Revathi Suresh writes for children and about young people. Her book ‘Jobless Clueless Reckless’ was published by Duckbill. She has been writing for almost twenty years now, and her work has been published in various magazines including The Bombay Review. She also writes regularly for The Hindu. Here, Revathi Suresh talks about In Now & Then published by 1InchMargin, her follow-up novel to Jobless Clueless Reckless.
Q: What was the first story you wrote?
A: I can’t honestly remember…I started writing pretty late, though when my children were small I used to make up a lot of bedtime stories that evolved with every telling. Then sometime at the turn of this century, someone gave me an opportunity to write a book, a biography, and the thought of working on something that huge was so daunting, but also so very exciting. Though I was filled with doubts and fears, I grabbed the opportunity and ran with it—wrote a whole book before I could even dream of writing a short story.
Thereafter I wrote many commissioned stories for children, finding myself very comfortable with such assignments—where a rough idea of what the story had to convey was already given.
Q: What was that experience like and has it changed in any way over the period of years? More specifically in relation with your experience writing In Now & Then.
A: Writing that first book was a truly amazing experience. The person I was writing about had been gone over twenty years, his peers were no longer around either, so to construct his early years, and in some instances (memory being what it is) even his later years, was quite challenging. I met and interviewed so many people, and every little tidbit added up to make an image of an individual who I had never met, but wished I had. To make a portrait of a real-life person, warts and all, gives you the experience and tools to develop fictional characters, so it most definitely gave me the confidence to continue with my own writing—until then I had only thought myself an editor. I think I also developed a writing style that has stood me in good stead, not that INAT is anything like that first book, but I think it helped me zero in on a writing voice.
Q: Could you tell us about your writing process?
A: It’s taken me seven years to write my second book! So my writing process is very, very slow. I have to be convinced of where I need to go and how to get there. Often something that plays out in my head as a great story arc works out so badly on a computer screen that control, alt, delete, wipe out and never tell anyone, is typically how it goes. In the case of INAT I had both advantages and disadvantages. I already had my characters and their background which was a big plus, but things have changed so much in the years since the first book (Jobless Clueless Reckless) was written that to try and imagine those characters as older and in keeping with different times was often tricky. I wrote many drafts and discarded them all, and at one point thought there would never be another book. But a couple of years ago suddenly something clicked and I started writing like I had a deadline to meet. I had to keep up with the story as it happened in my head so I worked really fast, aided by head-clearing long walks and the rather youthful indie playlist that kept me company. I like to write chronologically, not chapters in random order, and I don’t work fixed hours.
Q: How would you describe In Now & Then to somebody who hasn’t read it?
A: For me it’s about the images we build, both of ourselves and of others. I was intrigued by the characters around Kavya, and of how they were perceived through her (younger) teenage gaze. I think INAT takes all of them, including Kavya, out of their packaging and lays them bare for us to scrutinise.
Q: Kavya, the protagonist of In Now & Then is about 20 by the time the book ends. What’s the one thing you’d say to the 20-year-old you?
A: At 20 I was pretty much an idiot. So I’d say live and learn, dear girl, live and learn. And I’d like to think I did.