Ankita Verma Datta may not be a full-time writer but she has all the traits to be a bestseller one, discovers Boski Gupta during an interview with the author
She has a decade long experience in advertising and can easily give you gyan on the current economic scenario in the country, but when it came to writing a book Ankita Verma Datta chose social thriller as her debut genre. This young lady is now working on her second novel while her first has been garnering a lot of appreciation from the readers and critics as well. Excerpts from an interview…
Let’s start from the start. When did you decide to become a writer?
Right from the school days, I had a way with the words, but not in a conscious way. It was just that while other kids hated writing essays, I simply loved it. It was a very hard decision for me to choose Economics over English Literature during my final year of graduation. My tryst with the written word continued as I joined the advertising industry. But even then, I never thought of writing professionally, though people urged me to. So, writing a novel did not come as a premeditated or planned move. The idea occurred to me while I was listening to a rather aggressive political debate on TV. I felt that there are always multiple angles to every thought or news that we are subjected to, via media. Having handled political clients in the past, something clicked within. And I was convinced that I needed to share this insight with as many people as possible. And that was the day the writer in me was born.
Tell our readers something about your life… your hobbies, your passion, your likes, what were you doing before you plunged into a writing career?
Being a debut author, I am yet not a full-time writer. Thus, I am also heading an Asia-based chemicals company in India, which is demanding in terms of time. More than a decade-long background in advertising and marketing is what gives me my core competence. This also makes me juggle work hours while pursuing my passion for writing. Now that I have bitten by the ‘writing bug’, a good chunk of my free time is being dedicated on working upon my next book. This new book project is in similar genre of ‘Trust Me Not’ but with a far more sensitive subject and a lot more hard-hitting treatment of it.
On personal front, I am quite a ‘happy-solitary’ kind of person, so even though I love people I am equally happy being by myself. And I would any day choose quiet nature over the crazy Mumbai, even though I keep coming back to it; this fits in with my love for writing because writing is a rather lonesome venture. But one thing I am absolutely mad about is my dogs. I have more than a dozen Tibetan Mastiff dogs at our place in Lonavala and if time and space permitted, I would have more.
So tell us more about Trust Me Not…
‘Trust Me Not’ can be broadly categorised as socio-political thriller but with a generous dose of romance. So initially I was in a fix about its genre. It is a book which has a strong background of political corruption, corporate whitewash and media manipulation sewed together by the thread of romance. When I started out with the idea of sharing my insights I had promised myself to not load the book with larger than life ideologies. I wanted to keep the characters as close to real as possible even if they were flawed. Moreover, I needed to keep the ‘entertainment quotient’ of the book high. So, I am very happy when so many readers tell me or message me or put it in their reviews, that they found the book to be an exhilarating and thrilling read, just like watching a movie. I am glad when they equate reading my book with a visual experience, because that’s what I wanted.
Were you inspired by real people for this book?
All authors are inspired by some or the other incidences and the people in those incidences, right through their writing journey. No writer can operate in a sterile vacuum. Our observations and mainly the ability to put them into words interestingly, is what makes us what we are. So yes, I was inspired by certain personality types and how they reacted to certain situations. I was always fascinated by this and ‘people-watching’ is my favourite hobby. But it wasn’t just one specific person or persons. And I was more ‘motivated’ to write rather than ‘inspired’. I think ‘inspired’ is a very high-sounding word, demanding a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ masterpiece from me. I don’t think I am yet ready for it.
You’re also from advertising industry, did the book have traces of your personal life in it?
Many people have asked me since ‘Trust Me Not’ published whether it’s a personal memoir. Especially when they knew that I came from advertising background and that Mr Madhur Bhandarkar had reviewed the book while it was under print. These two aspects must have given an impression that this was a true story based on real incidences. Actually, the central character of the book ‘Reeva Rai’ is a very different person from me and her situations in the book have nothing to do with my real life other than her character working in advertising and public relations. But I understand her totally and I think a lot of young women will identify with her character. She is fraught with difficult choices and is almost willing to err. In that sense she is very real. So, in nut-shell, I chose the background of advertising and public-relations for ‘Trust Me Not’, simply out of my familiarity with it.
How can one be a good writer?
Using one’s instincts as a tool is very important. And also knowing your characters well, including their likes and dislikes and what irks them what makes them cry or laugh. Once you know your characters they will tell what to do with them as the story progresses. For me writing is a rather sub-conscious process, to the extent that sometimes I have unknowingly created a background for a scene almost four chapters back. Secondly, staying true to the story is important, depending upon the genre you are writing in. Good research too plays a very important role if the story demands a specialised background. These few aspects, if taken care of, should produce good writing.
What advice would you give to people who want to write?
Many people have often made queries to me about the process of writing and getting published. Even before they have finished writing or even started with their manuscripts. My advice to all of them is to read as much as possible, that too across genres. Secondly, observe everything around you. If one is considering to write, then language-skill is a given. But what is important is to connect with your reader emotionally. Mere show of word-power won’t do the trick. Lastly, they need to master the art of patience, build sustained stamina to write for long periods and have the willingness to embark on a lonely journey through the life of thecharacters.
What are you reading these days?
I normally read two to three books simultaneously. Right now I am reading Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Prof Harari, ‘Inside The O’Briens’ by Lisa Genova and the latest ‘Jack Reacher’ thriller by Lee Child.
How do you see the future of publishing industry in this technological age?
A lot is being discussed in the publishing world today about the onset of e-books and Kindle. Publishing industry is on an anvil of some major changes undoubtedly. From what I understand the process of publishing is bound to be more open, faster and easier in future. A very large amount of content is being generated with the onset of ‘online publishing’ and the main challenge for the world of writing and publishing would be to maintain quality standards. But I do believe that the good old traditional publishing would continue to hold its fort. A lot of readers out there prefer a good freshly printed copy of a book that still smells of paper and ink. Also, there are those who like to browse through huge stacks of old second-hand copies, looking for that book which has a story of its own, apart from the story that resides in it. And I hope this breed continues to live and flourish.
What is your opinion on audiobooks and e-readers?
Appreciation and recognition of any creative pursuit is what matters. In case of the written word, it is the thought, the idea and the revolution that it can bring about is very important. So, the format doesn’t matter. If a reader is happy to read a book over his or her tablet or mobile and the content and its message is still getting delivered then it works anyway. So even though I personally prefer a printed copy, I believe it’s a personal choice of the reader. With today’s fast moving, 24X7 online generation we may see e-format books becoming more popular and acceptable in near future.
Please tell us about your next book. Are you planning to change genres or would like to write thrillers?
While ‘Trust Me Not’ dealt with the interpersonal dynamics of the characters on the background of political treachery and manipulation of power-mongers, my next book in similar genreis a thriller touching upon a burning issue of today’s time. These are complex times where people are facing a peculiar kind of ‘identity crises’, where we don’t know where we belong. Whether it’s about religion, political orientation or belief systems. There are cut and dried stereotypes and then there are those who are trying to protest against them. There is a very thin dividing line between right and wrong when every side has its own justifications. And this affects the youth the most. In a fractured society, which has no answers for them, they begin to drift and lose faith. The subject of the book delves into a very dark space of today’s social fabric.
At the moment I am very comfortable writing in the genre of socio-political thriller but I would be surely exploring the areas of pure thrillers or mystery genres in future. I think I like to develop strong characters and then put them into difficult situations and watch the fun afterwards.