Nikita Deshpande is a creative nomad. She loves making things and has been involved with things like writing copy for the digital medium since she was 17. She studied English Lit at St. Xavier’s College, and filmmaking on scholarship at FX School in Bombay and went on to assist directors like Mrighdeep Singh Lamba (Fukrey) and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Mirzya). Last year, with a small team and a shoestring budget, she wrote and directed this little 30-seconder film called “Served” that won Pepsi’s Crash the IPL contest. She writes screenplay and last wrote for an animated kids series to appear on Disney channel. Last year, she took a month off work to go assist some amazing teachers with taking Shakespeare lessons at Ashoka University. She loves Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire and good art. It Must’ve been something he wrote is her first novel.
Thank you Nikita for agreeing to this interview.
From a writer of copy, screenplay and poetry, to a novelist, how did this transformation happen, please tell us about it?
I’ve loved writing since I was a kid. In college, I’d cope with boring lectures by writing poetry when I should’ve been taking notes. I’m very shameless about chasing something I think I’ll enjoy doing. So it’s a very natural progression for me. When I read great poetry, I’m inspired to write some on my own. Same for when I see a film or read a book. I was writing something in 2013 when my friend Sukanya told me that Hachette had an open call for manuscripts and that I just had to submit. It was a contest. And we both participated in good faith, knowing that the process would help shape our books even if we didn’t win. There was supposed to be one winner. But miraculously, Hachette ended up picking 3 manuscripts out of some 300 that they received. And Sukanya and I were two out of those 3!
So in a way this has been a very fortunate accident, but also I’ve sort of been inviting it into my life since I was very young,
How do you manage to find time out of your busy schedule to write? How long did you take to write this book?
I’ve actually written quite a bit of this book on the sly. When we were editing a film called Fukrey and shooting some of the songs, I’d actually write whole scenes on the back of our film’s shooting breakdowns. I think the best things often happen on stolen time. And I’d steal small bits of time from the films (or whatever I was working on at that point) to make my notes and email little dialogues to myself while traveling. It was like having a hot secret affair in my notebook.
When I really got into stitching the whole novel together, I’d write after work hours. 12am-2am was my magic hour.
I’ve taken nearly three years to write this book. I had super-patient editors and writer friends who gave me great feedback during multiple rewrites and made this a better book.
Is the book based on someone you know or heard of?
Some of the characters are based on people I met at college who absolutely hate trashy novels and are… well, literature snobs. I steal a lot of stories and anecdotes from my friends – 80% of the people named in the acknowledgements have had a story or line stolen from them for this book.
I also researched some of India’s biggest writers and was inspired by their work and marketing strategies.
Your first book has been published by a big publishing house. How does it feel?
It feels wonderful! Hachette has been a big support through the writing process. They’ve shown huge faith in this manuscript and the idea. People from marketing and sales and editorial even helped me with research, plied me with stories and ideas from the world of publishing. And now they’re going all out to put the word out about a book by this first time writer whom nobody has even heard of – it’s a huge show of confidence in the writing.
What were the challenges faced while writing the book?
This book was actually my respite from the challenges I was facing in life, to be honest! But to answer your question, it was challenging to make sure I did basic justice to how I represented the world of publishing. Especially since I had little personal experience with it back when I first started writing.
Will there be a sequel to the book?
I’ve thought about it quite a bit. But I feel like I need to try some new voices before I can write Jish and Ruta again.
The cover of the book is an instant ‘pick me up’, did you have a say in designing it?
The cover was designed by Haitenlo Semy and illustrated by Pia Hazarika, who are super talented and experienced at this. I was sold at the first sketches itself and really didn’t need to give too many inputs.
You have majored in English lit and so has Amruta, the main protagonist of It Must’ve been something he wrote. How much of Amruta is you and how much of you is Amruta?
There are loads of tiny bits of me in Amruta. But she’s more rigid, more stubborn, more closed in her ways. I’m much more open and flexible. Or so I think 😛
Also unlike Amruta, I have great respect for writers of popular mass market fiction. I think it takes a lot to write novels in this country, and knowing what the audience wants and delivering on that is a huge skill!
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I don’t know if I can call it that but there were many days while writing this book when the words and ideas just didn’t come. But I’d go for a walk, or make silly drawings or watch a movie and try again the next day. That usually works.
What kinds of books do you read? Who is your favourite author and what is your favourite genre? Has any author influenced your writing?
I read all kinds of books. But the honest answer is that I love love stories and I love fantasy. It’s obviously hard to pick one favorite author so I’ll just list all my favorites: JK Rowling, John Green, Anuja Chauhan, Nicole Krauss, Laini Taylor, Brian Vaughan, Matt Fraction, Neil Gaiman, Arundhati Roy, George RR Martin, Caitlin Moran, Liz Gilbert, Rainbow Rowell.
Which book are you currently reading?
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. I love it, it’s a collection of speeches he’s made or essays he’s written on different subjects and it reads like he’s talking right into your head.
What is the next project that you are working on? When is the next book scheduled for release?
I’m putting together notes for the next novel, but it’s still early days.
Any word of wisdom for aspiring authors?
Write every day, even if it’s a sketch-like description of a tree outside your window or an entry in a journal. Don’t worry about how good it is and don’t fret about structure; just focus on putting one word after another. When you’re done with one “project”, put it aside for a few days/weeks and work on something else before you come back to it – all writing needs time to ferment.
Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts with your readers.
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