Q&A with Nayanika Mahtani

Nayanika Mahtani, an IIM-b graduate, is a copywriter by day and a storyteller by night. Her first children’s novel was Ambushed. Her latest book The Gory Story of Genghis Khan a.k.a. Don’t Mess with the Mongols invites kids in for a closer look at this most fascinating Khan. Currently, she’s working on a script as well as on her next book.

Q Why do you write? I seem to have caught the bug. I’ve done all sorts of things to try and shake it off, like being a banker and then reminding myself how little writing pays most people, but it just won’t go. :)

Q Describe your favourite writing space. That would be sitting in the park, resting against a huge oak tree.

Q Your favourite word? Hubbub. Just because it sounds like it wants to carry on but then it stops. I often wonder about the origin of words — and this one seems like it deserves an interesting backstory.

Q Do you have a writing schedule? Well, I need to fit my writing in before, between and after work. I’d say the chunk of my writing happens early in the morning or after dinner — and the rest happens whenever I can squeeze it in.

Q Ever struggled with writer's block? Oh, yes. I now try to work on more than one piece of writing at a time, so that if one piecefeels jaded, I switch to the other.

Q Do you keep a diary? I used to, many years ago. Now it’s more like these scraps of paper on which I scribble random things that strike me as being story-worthy. I then proceed to forget where I’ve kept those bits of paper, but they do turn up eventually.

Q What inspires you to write? Do you have a secret trick, or a book/author that helps? I’m almost always taken by surprise by some seemingly innocuous idea that will then refuse to vacate my head. I don’t have any tricks sadly — I just have to plod through life and wait for these ideas to strike.

Q Best piece of advice you’ve ever got? To embrace the possibility of failure. It unshackled me, somewhat, of the fear of falling flat on my face and gave me the courage to try what I hadn’t done before.

Q Coffee/tea/cigarettes — numbers please — while you are writing… Two cups of coffee and two/three cups of tulsi tea/turmeric-ginger concoctions. Zero cigarettes.

Q Which books are you reading at present? The Ocean of Churn by Sanjeev Sanyal, Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor, The Histories by Herodotus and My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley (yes, I still love to read kids lit, as well!)

Q Who are your favourite authors? It’s a long list that includes Gerald Durrell, Bill Bryson, P.G. Wodehouse, Roald Dahl, Salman Rushdie, Michael Morpurgo, J.D. Salinger and Neil Gaiman amongst others…

Q Which book/author should be banned on grounds of bad taste? I’m not in favour of banning books/authors — differing tastes make life interesting?

Q Which according to you is the most under-rated book? The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I think it’s a most exquisite read.

Q Which are your favourite children’s books? Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce and The Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond would definitely feature.

Q Which classics do you want to read?   My daughter suggests that Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey should top this to-do list for me.

Q Who is your favourite literary character? I simply adore Pippi Longstocking’s idiosyncratic, matter-of-fact anti-establishmentarianism.

Q Which is the funniest book you have read? It would have to be a P.G. Wodehouse — perhaps The Luck of the Bodkins — and in particular, the “spelling of sciatica” scene. Just thinking of it makes me chuckle.

Q Which is the most erotic book you have read? The closest answer I can think of is Eighteen Plus Duets — wickedly funny, saucy stories cowritten by Apurv Nagpal and 18 lovely ladies.

Q Which book do you wish you had written? Hmmm… I don’t think I could sensibly tell anyone else’s story. But if I had a chance to live the dream, it would be The Corfu Trilogy! :)

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