March 22, 2023

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

“I keep telling all aspiring authors, please don’t quit your day job. “- Kiran Manral (Indian Author)

11 min read

Team Kitaab is in conversation with Indian author Kiran Manral as a part of the South Asian Women Writers Feature.

For the whole of March, we will be featuring South Asian Women Writers on Kitaab for the whole of March. You can read the editor’s note to know more about this.

Today, we are featuring, Indian author Kiran Manral who writes across genres with equal elan. She is a popular writer who carves unforgettable characters in her stories. Kiran is known for creating strong female protagonists in all her works.

She has been awarded the International Women’s Day Award 2018 by the Indian Council for UN Relations supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, Government of India, for excellence in the field of writing. She was listed as one of the Womennovator 1000 Women of Asia 2021. In 2022, she was named amongst the 75 Iconic Indian women in STEAM by Red Dot Foundation and Beyond Black, in collaboration with the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor, Government of India, and British High Commission, New Delhi. She lives in Mumbai with her family and can be reached on twitter @KiranManral.

You can find all her books here.

Team Kitaab: How did writing happen to you?

Kiran Manral: Honestly, I can’t remember when writing didn’t happen to me. Ever since I can remember, I was reading, and I was writing. As a child, I wrote terrible short stories about princesses and cruel stepmothers and illustrated them in my notebooks. Often my school notebooks were full of all kinds of stories rather than the notes they should have held.

I think this just continued, although I veered into different kind of writing post graduating, going into advertising and then journalism. I only got back to writing fiction in my late thirties and published my first book, The Reluctant Detective when I was hitting 40. 

Team Kitaab: If you had to introduce someone to your work/s, which books of yours would you ask them to start with?

Kiran Manral:

The Reluctant Detective: Published by Westland in 2011, this was my very first published book, and in this book as in The Kitty Party Murder which is part of the same series, with Kay Mehra, I bring the voice that I had written my parenting blogs in all those years ago. Funny, droll, self-deprecating, a window into the lives of suburban gated complex school gate moms.

I like to think that Kay Mehra is one of the best protagonists I have created, and perhaps that’s because she’s really close to home. The third book in the series is with the publisher and the fourth is written and needs a few more revisions before I send it across to my agent, Suhail Mathur of The Book Bakers. 

The Face at the Window: I have a soft corner for The Face at the Window, because after writing in the space of humour, chick lit, romance and parenting, with books like The Reluctant Detective, Once Upon a Crush, All Aboard and Karmickids and establishing myself as someone with a droll, witty, humorous voice, this was a great risk I took by swerving suddenly towards horror, and with a completely different voice and tone and setting from my previous books. It was dark, atmospheric, spooky and emotional, I had never written like this before. I think the story wrote itself, and once I had crossed over to the dark side with The Face at the Window, and gained the confidence that I could write convincingly in that space, I continued with Missing, Presumed Dead, More Things in Heaven and Earth and my latest, All Those Who Wander. 

All Those Who Wander: My latest book, a challenge for me before I was getting into science fiction territory with this one, and science is not a subject that I have studied beyond tenth grade although I am immensely fascinated with space exploration, quantum physics, the universe and the laws that govern it, and could probably give an impromptu lecture on the Fermi Paradox and the Trappist-1 system if ever asked, but completely an auto didact in this sphere of space and technology.

I am also a devout reader of science fiction from Isaac Asimov to Cixin Liu and everything in between. But I know my limitations, and would never dare venture into hard science fiction, but this book is surreal and spooky at the same time, with time travel as a key element of the story, as are multiverses. It deals with a thought that probably haunts all of us, what if we could go back in time and change something in our lives, what would happen, what would change, or would anything change at all? 

Checkout an exclusive excerpt from All Those Who Wander hosted on Kitaab.

Why do we need women’s writing as a genre? Does it mean that in some way women’s writing is inferior and separate to men’s writing? Or is it that women deal with themes and narratives that are distinct and different from men writing?

kiran manral

Team Kitaab: Share five reads you would recommend from your region/ country.

Kiran Manral: Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth. It has been a book I have read, and re-read and re-read over and over, and it has fascinated me like few books have.  (Written in English, the book is set in Ranikhet, India)

Preeti Shenoy’s The Rule Breakers. In deft easy prose, she writes a complex story about a woman trapped in a marriage that suffocates her and the complex emotional decisions she has to take to reclaim herself and her life.  (Written in English, the book is set in Pune).

Madhuri Banerjee’s Scandalous Housewives which took a hard, scathing look at the lives of women in urban India and through the lens of pacy commercial fiction, raises very important questions about fulfilment, desire and female agency. (Written in English, set in Mumbai, India)

Lahore and Hyderabad, from Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s Partition trilogy: A mammoth effort of love, Manreet brings together the story of partition and our independence from the British rule with the stories of what happened at the highest level of government and politics and ties it with the narrative of how ordinary everyday people were affected. I think we have a great need to know and understand how our freedom was achieved and through her meticulous research and excellent narrative skills, Manreet manages to do just that.

Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You or the Portrait of a Writer as a Young Wife: This book will shake you up. Meena writes no holds barred and her searing account of a dysfunctional, abusive and violent marriage will have you cringing at its ugliness of a story that seeks to dehumanise, disempower a woman and yet, you will marvel at the exquisiteness of her writing. (Written in English, set in India).

The Sati Series by Koral Dasgupta: Koral Dasgupta takes the stories of Kunti, Ahalya and Draupadi and rewrites them from the female perspective, giving them a voice that tradition had stripped them off, telling us of their motivations, their choices, what molded them, what their responses to the situations unfolding around them were. The men in the epic narratives are secondary, the narratives are from the women’s perspective, and she shakes up preconceived notions of what their stories were and recasts them from the contemporary, feminist stance. Written in a lyrical voice, this series of the Panch Kanyas is a must read. (Written in English, set in India).

Black River by Nilanjana Roy: I am currently reading this book, and it is a gripping police procedural that is also so much more. It is a commentary on the rural urban divide, on caste and religious striations in our society, on the girl child, on women’s safety and so much more. Nilanjana manages to get the pace right, without sacrificing on either detailing or nuance. And the writing is exquisite. (Written in English, set in India)

I must mention though, a slew of women writers as well as some of their books I admire and love. Janhnavi Barua’s books, Undertow and Rebirth, K R Meera’s Hangwoman, Volga’s Sita, Richa S. Mukherjee’s Kanpur Khoofiya series, Anindita Ghose’s The Illuminated, Aanchal Malhotra’s The Language of Remembering and Remnants of a Separation, Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence and Listen to Me, Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar, Shivani’s Lal Haveli, Namita Gokhale’s Paro and Things to Leave Behind, Anuja Chauhan’s The Zoya Factor, Shinie Antony’s The Girl Who Could Not Love, Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, Madhulika Liddle’s The Muzaffar Jang series, Andaleeb Wajid’s The Sum of All My Parts, and there are so many more who aren’t coming to mind immediately, but when they do, this list will be endless. 

Team Kitaab: Your thoughts on Women Writing as a genre. 

Kiran Manral: I am so conflicted about this. Why do we need women’s writing as a genre? Does it mean that in some way women’s writing is inferior and separate to men’s writing? Or is it that women deal with themes and narratives that are distinct and different from men writing?

Ideally, I would like us to be in a space where we are all just authors, not men, not women, but gender agnostic and telling stories of humans, men, women and across the binary, without the need for these labels and boxes to slot us in. Having said that, I understand the need perhaps to create a genre that says women’s writing because women writers, and it is a researched fact, get less visibility than male writers. (http://www.frauenzählen.de/docs/The_Lack_of_Visibility_of_Female_Authors_in_the_Media_Results_of_a_Quantitative_Survey.pdf)

(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304422X2200119X)

It is also a fact that while women readers read both men and women writers equally, few male readers read in the same manner, preferring consciously or subconsciously to pick up male authors (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jul/09/why-do-so-few-men-read-books-by-women)

There are fewer reviews of books written by women as there are by men. (https://newrepublic.com/article/82930/vida-women-writers-magazines-book-reviews)

And in face of all this, yes, I think I would own the title of Women Writer, if it means a subversive statement on the fact, that yes, I write from the perspective of a female protagonist, I might write about the domestic and the interior, but what I write is important and essential and it deserves to be read and heard.  

Team Kitaab: Please talk a bit about your publishing journey. The challenges you faced and the hurdles.

Kiran Manral: I was a journalist who quit full time work to raise my baby, and I continued to dabble in freelance writing. I also began a blog about my parenting journey at the time, called Karmic Kids (I shut it down when my son turned 10, and it has been condensed and published as a book by Hay House in 2015). Blogging gave me an audience of readers and a sisterhood of fellow mommy bloggers. Two dear friends, Parul Sharma and Priyanka Chaturvedi, were instrumental in getting me to seriously consider writing a book. And my mom. Luckily, the first editor I sent it to, Deepthi Talwar then at Westland, liked what she saw and signed it up and so The Reluctant Detective came into existence.

This was December 2011. My first book came to me very easily, which is why it came as a shock to me when my second book, Once Upon a Crush, got rejected everywhere. I had almost given up on writing, when I met Ashwin Sanghi, a dear friend, at an event and he asked me when my next was going to come out. I told him that no one seemed to want it and perhaps I was destined to be a one book wonder. Rubbish, he replied, keep sending it out. You cannot give up. And I did. That’s a principle I follow even today, I keep sending stuff out until it gets accepted. I’ve had kindness from friends and strangers. Rupa Gulab kindly introduced me to Rashmi Menon at Amaryllis, and Rashmi has now been my editor on four books, The Face at the Window, Missing, Presumed Dead, More Things in Heaven and Earth and my latest, All Those Who Wander. 

Luckily, I now have Suhail Mathur of The Book Bakers handling my commercial fiction, and I give to Rashmi Menon at Amaryllis and have Shinie Antony handhold me through the last two manuscripts for my literary/noir fiction. Suhail placed Rising and The Kitty Party Murder with Rupa and Harper Collins respectively.

If you consider yourself a professional writer, you go to work every single day. You write. And writer’s block is an indulgence if you are a career writer. 

kiran manral

I had great support from readers, bloggers and reviewers who have been kind. I’m grateful to those who have been unkind too, because they have taken time out to read my book, and time is the most precious commodity anyone can spare in this day and age and for that I am most grateful. Perhaps it didn’t work for them, and that’s okay. Not everyone will feel the same about certain books. A book will not work for everyone, and that is the hard truth and every writer or perhaps, every creator needs to make their peace with this truth.

Every editor who has worked on my books, I have immense gratitude and respect for. They have taken the rough of my manuscripts, worked hard on them, made them readable, I owe them. There’s the women author sisterhood I am grateful for, we handhold and support each other with shout outs, and that support is invaluable. I have published 15 books now, well one is a collection of 20 love stories that I put under a single book, some e-books but most print and paper, I have some books under process, some commissioned, some being written just because I have itchy fingers, and I wake every morning thinking I am blessed and privileged to be able to do what I love every single morning.

But honestly, I am still not at a stage where I make enough money from writing books to sustain myself. I keep telling all aspiring authors, please don’t quit your day job. 

Team Kitaab: How do you deal with Writer’s Block?

Kiran Manral: I just keep writing through it. Whatever comes to mind. It won’t be great, it won’t even be good, but it will be something and it will keep the work going, and I believe you can always revise, rework, edit a bad page but you can do nothing with a blank page. If you consider yourself a professional writer, you go to work every single day. You write. And writer’s block is an indulgence if you are a career writer. 

Disclaimer: All pictures are copyright of the author/s unless otherwise.