"In Conversation with Vandana Shanker"
1. Tell us about your journey as a writer? The transitions, the movements and the present scenario.
- It is difficult to put down a specific moment or a time period when writing happened. I wrote poems and short stories in schools but being a writer was never a serious goal. It was during the time I was pursuing my research in literature, that I became familiar with this very interesting and dynamic field of fan writing and I dabbled there. From there on, it became a part of leisure activities. 1857 Dust of Ages was the first attempt at my own novel. I completed writing it and then it did the rounds of publishers. In the meantime, I wrote by formula romance, Don’t Fall in Love which was accepted and published within a few months.
But Dust of Ages, which is very close to my heart, found it difficult. It is a niche book – a historical, set in 1857. There were issues with length, inserting and deleting scenes and so on. So I took the decision that I would publish it on Amazon and here we are!
2. Don't Fall in Love and 1857 Dust of Ages? How was it? The difference in thinking? The difference in genres?
- Very different. To the extent that some of my friends feel that it isn’t the same writer. Don’t Fall in Lovefollows the romance formula to the hilt. It is a Mills and Boons set in Delhi. I did not think. I just opened a file on the computer and sat down to enjoy writing it.
1857 Dust of Ages was a completely different story. It also has a romance at its centre but it is about these two people caught in this great historical turmoil. And they belong to the opposite factions. It also has elements of mystery and suspense with two contemporary investigators unearthing this scandal from the past. So in that sense, 1857 Dust of Ages is more ambitious, required a great deal of research and commitment.
They are similar too in the sense that I have tried to draw strong heroines, sensitive and supporting heroes and then of course they are set in my city, my Delhi.
3. What are you expecting from readers with this book? And what readers can expect?
- First of all, I want the readers to read the complete series and enjoy it; I have tried to present the events of 1857 through the story of Princess Meera and Captain Smith. These two people are attracted to each other and forge a relationship at a time when the enmity between their respective sides, the Indians and the British, is reaching its peak and the changing times test their relationship. The story is unearthed in 2016 by a team of an Indian researcher, Shiv Sahai and a British scholar, Ruth. So in a way time comes a full circle.
It is not a regular romance; it is nuanced, there are lot of themes and trends. There is a lot of drama and suspense as the scandal is revealed layer by layer and we learn what happened to Meera and Richard. Dust of Ages is about conflict and war effect everyday lives of the people. I hope that readers are able to pick those subtle themes.
Readers can expect subtle and fulfilling romance as we journey to one of the defining moments of India’s freedom struggle.
4. Do you wish to throw light on your favorite parts from the book? Share some quotes.
- Difficult to pick up a few. As mentioned earlier, the book is close to my heart. One such moment is there right at the end of the prologue as Richard Smith thinks of his wife:
‘Every evening, I try to escape this madness by thinking about her, Princess Meera of Navgarh, a rebel soldier and my wife. The news that the sepoys in Meerut had rebelled spurred both of us. Did I expect Meera to be a dutiful wife when all her beliefs, her convictions pulled her in the opposite direction? Was I surprised on knowing that she was in Delhi, amongst the rebels? Would she be surprised on knowing that I have followed her as an enemy… a British officer? '
Another favourite part of mine is when in the initial moments of attraction, Meera tells Richard that for her, her land would always be her first love:
‘Meera’s dark eyes met Richard’s brown ones with uncommon seriousness. ‘It’s harsh. But I haven’t known anywhere else. This place, this way of life, we know only this.’ Meera took in a deep breath as if drinking in the scene in front of her. ‘All I do know, Captain Smith, for me Navgarh is… jaan se badkar.’
And then there is turning point in their relationship at the end of Volume 2. What happens before and after it is the crux of the story
‘As Richard turned to face Meera, he caught a glimpse of her raised arm before it crashed behind his neck and he slipped to the ground.’
5. What were the challenges you faced in writing this book? How you overcame them?
- The first challenge for any writer, especially a first time writer is to write a book till the end and finish it. It is difficult, especially if you have a full time job and then you are mother too.
Dust of ages required a year of disciplined writing. I had written the prologue and the letters exchanged with John Smith and Thomas Metcalfe years ago and forgotten. But now I sat down and wrote every day, sometimes getting up at 4 in the morning, till the story ended.
I read numerous fictional and non-fictional books on 1857 to create the setting, get the tone and style of letter writing and diary writing and so on. This kind of research is important for a historical.
A major challenge was the choice between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I went for self publishing for Dust of Ages because I wanted freedom and control over the way it reaches the readers.
Wishing her All the very best for her new book.
You can find more about the book in the spotlight of the book: Spotlight
Have A Great Day 😃