Born in Indore and brought up in Ajmer and Delhi, Chandana Roy recently debuted in the literary world with her work A Good Girl. She holds a Master’s degree in Zoology from Rajasthan University and has taught Biology for over 20 years to the undergraduate students of Troy University at their Sharjah campus. She has written numerous gardening columns and cover stories on a wide range of regional issues for Gulf News and Khaleej Times. A splendid writer currently residing in the UAE, let’s get to know what ticks Chandana-
- Tell us something about your recently published book A Good Girl.
“A Good Girl” is about a beautiful young woman called Ellora Chatterjee whose life turns upside down when she gets into a scandal with a famous cricketer. The news of her romantic involvement with the debutante batsman makes national headlines. Overnight, sweet and shy Ellora turns into a sexy poster girl chased by the college hooligans, shunned by her prudish classmates and condemned by the parochial population of her small town. Now in her early thirties, Ellora is once again facing a tough choice that will scandalize her community. Set in India and America, “A Good Girl” highlights the plight of a young woman haunted by her tainted pasts and caught up in a struggle to be the kind of good girl others around her want her to be.
- When did you start writing?
Somewhere in 2009. It took me almost four years to complete the novel. But considering I wrote it through one major illness, two hospitalizations, two deaths and one wedding in the family, I am at times surprised that I could even complete the book. In fact, within weeks of my mother’s passing away, I had to start working on the points suggested by my editor – it was tough, no doubt, but the process helped me to deal with a very painful and difficult phase of my life.
- What is the purpose of your writing?
I write mainly to express myself – to quieten the disquiet brewing inside me by pouring it all out as prose. If in the process, I end up making a statement, or writing a book for that matter, it is coincidental. When I am in my writing mode, I am like a singer with a song trapped in my throat, clamoring to get it out. But coming back to the question, I did not write this book with any specific purpose. However, I am happy when readers write to me to say how much they identify with Ellora – the quintessential good girl whose happiness revolves around making others happy and who wilts with guilt every time she displeases or disobeys her elders. What I have tried to convey in the book is, it is all right to take charge of your own happiness.
- What inspired you to bring forth this idea of A Good Girl as a book?
I have been writing books in my head ever since I was a child. A Good Girl too started as an idea for a short story, but unlike many other stories cropping up in my head at night and then disappearing without a trace by morning, A Good Girl decided to materialize in its full-fledged book avatar. As I started typing the story, the words started flowing copiously and spontaneously. And before I knew, the short story had become a very long story and then, eventually a bulky novel. The original manuscript had 430 pages – I had to ruthlessly chop the chapters and passages to bring the number down to 304 pages.
- Being a writer myself, I know how difficult it would have been to choose what part to remove. Is any part of A Good Girl inspired from real life?
It is a fiction inspired by real life. The idea came from not just one, but several sources. In my more than two decades of teaching career, I have come across many young women whose lives have been in shambles because of a love affair or misplaced trust. Let us say A Good Girl was inspired by a very pretty teenager who was caught in the car with her boyfriend and was sent packing to her ancestral village in Pakistan by her irate parents. Another student of mine was swiftly rusticated by the college authorities after she was caught with her boyfriend in the washroom by the security guard. I never saw those girls in college again, but I have always wondered how their lives must have been influenced by that single error of judgment. My small town had its share of scandals. A junior got expelled from college for writing a love letter in blood to the then heartthrob Rajesh Khanna. A senior stopped coming to the college, and the girls’ common room was abuzz with the rumors of a terminated pregnancy. Nowadays, when you watch these MMS scandals on the news channels, you cannot help wondering what price those naïve but precocious teenagers must be paying for giving in to their hormonal urges and trusting boyfriends who are actually devious and dangerous scoundrels.
- Do you see a movie based on A Good Girl being made?
Yes, I can very well see A Good Girl being made into a movie. And why not? It has a powerful story-line and all other ingredients including drama, strong characters, and beautiful settings to have the potential to make it successfully to the silver screen. Many readers writing to me have said so. One of the readers has even suggested Deepika Padukone’s name for playing the role of Ellora Chatterjee and I like the idea, but I hope Ms. Padukone would play her natural dusky self.
- I hope Deepika gets to reads this; after all, unlike regular novels, A Good Girl is a unique concept one.
My query letters to the agents and publishers generated positive response from most, including some famous London and New York agents, so it would not be off the mark to say that A Good Girl is a unique concept novel. It is not your average boy-meets- girl love story. Nor is it a classic; although Amazon India has categorized it as Classic Fiction. The story, though it is centered around an ugly scandal, is mainly about bonds that bind, love that controls, gossips that destroy lives, and conditioning that makes you follow regressive rules.
- What is your idea of love, family and relationships on the whole?
Being a biologist, my concept of love is somewhat scientific. In fact, I have discussed the chemistry of romantic love in one of the chapters. Being a chemical process, falling in love is not really in your hand – you can do very little to check the giddy elation you feel when you are romantically attracted to someone. It is the Cupid’s arrow drenched in adrenaline and dopamine that causes this heady euphoria. The chemicals are powerful enough to drive you crazy, even obsessive. But this chemical high is transitory – the magic and euphoria go out of the window after some time. What cements this otherwise fleeting attraction is oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddle hormone’. It is this hormone that helps couples to stay committed to each other. To me, this second stage of love, even though less exciting, is true love – staying committed to each other irrespective of physical appearance or circumstances. Ideally, love should be driven by understanding, devotion and compassion rather than just passion.
For me, love and family go hand in hand. I derive my state of euphoria and well-being from my loved ones. My family is the mainstay of my life and I do not mind if I am able to write a little less because of my responsibilities as a wife and a mother. Without my family being by my side, I probably would not be able to write at all.
Unfortunately, nowadays, the relationships are breaking up so fast that oxytocin gets no chance to deepen the bond. Cyber romance cuts you off from ground realities. When instead of looking into each other’s eyes, you are staring at your mobiles and looking into the eyes of filtered selfies, your budding love has less chances of blossoming into something deeper and more meaningful.
- Very well said; I totally agree with you.
Which of your works have been published so far?
A Good Girl is my debut novel but I have been writing articles and columns for many years for Gulf News and Khaleej Times – two of the largest selling newspapers in the UAE. I have also been writing for several Dubai magazines.
- So how was this journey of becoming a published author?
The journey was full of highs and lows. My query letters generated instant responses – most literary agents including Jhumpa Lahiri’s agent wanted to see the manuscript. But I had made the classic mistake of sending out query letters in a hurry without bothering to edit the manuscript first. In its unedited form, the novel was far too long, raw, and unpolished to attract takers. When the refusals started arriving one by one, I decided to chop the length. The manuscript was still being considered by a New York agent and Picador, India, when I heard from my publisher Ravinder Singh. He was very interested from the word go, but he made me promise that I would henceforth stop corresponding with any other agent or publisher. I kept my word and the rest, as they say, is history.
- Have you self-published your book or followed the traditional approach?
By the time the novel was completed, I was too middle-aged to consider self-publishing. I neither had the energy, nor the time for the kind of aggressive promotion that self-publishing demands.
- Which approach is better according to you and why?
Each one has its challenges and rewards. If you self-publish, you have the creative control over the contents, the design, and of course, the profits. Self-publishing is also speedier and less frustrating, because you are not made to wait forever for heart-breaking rejections. However, it is one thing to publish your book on your own and quite another to make it a reasonable success without a professional team backing you up. Apart from a solid story, you also need great marketing skills and endless tenacity to make a self-published book a success. You need to be young, energetic and highly motivated to take your work from store to store, upload trailers on YouTube, spend hours on Social Media promotion, and travel all over the country to get your book noticed. You also need to be extra careful of unscrupulous vanity publishers waiting to take advantage of gullible wannabe authors. Traditional route, on the other hand, binds and restricts in many ways with royalties remaining an enigmatic puzzle, but ultimately gives you the validity, respectability and the support system you need for becoming a successful author.
- What should the beginners do today?
Nowadays, so many youngsters in India have just one dream – to become successful authors like Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Dutta. Unfortunately, most of them have some hackneyed and sketchy story idea, which they are not even equipped to write. Nor do they have an idea of how hard you have to work in order to write a book. My advice to the beginners is, “Don’t even go there if you do not have the necessary craft, talent, and the patience required for writing a book. But if you are confident that you have what it takes to write a book, then just sit down and start writing. Write, write and write. Then rewrite after a gap, till you get the rhythm and the grammar correct. And also read a lot – the more you read, the better you get at writing. Pay attention to the writing style, words, and sentences. Also, be mentally prepared for a long and arduous struggle before you get published. And remember, most writers do not earn enough to make a living from their books.” I am sorry if my advice sounds discouraging, but it is better to give a reality check than to give unrealistic hopes.
- What is your take on book publishing as you see the current scenario?
I am too new an author to be able to talk knowledgeably about the current publishing scenario. But what I have seen and experienced so far, things are looking up for the authors as well as the publishers, despite the falling sales figures. Thanks to various literary festivals and book fairs, authors and books are now getting the kind of visibility and public acclaim they deserve. We certainly need more literary agents and editors in the market to spot and promote new talents. We also need more bookstores and better distribution networks for the books to reach every bookshelf in every remote town.
- What are your forthcoming writings?
It is still at a planning stage. I have been too busy answering fan mails and promoting my book to start working on the second book, but now I am more or less ready with a plot – I just have to sit down and start typing.
- What are the four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
- Style and grammar / Editing
- Time management
However, this time when I start writing, my top priority would be to plan the chapters much in advance, so that I do not have to waste too much time in editing things out at a later stage.
- What is your favorite genre and why?
Literary fiction – I like to read slowly, savouring every word, enjoying every sentence, rereading every passage. The book has to be linguistically rich and emotionally engaging for me to start reading it. Besides a powerful story, it has to have substance, depth, and a lyrical prose filled with witty phrases and vivid similes to hold my interest.
- What / Who is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
My late parents, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Jane Austen, Lata Mangeshkar, Sudha Murthy, Margaret Atwood – the list goes on. I am inspired by someone or the other every day. I am the kind of the person who is inspired even by a tree or a child.
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced and how did you overcome it?
Like most people, I too have had my share of challenges in life, but in recent years, a couple of health issues (not life-threatening, but serious nevertheless) have caused me to take a deep breath and stop running after things that are not important for my physical or emotional well-being. I overcame those illnesses by educating myself on my condition, slowing down, and adopting a holistic lifestyle.
- If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?
I would love to live a day as Heidi, the little girl (created by Swiss author Johanna Spyri) who lives with her cantankerous grandfather in the Swiss alps. I have wanted live in the mountains like Heidi, ever since I was a little girl. On second thoughts, I probably would opt to be Jane Austen, my all-time favourite author. It would be fascinating to live in a Georgian house surrounded by rural meadows, practice piano, dance with a handsome gentleman at a ball, and write with a quill pen dipped in inkwell.
- And finally, any message for the readers?
I would like to thank all my readers who have come forward on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and Amazon to give me their feedback. Some of you have even written a detailed review in your blogs. How can I thank you enough? Please keep those comments/reviews coming, even if you have something negative to say about my book. Your opinions matter. While a personal email or a message from you makes my day, a short review on Amazon and other websites makes a big difference to the sales figures, so please do make it a point to leave your comments there. As much as I would like to chat with you on social media or review your work, you must understand that I am a busy homemaker cum writer and do not have the time for long personal chats. While I am glad that you trust me enough to offload your heart to me, I am not a trained counselor. It is challenging for me to give you the right advice from a distance.
So that was Chandana Roy for you, author of “A Good Girl“.
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