1. How different was your process while writing “Ramya’s Treasure” in comparison with writing your first collection: “Weather Permitting & Other Stories”?
“Weather Permitting” unlike “Ramya” was not conceived and created in one long haul. Being disconnected stories, I got the inspiration, the germ of an idea for each plot, randomly and at different times, and the entire project was a few years in the making. Yet, in a way, there is one strong similarity between the structures of these two books. “Ramya’s Treasure” is for the most part the reminiscences of the protagonist, with the various past events forming a collage and this gives the narrative an episodic feel.
2. Your debut novel ‘Ramya’s Treasure” is written from the female protagonist’s point of view. What was your process in creating that voice?
It was my desire to write a longer work on the topic of immigration, amplifying the challenges newcomers face before they can manage to find their feet. I decided to start with a very vulnerable character who at the end of the novel’s long trajectory will discover the path to “self-actualization” – a kind of immigrant nirvana. Who could be more vulnerable than a woman, especially from India, a person who has migrated to Canada with very little say in the matter, accompanying her husband like one more piece of luggage? Most foolhardily I plunged into the writing of the novel, without stopping to think if a male writer could have the empathy to effectively evoke the emotions of a female protagonist. Some of my earlier stories had strong female leads and they sounded quite convincing. This served as some sort of literary dutch courage. Having all said and done, readers have the final say and going by their reaction, it looks as though I didn’t do too bad a job!
3. How much of “Weather Permitting & Other Stories” draws from your own immigrant experience? Would you classify the work as autofiction?
On one level, almost all of it. I had used my first-hand knowledge of the process of immigration and integration for my background. But the label ‘auto fiction’ would be misleading because, while my experience lent credibility to the stories, the actual plots and characters are very much my own, having been supplied by my rather hyperactive imagination.
4. What made you a writer?
I grew up in an India when it was a socialist country, and avenues of entertainment were limited. Other than cinema in Indian languages (even Hollywood was banned for a short period), and sports commentary on the radio (TV was limited to a couple of metropolitan cities), there were only neighbourhood playgrounds and libraries to provide an escape. In retrospect, what a blessing it was! I was captivated by works of thriller-writers like Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Helen MacInnes, and Eric Ambler, and mystery-writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. In my young eyes, authors were people with magical abilities, creating breathtakingly exciting worlds for readers to enter and inhabit. In my naivete, I simply wanted to be one of them when I grew up. Talk about pipe dreams! But in a small, humble way it became a reality – for this I’m grateful. But I still harbour delusions of becoming an international bestseller one day.
5. What is your definition of a successful piece of writing? Who decides that?
To put it simply: when you feel what you set out to do has worked. It is the genuine feedback from individual readers which is the best testimony. Within a few days of the publication of my first book, a reader wrote to my publisher to say how much she enjoyed reading it. It felt priceless. It made all the uncertainties, the disappointments, and the struggles, which are a writer’s lot, worthwhile.
6. Are you conscious of developing a distinctive voice or a narrative style through your work?
For good or for bad, I strive to give my fiction a signature flavour. There could be advantages, I suppose, for not doing so, but I feel that an artistic production must carry the unique hallmark of the artist. For me, it is not so much about developing a voice but recognizing that being true and natural lends the work an authentic ring.
7. Do you train your subconscious in certain ways to deal with success or rejection?
This is something every aspiring writer will encounter sooner or later – the rejection slip! While I tell myself that rejection is not necessarily a comment on the quality of a story or a book, there’s a sense of mortification every time it happens. Non-success is a common phenomenon in all human endeavours, but for a writer, the disappointment feels even more acute when you consider the time and labour which may have gone into the production of a work. But I have trained myself to swallow my disappointment in a quick gulp and move on to writing the next query letter. Writers are a sensitive lot, I tell myself, but it is to our advantage to acquire an extra-thick skin when it comes not only to rejection slips but to negative reviews as well.
8. Is pleasure an emotion you would associate with any of the stages of your writing practice? Or is not pleasure but a different positive emotion? Can you reflect on that?
All activities come with the dichotomy of pain and pleasure. Writing is no exception. I enjoy reading more than anything else, and, in an illogical way, this may be why I enjoy writing, and yes, even re-writing. Also, I find tossing plots around in my head, as I walk to work and back, a delightful pastime. What else can you expect from an incorrigible daydreamer? But what is rough going is to motivate myself to sit down in front of the computer and get on with the job of writing. But once I am ensconced on my saddle, I find the ride most pleasant.
9. Outside of plot and character what primary internal or external engines do you usually end up choosing for your stories?
Apart from plot and character, the one thing I most wish to do is to incorporate a curious but interesting aspect of Indian culture or custom, or even superstition, into my stories and make it the focal point. This is the ‘signature flavour’ I aim for – but I don’t always achieve it. Though writers are not the best judges of their work, I think my most successful stories – The Tamarind Relish, Storm in a Teacup, and The Lime Tree – have this feature embedded in them.
An underwriter by day and a writer by night, Pratap Reddy moved to Canada in 2002. He writes about the agonies and the angst of new immigrants. An alumnus of the Humber School of Writers, he has written two books Weather Permitting & Other Stories’ (Guernica 2016) and a novel Ramya’s Treasure (Guernica 2018). He has put together another collection Remaindered People which is yet to be published and the stories contained therein fetched him the ‘Outstanding – Literary Arts’ award from the Mississauga Arts Council. To break away from the immigrant experience mould, he has started working on a novel Praful’s Errands but Covid 19 seems to have infected it though sparing its author.