Jessica Faleiro spends her time on her two passions: writing and international development. She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Kingston University, UK, and has written travel articles for The Times of India and the travel website Skyscanner. When she isn’t working on her next novel she works for development organisations as a research, policy and communications professional. She considers herself a global nomad. Afterlife is her first novel, published by Rupa publications. For more about Jessica Faleiro, visit her website.
NAW- Tell us about the book, Afterlife – Ghost Stories from Goa. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
Afterlife is a novel of interlinked stories set in contemporary Goa, a coastal state in the western part of India. The Fonseca family gathers at their patriarch Savio’s house on the eve of his seventy-fifth birthday. It starts raining heavily, the electricity fails, and in the darkness, family members start narrating their encounters with the supernatural. Each story connects the family members in some way. As the night advances, the family begin to learn more about their history and eventually, discover the secret lurking behind their family name.
One of the stories in my book actually contains the seed of the inspiration for this novel. When I was ten years old visiting my grandmother’s house I believed that I encountered a ghost. The experience left a lasting impression and I spent a couple of decades asking people for stories of their own encounters with ghosts. This led me to research more about what a ‘ghost’ or a ‘haunting’ was really about and my novel was born.
NAW- How did you start writing? What drew you to it? Any favourite authors that have inspired your writings?
I’ve loved the promise of a blank page in a book for as long as I can remember. I am still addicted to the feel of putting ink to paper. I dreamed of being a writer from a young age but coming from a family of mostly non-creatives I had no idea how to build a life or an income from it. I got a Bachelors of Science degree in Environmental Science from the University of Nottingham in England, and then a Masters in Environmental Policy and Regulation from Lancaster University, building my career as an environmental lobbyist and eventually moving into international development, working with non-profit organisations based in London. After a few years of part-time evening classes in writing I got frustrated and wanted a pressurized writing deadline with a large reward at the end of it. So, I signed up for an MA in Creative Writing and was able to start working on bits and pieces that gradually became my novel.
While working on Afterlife, I was particularly inspired by the ghost stories of Satyajit Ray, Venita Coelho and M.R.James. I also read a lot of novels with interlinked or frame stories and particularly enjoyed Rana Dasgupta’s ‘Tokyo Cancelled’ and Vikram Chandra’s ‘Love and Longing in Bombay.’ But, in terms of general inspiration, anything written by Amitav Ghosh and Sarita Mandana’s ‘Tiger Hills.’ I love the worlds that they conjure up.
NAW- Tell us about your other works.
I’ve published fiction and non-fiction pieces in the literary journals Muse India and Tambdi Mati and I published a few op-ed pieces in Goa’s state newspaper ‘O Heraldo.’ I’ve also published travel articles for the Times of India and the travel website Skyscanner.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
My other passion is working for humanitarian organisations as a research, policy and communications professional. I take on consultancy projects which involve a lot of long hours, intensive travel and intellectual focus. While my left brain is focussed on this intensive work, I find that it frees up my right brain to work on the next idea and when the urge to write gets too intense to ignore, I take time off and do that. Like I’m doing right now!
I also love cooking, listening to music and watching movies.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I dream of a day when I can plot beforehand – it’s more of an organic process and I’m finding that for me personally, the process seems to vary from project to project. If I have an idea for a story and I find that I’m really excited about it months later – that’s the one I decide to work on. The first step for me is to pick the idea I’m most excited about working on and just begin writing, freestyle. That helps me get an idea of the point of view, the voice coming forth and the main characters involved. When the main questions I need to answer start to arise, I step back and re-read the results of a few days of writing. If I like the idea of something, I decide to run with it and at some point will start mind mapping. This mind-map directs me towards what research I need to do and I immerse myself in that for awhile until the urge to get back to the writing arises. With Afterlife, I was daunted by the idea of writing a novel and just started to write out one story at a time. After writing about eight of them, I realised they were linked in some way, but it took me awhile to figure out how and the idea suddenly hit me that these were the stories of different generations of the same family being related by the current generation.
NAW- Name your five favourite books.
There are many more than five, but here is a random selection: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer and Life is a Gift by Gill Edwards.
NAW- What are you working on next?
I’m working on my next novel, but I’m not sure what genre it falls into yet, only that it has a historical element to it and a part of it is based in Goa.