Anuradha Roy’s first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, received rave reviews, was translated into 14 languages, published in 16 countries, and listed for the Crossword Prize, the Shakti Bhatt Prize and the IMPAC Award in various years. The book was published in the U.S. in May 2012, and shared the Washington Post’s Best Books 2011 list with Murakami’s 1Q84.
The Folded Earth, Roy’s second book, meantime celebrates at this side of the globe. It was considered for the Hindu Literary Prize 2011 and was on the long lists in 2011 for the Man Asian Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Roy’s non-fiction, For ‘Cooking Women’, won the Picador-Outlook Non-fiction Prize 2004.
I had this conversation with this ‘Writer from Ranikhet’ who works at Permanent Black, an independent press and lives at Ranikhet with her husband Rukun Advani and their dog, Biscoot. This interview was published in print in early 2012 in the MediaVoiceMag.
SB: Was a successful first book an intimidating factor?
Anuradha Roy: The publishing process for Atlas was long and disheartening because of the number of times it was rejected. Parts of The Folded Earth took shape in my head even before Atlas was published, as far as I recall, during that long limbo period. Every piece of writing anyone does comes with different walls to knock their brains out against — so while I was somewhat older and wiser with the second book, I can’t say the writing process was much easier. The publication process certainly was.
SB: How much does your homing instinct with a place connect with your writing?
Anuradha Roy: I find it quite difficult to explain these things on a rational level. If some fiction starts stirring in my head it happens all together — the people in it, the place where they are — it often doesn’t feel like a choice at all. But I wouldn’t say home has anything to do with it; it has much more to do with the kind of place I could see my characters inhabiting. The Folded Earth of course is centrally concerned with the wilderness and Corbett, and climbing plays a large part in the action so the hills were a natural place for it to be set.
SB: Do you pick or adapt characters from life? Have you had any problems with your using real life characters in minor roles in your books? Like say Ramachandra Guha?
Anuradha Roy: Some of my characters come out of nowhere; for a few I use real people as line drawings from which to begin, but they tend to move further and further away from the real with their every new line in the fictional world. Where I’ve used real persons as themselves — as with Ramachandra Guha and another character in The Folded Earth named Ramesh — it’s a conscious blurring of fact and fiction; and I knew they did not take themselves seriously enough to have any problems with it.
SB: You have been praised for your perfect prose. What all do you think have been the building blocks for this great style?
Anuradha Roy: I don’t think my prose is perfect. I always find things in my published work that I wish I could redo. I read a lot and rewrite a lot. I also try and listen to my publisher’s comments and those of my husband (who is also a publisher), however unpalatable and infuriating they seem at first. It’s always a good idea to have your work looked at by someone whose judgement you trust, and who won’t flatter you or try to be kind: to put your work through flames in a sense, to get rid of impurities.
SB: How does your work and writing connect? How do you divide the time and the loyalties?
Anuradha Roy: I don’t edit much anymore, because that is hard to combine with writing. I do our cover designs and it’s a relief to work with visual material because writing and designing probably use totally different parts of the brain.
SB: How do you connect with your readers? Any memories?
Anuradha Roy: There was one reader in Norway whom I met on a plane on the way to my first ever reading, which was at a festival there. She later read my book, then turned up out of the blue at my hotel on my next book-trip to Oslo, to loan me a huge fleece overcoat and special gloves because it was minus 20 and she thought I would be cold. I found her thoughtfulness quite overwhelming. On the other hand there was a man in London who swore at me about three times because he had confused me with Arundhati Roy and come a long way to have his copy of her book signed.
SB: What has been your most loved response to your writing so far?
Anuradha Roy: A friend’s ninety-year old mother, who is from Almora (which is a town near Ranikhet), said The Folded Earth brought her hill childhood back and made her forget every ache and ailment. She said she kept finishing it and going back to the first page to start it again. That was a lovely thought.
SB: How do you regard litfests?
Anuradha Roy: I’ve discovered new writers to read and met interesting people at them. I think they’re a good thing for readers.
SB: One book you enjoyed reading recently?
Anuradha Roy: What I really enjoyed this year was Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, which is a book about his inability to write the book he is meant to be writing. The whole premise of it is so cheeky. And it is brilliant– funny, iconoclastic, anarchic and very clever.