When I do start writing, I work on the story, scene by scene, and I determine my progress based on how far each scene has gone in terms of nurturing the narrative. I do visualize each scene as I write. 
Writing also involves extensive research because I enjoy writing stories infused with a blend of ‘what could be’ within starkly real settings. That kind of research involves ethnography, oral history and long conversations/ interviews that provide insights into the life worlds or lived experiences of subjects who represent at many levels the characters that we are writing about.
I believe in editing scenes as and when I write them, as this saves on a lot of editing work in the later stages. 

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
My most favorite scene from ‘VICTIMS FOR SALE’ is essentially one of suspense, and elaborating on it could involve giving the suspense away! Broadly speaking, my favorite scenes from this thriller are those which build up the momentum and then conclude abruptly, leaving the reader wanting for more, urging readers to miss their stops on the Metro (if it comes to that!) as they plow through the next scene or next chapter to figure out what is going on!  My favorite scenes are also those which bring out the key components of ‘Sandy’ as a character, as an ambitious small-town South Indian girl who finds her feet in London and rediscovers herself even as she is pulled into the nucleus of a massive racket in the UK.  

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
One of the other characters, Keisha Douglas who is a BBC producer and Sandy’s sort-of boss, also carries components of the leadership style I have myself adopted at work as a boss/ mentor. Keisha, or KiKi as she is affectionately called, is a thorough professional and a tough-as-steel journalist with a no-nonsense yet collaborative and participative approach to leading activities. She is also innocent, childlike and vulnerable—qualities that will reveal themselves only to those who are able to connect with her at a deeper level. And, to some extent, their shared idealism is what brings Sandy and Keisha closer to each other. 

What is your most interesting writing quirk?
I was almost always called ‘the daydreamer’ at school and that’s a nickname that stuck until I moved to London in the mid-2000s. I tend to live in the worlds that I’ve created even when I’m not writing! It will take a lot to pull me out of that space. 
I also tend to surprise myself with my own writing. There have been moments when my writing has led me away from scenes and event sequences I had carefully planned and laid out. And, in some of those cases, the newer narrative seems like an offshoot of an unheard voice from the sky, where all of the details, which have never occurred to me before, just fell into place!  

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
As a child, I have been a voracious reader to the point of driving peers and authority figures to despair. I have read between classes, during free periods, into the night, during mealtimes, snack times, in moving cars, and nearly all the time! 
My reading mania—one that would last for more than a decade—began with Enid Blyton, so she is probably one of the key authors who made her mark on my lifeblood as a writer. 
Among all of the authors I have read, I have most enjoyed Mary Higgins Clark, Erich Segal, J.K Rowling and more recently, Gillian Flynn and Janice Pariat. 
However, one of my most favourite books isn’t by any of these authors. And that is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, who has also been a journalist. I wish he wrote more fiction!
Finally, I believe in striking a fine balance between the pace of my story, the twists and turns in the plot and the gamut of emotions that the characters in question go through. 

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
The best piece of advice I have received is from a close friend from the London School of Economics who is an academician and who writes himself. And he had recently told me how important it is to be aware of my own voice as a writer, and to be more connected to myself in order to be able to write.
Another piece of advice is from Janice Pariat, who has said that it is the story that counts and how best that story can be told, rather than an excessive focus on specific genres. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
My first piece of advice is patience and endurance. Writing, much like the academic field, can be like an ocean that you swim in with no end in sight. You have got to have enough passion for it, and all that comes along with it. That said, your journey as a writer can be more rewarding if you drop all your masks and evolve as the truest version of yourself.
Finally, the importance of reading can never be discounted. When I say reading, I don’t mean just reading books. It is paramount to read anything and everything. This includes novels across genres, non-fiction books, biographies, op-eds, columns, articles, news pegs, research papers, monographs and more.  Reading that way exposes you to the diversity of narrative styles and helps expand your vocabulary and your understanding of which word is most appropriate to use in what context. 
Not to mention, it broadens your perspective and takes you to distant cities, countries and locales in seconds. 
What would be the Dream Cast for you book if it was to be turned into a movie?
The best leading lady for ‘Sandy’ of VICTIMS FOR SALE would be Priyanka Chopra. And my literary agent is excited at that prospect, too! 

If you were to be stranded on the famous deserted island, what three things would you carry?
A book, a bottle of wine and my Macbook! 

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I haven’t had much free time for a while. But, when I do, I enjoy singing and painting. I’m trained in (Hindustani) classical music and I appreciate music in general, so having multiple hobbies helps! I also love traveling, exploring artifacts, hanging out in bookstores, strolling by the sea, driving long distances for no good reason, and swimming when I’m not in London or New York! Prague and Berlin are some of my most favourite travel and research destinations.  

Can you share with us something off your bucket list?
We are more than our achievements and credentials, so I believe in going with the flow and seeing where life takes me. For now, developments, as they are unraveling, seem to be leading me on a path to being a writer and teller of stories beyond what I’ve seen (as a journalist) in the newsrooms. 

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
1) I was earlier known publicly as Nischinta Amarnath. My byline has changed to Nish Amarnath.
2) I have a fetish for scarves/stoles and finger-rings.
3) I spent some portion of my childhood in Nigeria. 

What do you have in store next for your readers?
There are four titles on the pipeline that I am in talks for. My most immediate—and ongoing—novel is ‘Twin Flame.’ Twin Flame is a timeless saga of spiritual awakening, enduring love, unyielding compromise and indomitable courage in the face of immense adversity.
Some of the future titles include ‘Bitch on Wheels’ and a financial thriller set in New York and Washington, D.C.
‘Bitch on Wheels’ is the story of a woman who moves to Delhi to join a public relations firm and finds herself in a power struggle with one of South Asia’s most successful image icons. The financial thriller that I am in talks for is the story of a na├»ve, young news editor who becomes a target in a kabuki play that could topple the U.S. government. 
Regardless of the settings of my stories, my protagonists are usually either Indian or have roots in India. And my voice as a writer is that of an Indian woman who has lived, traveled and worked in multiple cities.  
Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
Try to stay true to yourself and stand up for that truth. No matter how hard that can be at times, you will create your own legacy. And read all that you can grab your hands on. Encourage others, especially younger people, to read. Appreciate good stories. If you’re feeling sheepish that you’re buying books ever other week (rather than getting them on Kindle), don’t be! There is a certain charm in holding a book in your hands. 

About the Book:

Sandy Raman, stringer for the BBC, lives as a paying guest with the Sawants, a regular, quiet, Indian family. Or so she thought. Until she woke up to a woman with a knife … and a dark secret. It is only after she runs a sting operation on a home for the differently abled that Sandy makes a connection between an institute acting as a front for something sinister and the strange family she lives with. Chasing the truth up a trail of brutal murders, Sandy must evade the grasping clutches of a thriving sex racket and expose the predators before her time runs out.

Amazon * Sapna Online