Today I've had the opportunity to interview Laxmi Hariharan, author of The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer!
1. How did you get into writing? When did you first start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was five. So I always knew this was natural for me, to write a book. Interestingly it was always writing a book – not make a movie or become a photographer, though I am heavily influenced by the moving image. So I tend to write in a very cinematic fashion.
2. Where did you come up with the ideas for your books? Who/ what is your inspiration?
With my first book The Destiny of Shaitan… it was born because I was living on my own in Hong Kong – a very futuristic, confused city that set the tone. Living in an unknown city forces you out to make friends and seek out people you wouldn’t have normally. And Hong Kong was very much the place where many misfits, who didn’t belong anywhere else in the world, landed up. A series of strange such encountered inspired the characters in the novel. With, The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer… Ruby emerged full blown on the scene. She was someone born of the rage and helplessness I felt about being a girl growing up in Bombay. About having to rebel against society almost every day to assert my individuality. And not least of all that dreaded commute to work by local train, where I had to fight through the crowds, and definitely be felt up by almost every other man crossing my path. I was helpless, Rub is not.
3. Are any of your characters based on people you actually know, if so which ones?
No character is based on a single person I have met. But yes like many authors I suffer from over attentive disorder. I pick up details in my environment subconsciously. So gestures, styles of dressings, eccentric mannerisms, interesting life-stories… I borrow from it all. Many of my characters are an amalgamation of the interesting dimensions I come across in other people. Sometimes it's something some says, a random remark can spark off a new trait in a character.
4. If you had to pick only five books from your bookshelf you could keep, what would they be?
I am going to pick four:
The Ground Beneath Her Feet: Salman Rushdie. Lyrical, poetic, beautiful and complicated. This book is like an ideal woman. Mysterious yet seductive.
Fire & Ice: The Game of Thrones series. I simply admire GRR Martin’s audacity in the world he created and how he can simply kill of his characters once they have served their purpose… or do any of these characters even have a purpose. Does one have to have a purpose in fiction or in real life for that matter?
Angelfall by Susan Ee: You are probably surprised by this. But I pick this as a reminder that for an author you never know which storyline or character is going to catch the reader’s fancy. That there is a thin knife edge between obscurity and being discovered. I see this as a symbol of hope for myself. To keep me going in the dark mornings when I force myself to go out into the world to play a part that is more and more alien to me (i.e. my day job) but which I need to inhabit in order to keep my writing going.
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth: Poetic, lyrical, simple yet complex. A canvas of explosive energy simmering under the surface just waiting to be unleashed. It captures London beautifully
5. Who is your favorite character from any book and why?
Would I be too egoistical if I picked Ruby Iyer? She is a real person for me. I am fascinated by the confusion inside her. That she feels everything so intensely. That she often does the stuff she really doesn’t want to do, all the time knowing she shouldn’t do it… But she does it anyway. At other times she manages to follow her instincts, and pays the price for it too.
6. How long did the writing process take for each of your books?
My first novel took my nine years, my second nine months, and since on an average I complete a book a year. I don’t necessarily publish all of them. I realize I prefer to write quickly, while the energy is still new and flowing. With Ruby Iyer, it’s a compulsion. I wrote the prequel novella, The Ruby Iyer Diaries as well as The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer in nine months. Right now I am writing the Second Life of Ruby Iyer, the sequel as well as Vikram’s story as a novella. Vikram is another character who fascinates me. An Oxford educated cop who gave it all up to join the police force. How intriguing.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Salman Rushdie and GRR Martin
8. What actors/ actresses could you see playing the characters of your book?
This is a tough one. For Ruby Iyer it has to be a complete unknown. Someone who is fresh, fragile yet tough. Akshara Haasan has always been a potential consideration for me for Ruby. She seems to have that Fuck You attitude that is so important for Ruby. For Vikram Roy … I haven’t found the actor yet. I need an Indian actor, who is young on the outside but an old soul inside. Who is well built without being macho. Who is brooding yet vulnerable? No haven’t found him yet.
9. How did you come up with the title and cover of each of your books? Did they morph as you wrote the book, or were they constant?
The best titles are the ones which manifest organically. With Ruby that’s the way it has been… As I write at some point the themes and strands I am weaving with become clear. And the title is something which gives you an instant feel for the emotion of the book. With the cover for the Many Lives of Ruby Iyer… I kept looking till I found this picture that my friend Pooja Vir had shot of her younger sister, with the Bombay skyline in the backdrop. So it was so authentic… shot in an iconic area of Bombay which was very important. And capturing that flush of adolescence, when you want to say Fuck You to the world, for really all you can think is about yourself and your inner turmoil. As soon as I saw the picture I knew I wanted it for the cover for Ruby.
10. Are you planning to write any other books?
Right now it’s the Second Life of Ruby Iyer and Vikram’s novella.
11. What would your advice be to someone who's aspiring to be a writer?
I think you just have to keep doing it. Wake up in the morning and write. At the end of the day ask yourself how much you have written. At the end of the week, the month, the year… ask yourself did you persevere? There’s no short cut. You just have to continuously do it… stick to your red thread… if indeed writing is the red thread to your life.
12. Finally, just to wrap things up, what's your favorite color and why?
Purple – It’s regal, intense, deep, and mysterious yet has the power to draw you in. It has many shades to it depending on which angle you look at it from.