The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 questions with Madhulika Liddle

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By Farah Ghuznavi

Madhulika

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Because there are all these stories rattling about in my head which don’t let me sleep nights. If I don’t write, I’ll be perpetually sleepless.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent book is Woman to Woman: Stories. This is a collection of twelve short stories, all of which are women-centric. Probably the most important thing I was trying to say through this was that I do have the sensitivity and intelligence to write something other than genre fiction! (Till now, I’ve mostly been associated with either crime fiction or black humour, so I thought it was high time people realized that I was a little more versatile). On a more serious note, I also wanted to draw attention to various problems that plague women—from the mundane to the horrific.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I don’t think I have a writing aesthetic as such, but yes, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work. I spend ages doing research (and, considering a lot of what I write is historical, that means a lot of research). And, I read and re-read and edit my work over and over until I am certain it’s as good as I can make it. I can’t bear writing that’s ungrammatical or riddled with errors, of whatever sort.

Who are your favourite authors?

I have lots of favourite authors, but among the top ones would be PG Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer, Ruskin Bond, Munshi Premchand, Bill Bryson, Gerald Durrell, and Robert van Gulik.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

The latest manuscript I’ve finished work on has been the most challenging I’ve ever attempted. It’s a book that stretches across two centuries, beginning in 1188 CE and ending in 1398 CE, set against a backdrop of the city of Delhi. It took a lot of research, and it took a lot of planning to figure out which events of Delhi’s history I wanted to highlight through the stories of my characters. Juggling the backdrop with the stories, getting the amount of history just right, doing the research — all of it was very challenging, but also very satisfying.

What’s your idea of bliss?

Reading a good book while sitting in the lap of nature — nothing but birdsong, perhaps, as far as sound goes — with a never-ending cup of coffee and an equally never-ending array of snacks to go with it.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

I am usually on a short fuse, so this is a longish list. I cannot tolerate fools, hypocrites, fanatics, bullies, and people who cannot see any side of an argument other than their own.

What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

Probably a few trunksful of books, which would include several historical mystery series: Rosemary Rowe’s Libertus Mysteries, Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee Mysteries, and Gary Corbin’s Athenian Mysteries, which I’ve only just discovered. Also, plenty of science fiction, dystopian novels, and wildlife writing. Plus, writing on food (not cookbooks, but more the kind of writing Michael Pollan is known for).

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

My laptop.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

Don’t let others tell you how to live your life; it’s your life, not theirs.

 

Bio:

Madhulika Liddle is a novelist and award-winning short story writer. Although best known as the author of the Muzaffar Jang series, featuring a 17th century Mughal detective, Madhulika also writes short stories in various genres. Her story, A Morning Swim, won the Overall Prize in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s Short Story Competition in 2003. In 2016, she became the first Indian to be longlisted for the prestigious Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for her story Poppies in the Snow. In addition, Madhulika blogs about classic cinema, travel, food and history, at www.madhulikaliddle.com.

Farah Ghuznavi is a Bangladeshi writer, development worker, journalist and translator.

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