By Sonya Rehman
Perhaps best known for her very own brand of rom-com fiction set in urban India, author Anuja Chauhan, an advertising professional, defines contemporary fiction in the country. With bestsellers such as The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, and more recently, The House That BJ Built, Anuja’s work is feisty and fun, making for a brilliant read.
In conversation with Masala! Magazine, the author speaks about good writing, characters that come to life on paper, and her advice for aspiring authors.
From advertising to becoming one of the most popular Indian fiction writers in India today, what led you to the world of books and publishing?
I love my advertising job, but it can be very limiting. You’re basically writing in a very tight little box, customized to your clients’ requirements. There are constraints of time, budget, casting, storyline. It can get frustrating, so I started writing a novel just to stretch out a little. I found it absolutely addictive and couldn’t stop once I got started. Now I do both – ads and books – and appreciate both mediums.
How long does it take you to write a book? What’s your process like?
About a year and a bit. I start with an opening premise, and two character sketches. At that point, I have no idea which way the plot will flow. That fog lifts as I write. If the characters are vivid enough, they start taking over the narrative. I usually write a 1000 words a day, while the kids are at school, and late at night, I re-read what I wrote that day and polish it a bit. How has the publishing industry changed in India, and the world today?
In India, it seems that people are opening up to reading Indian writers in English, as opposed to earlier when they would read just western writers.
In your opinion, what makes a ‘good’, successful book?
As a reader, I look for engaging characters, an original premise and a tight plot.
As a writer, what inspires you the most?
I write because I want to know how the story will turn out. Not just the ‘what’ of the story, but the ‘how.’ That’s what keeps me going. You stated in an interview once that you relate to all of your characters, not just the female protagonists, but the villains too. As a writer, what makes a character relatable?
As a writer, you grow fond of people – their motivations, quirks and insecurities. If you’re writing well, and the characters are well fleshed out, the stuff he/she will say or think just wells up out of your fingers and onto the keyboard, they take over the thinking. It’s so exciting when that happens.
Given the state of print journalism in the world today – where everything is moving online, do you think books will suffer the same fate where e-books will eventually replace tangible books?
I guess so. We’ll save a lot of trees – and our interior decor will be poorer for it!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors hoping to bag a book deal?
Write a good book, one that you’re truly satisfied with, otherwise you’ll hold back when you’re negotiating. Once you’ve written what in your heart you know to be a damn good book, bargain hard and with stamina. And finally, don’t just go for the best money, but for whoever gives you the best market and reach.
Is it true your book, Battle for Bittora, is to be adapted for film?
Yes. It’s going to star Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Khan and it’s produced by Anil Kapoor Film Company.
What are you currently working on?
A new book – it’s a romance – but very different from what I’ve written before. I’ve been accused of writing about the same type of hero every time, so I’m changing that.
Do you ever stop thinking in terms of writing? In the sense that, do you find yourself constantly observing things, people, and thinking ‘oh that’d be great to plug into my next book’?
Yes! Very much so. It’s gotten so bad that my family says, ‘Don’t tell her things, she’ll put it in a book!’