Karishma Attari is a Mumbai-based writer, book reviewer and sunshine generator. She is the founder of The Super Readers Club, a reading programme for kids, and Shakespeare for Dummies, an enlightenment programme for everyday adults. I See You is her debut work. Contact her through her twitter handle @KarishmaWrites or through facebook.
NAW- Tell us about your book “I see you”. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
I think I’ve always been a writer looking for the right story. One night, about four years ago, I had a dream about a girl who just wouldn’t disappear even on waking. I could tell she had everything a girl needed to have a great life – intelligence, youth, beauty, money, wit, and a tough spirit. Yet something in her expression drew me in and I was intrigued by the depth of her longing for a normal life.
She had secrets that forced her to remain isolated no matter how hard she tried to fit in. It took me all these drafts to uncover what those secrets were. I began thinking a lot about secrets – the ones we keep from others, the ones kept from us and even the ones we keep from ourselves. Secrets and horror both revolve around the drama of what is hidden and when and how it is revealed. Soon more characters emerged and I watched them interact, and make mistakes, and form relationships, and a story was born.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Alia. How did you develop the character?
Alia is a strong girl at the heart of a horror story. I think she took some time getting here – in earlier drafts she was timid and scared and afraid of confrontation all the time. It was like watching a print grow vivid in a photographer’s darkroom– the more challenges she endured over every draft the better she learned to fight back. Until eventually she was in a position to be more than a victim and emerged to be a sort of phoenix who rises from the ashes of her old self to own her truth. I think I was interested most in that – how she would own her truth and what she would make of her knowledge.
NAW- You’ve dealt primarily with urbane settings and a mix of racial characters in I See You; Alia’s batch mates being of different ethnicities which works very well for the book. Did you structure the book this way lending it more racial diversity?
It was not a conscious decision as much as a reworking of the experiences I’ve had growing up in Mumbai. We are a culturally diverse, vibrant and colourful nation with so many flourishing belief systems, and I guess that pulsates under the text in I SEE YOU. This is the secular India I like to believe will triumph – one where the mix is not an artefact or a construct, but is a reality that you take for granted.
NAW- Alia and other characters have a lot of inner conflict which all teenagers go through while growing up. How did you research for getting the teenage years right?
There is no substitute for experience. I can look back on some pretty cringe-worthy decisions and adventures in my own past. And that’s what makes the teenage brain what it is – it’s a time of rapid growth and change and we don’t always make balanced decisions. To some extent this is why I mixed horror and teenagers – I think they are both such reactive elements, there’s bound to be a spectacular explosion soon enough.
NAW- Horror genre is not something which Indian authors frequently delve in, besides I See You is directed at a niche audience. Were you apprehensive about the book’s success?
You know it’s pretty surprising to me that I SEE YOU is the first horror book in the Indian English market that I’ve come across. We are so steeped in the supernatural as a people.
This is more a Twilight meets Stephen King than an outright blood and gore horror novel. It’s a supernatural mystery and I have lost enough sleep writing it to know it can be chilling. And what is chilling will always attract people. As I wrote in the article on horror and why we consume it in the Daily O – to be spooked is human enough, to be spooked just right, feels divine. Few things compare to the adrenalin rush that this genre brings. Moreover, there is enough coming of age kind of college experience here that is relatable to people who have grown up in urban India. That’s another area where we have surprisingly little to show in the fiction department: what first relationships and new friendships feel like.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How did I see You find its publisher?
Well, it took me four years and numerous drafts to get it to a point where I could send it to a literary agent and then onwards to Penguin. Penguin had actually seen an earlier draft with a previous agent. But I hadn’t committed enough to the supernatural side of the world and so it took another round of re-writing on my part before my current agent Urmila Dasgupta of Purple Folio sent it on its way.
NAW- What do you do when you are not writing?
I don’t think writers are off-duty much. I spend a lot of time harvesting words and phrases that I hear or read or think about. Writers are like innocuous flypaper we catch the things floating by that no one necessarily remarks upon, both what’s said and what’s implied. There’s also so much to look at around you – I am never less than enthralled by my surroundings and the stories they tell.
NAW- Please name your favourite authors.
I’d have to bring Shakespeare at the top of this list, he may not, strictly speaking, be an author, but his dramatic work has an influence on literature and pop culture today beyond what I can coherently grasp. I love Gene Wolf and Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood and Tobias Hill and Murakami. This list keeps shuffling in my head. It’s really sort of embarrassing, it’s like a dinner party list and you don’t know who to invite and leave out in good conscience.
NAW- What are you reading currently?
I’ve just read the gut-wrenching A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara and am currently reading a period novel titled THE MINIATURIST by Jessie Burton.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I SEE YOU is part of a series, and the second book to follow is titled DON’T LOOK DOWN. It’s already one draft in so I know there’s a lot of surprises in store for me, and I have to say I’m quite excited to dig deeper and discover how the mistakes and decisions of the characters in I SEE YOU will fan out now that they are a year older and hopefully wiser and have abilities far beyond what they could have imagined.
I have completed THE WANT DIARIES which my agent will be sending to publishers soon. It’s also a coming of age story but this time the worst thing that happens to the protagonist Sana is her own self – she is a funny, quirky girl – a sort of teenage Bridget Jones but who is looking, not so much for a man, as for a mission to wrap her life around.