An Exclusive Interview with Author Giselle Mehta

Q.1 “A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.” Who are some of the individuals who have supported you in your writing journey that you would like to thank?

It was from my grandmother that I imbibed a storyteller’s persona. I was just about 6 or 7 years old when I learned about the American Civil War through ‘Gone with the Wind’ and the Russian revolution through ‘Dr Zhivago’, from her vivid narrations of these books. This left a lifelong impression on a future writer, because one theme that jumps at you from my books is how external events determine individual lives, and this is especially true of ‘Vectors in the Void’. My late mother Louella Lobo Prabhu, a prolific writer was more generally an inspiration to be creative. My 10th grade English teacher Joyce Gonsalves described me as a born writer, sparking my schoolgirl dream to be a novelist. My classmates didn’t find my dream outrageous. Many years later, my husband Dharmendra revived the dream, opining that if I could speak with a strong flow of language and powerful insights, I could write too. His support during the roller-coaster of the writing process is invaluable. My circle of readers who stimulate my output and those who come forward with reportage/reviews are also counted as friends and allies in my writer’s journey towards whom I feel gratitude.   

Q.2 When and how did you become interested in writing books? Tell us a bit about your books “Blossom Showers” and “Vectors In The Void.” How do these novels reflect your interests, proficiencies, and passions?

My schoolgirl dream slumbered while higher education, employment and family life took priority. It took shape only when I left a structured job for creative self-exploration.

“Blossom Showers” is a plantation novel whose story spans three generations of a coffee cultivating family. It is narrated by three protagonists over different periods of time- two male and one female. It is an engrossing tale of emotions that is also immensely informative about its setting.

“Vectors in the Void”’ centers on Zara’s life, starting with her turbulent conception and birth. History is viewed through Zara’s experience of multiple major events. The birth of India, Pakistan and Israel as nations touch her trajectory. The Second World War in Europe and the Partition of India meet in her emotional life when the teenaged girl enters into a relationship with a French Jewish refugee in Murree, a picturesque hill-station of undivided India. In Zara’s subsequently reinvented life, the Sino-Indian War and the Emergency have repercussions for her family. Matching the fallout of conflicts and crises from the world outside are dramas and dilemmas of family life. It’s a powerful tale of loss and solace, hurting and healing, and times of truth and reconciliation. 

Being a former student of Psychology plays its part in creating characters and sketching situations. The novel’s geopolitical aspect draws from my Master’s degree in International Relations. My passions and immersions definitely enter my fiction, whether it is food, fashion, history, heritage, music, politics and activism.

Q.3 What are the challenges you faced while writing books and how did you overcome them? From where do you get the ideas and inspiration for writing?

To write a book from start to finish is itself a huge aspiration and exercise. When one starts out there are no guarantees it will at all wrap up, and I do have some incomplete manuscripts. Pushing the plot is the tough part, to keep the story moving in a way that will grip a reader while possessing overall credibility and coherence to the writing scheme. Considering the large output of books happening today, one must write something off the beaten track to stand out. It’s really hard to pinpoint how challenges are overcome except with perseverance and firm belief that a particular storyline has potential. Perhaps some books are just meant to be.

Inspiration for me can come from something as slender as an old photograph, an elder’s anecdote, interesting titbits of information that I piece together… It’s my fascination with the dynamics of human nature and relationships that is a writing stimulus, combined with an explorer’s curiosity to wander amidst interesting settings.        

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Q.4 Which are the top 3 books you would highly recommend, and what’s your most favorite genre?

Books, classic and contemporary, fiction and non-fiction have left their mark in some way and go back to one’s earliest childhood reading. It is really hard to make a choice between so many good friends! Likewise, each genre has its charms to suit a particular mood or need.    

Q.5 How has your experience been as a senior official of the Indian Revenue Services? Do your books contain any learnings or experiences you’ve acquired?

I served the government for ten years. It was an exciting time but a government job was not a perfect fit for the independent streak in my personal make-up. 

The plots of my stories were first spun in the vacant time while I was driven to and from the workplace. The occasional issue or character with a government background do figure in my novels, for example Jay’s aspiration to be a diplomat in “Blossom Showers” and Zara’s affair with an IAS officer in “Vectors in the Void”. But I have not attempted a work which completely leverages that world.         

Q.6 How do you handle differing perspectives and opinions that may arise during public events? Can you share any memorable experiences or impactful moments from your speaking career that stand out to you?

Convictions should be conveyed firmly while respecting another’s viewpoint. If the conviction is conveyed skilfully enough, a point of dissent may not immediately or necessarily arise because you have given your listeners something to seriously chew on. It is necessary to be backed up with correct information, and to use the right emotional pitch for a particular audience. Lived experiences are an authentic way to get across to listeners.

My speaking engagements usually leave me with an adrenaline rush so it’s hard to single out one as more powerful than the other. I especially enjoy engagements to energize the young into discovering their personal possibilities, and those that cause people to shift their thinking outside the boxes of social conditioning.   

Q.7 What do you consider your greatest strength as a writer? What do you plan to write next? Are there any specific projects or initiatives you are excited about?

I must go back to my reviews for what readers report to have best enjoyed! Characters who are strong and relatable form the preliminary connection between a book and readers. If characters, especially the protagonist/s lack a lifelike quality the reader’s interest is quickly lost, and this is therefore my focus area while writing fiction. To maintain interest, it demands ingenuity for plots to possess energy that moves, with a surprise element sometimes thrown in. While it’s great to have the pages turn, I also intend that readers pause to take in a nugget of lesser known information, or the insight of a thoughtful line.  With “Vectors in the Void”, I’d say there is a really intricate crafting that went in, for how diverse events and elements ultimately fit around a central point, and how the end connects up with the beginning. I consider my writing a synergy of the mind and heart, where emotions and illuminations are closely intertwined. 

I would like to next write a novel where the real and surreal find meeting ground. Times of social and political ferment in the past especially beg to have their tales told as an essential remembering.     

Q.8 You mentioned being involved in humane initiatives and compassionate causes. Could you share some examples of the causes you are passionate about and the work you have done to support them?

I am especially concerned for the well-being of animals and the earth. My involvements in Animal Welfare have ranged from funding wards and facilities at local shelters to supporting feeding, rescue and rehabilitation activities of needy animals of various species, nationally and globally. An orphaned elephant in Africa or a bile bear in Vietnam receive my support alongside what I do for suffering animals in my own country that come to notice.  Turning vegan in 2013 took my concerns to the next level, to positively impact people, the planet and all living beings, through my consumption choices. To this end, I am an impassioned communicator shining a spotlight on imperatives of compassion and conservation.

Q.9 Tell us a bit about your likes, dislikes and hobbies? Do you have any strategies for maintaining a balance and managing your time effectively?

Creativity lies at the core of me. Writing comprises a major part of it, which necessarily demands research and study that I find stimulating. When the mood seizes me, I like to compose songs and music. Being creative could range to the very practical, like turning out a tasty dish or vegan alternatives to traditional items like a delicious plant-milk cheese, cake or coffee. I like applying my aesthetic sense to a distinctive wardrobe in fabrics I’m comfortable with, and designing home interiors. I enjoy traveling which offers its own inspirations. Learning Bharatanatyam is a window to a new world that co-exists with my love of ballroom dancing. I also enjoy entertaining and communing with the like-minded.

Usually, my compulsory commitments consume the earlier half of my day and activities connected to my creative life happen from early evening onwards. The most soul satisfying part of my day is late at night when I feed street animals.         

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Q.10 What factors are most important to you when choosing a book marketer? Any 3 practices that according to you are a must while marketing a book.

Today, everything from a bar of soap to a ship is marketed. A book ought not to be different because it’s a product too. The book marketer should possess sound communication skills that are verbal, visual and technical. There are a surprising number of readers out there- wide reach and accurate market research are definite assets to reach them. It helps if there is an affectionate involvement with the project and a rapport with the author. 

Thank you, TBI, for this cosy and comprehensive chat that I much enjoyed.


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