Mahtab Narsimhan was born in Mumbai, India. She worked in the Middle East (Bahrain, Dubai and Oman) for a couple of years before immigrating to Canada in 1997. Her debut work, The Third Eye won the Silver Birch Fiction Award. Learn more about her here.
NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?
I started out with recording incidents of life back home (Bombay, India) after my father passed away in 2003. That somehow got me thinking that I would try my hand at writing since I had always been an avid reader. I’ve never looked back since and this is my favourite of the four career paths I’ve taken!
NAW- Tell us about your book ‘The Tiffin’, how did you get the idea for the book? What research did you carry out?
Even as a teen, I loved reading books which make me think, analyze life and look beyond the surface of situations and especially people. One of my favourite authors was, and still is, Richard Bach. His most known novel is probably “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” which is allegorical in nature. That book made a huge impression on me. I currently own two copies of this book for fear of losing one! Another favourite of mine is Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. One of the things the messiah in disguise, Donald Shimoda , tells Richard is this:
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
This sentence struck a chord in my heart. I don’t mean to say that I don’t love or appreciate my own family. I do! But sometimes you connect deeply with a person who has absolutely no relation to you, blood or otherwise, and you can’t understand why. I had tucked this little nugget in my mind for years with not the slightest idea that one day, it would be the basis and theme of a story.
I did a lot of research online but then in March 2011, a few months before the book was to be published, I travelled to India to get some live footage of the Dabbawallas (which helped a lot for the book trailer as well). I also had a chance to interview one dabbawalla who was delivering food to my school in Bombay and I have to say it was a surreal experience melding my past with my present. My respect and admiration for this community and their unique service grew exponentially after this visit
NAW- Did you face any difficulties in finding a publisher? Did you hire an agency for representation?
Since my fantasy adventure books (Tara Trilogy) had already been published and the first one, The Third Eye, won an award, it was easier getting a publisher for The Tiffin.
No, I did not have an agent at the time I licensed this book out. I do have one now.
NAW- Tell us about your other works?
Fantasy Adventure: Tara Trilogy
Anthologies: Piece by Piece and Her Mother’s Ashes, Part 3
NAW- How did you go about editing your books? Do you take feedback from friends and family for the first draft?
I have a few critique partners and we share manuscripts amongst ourselves. As far as editing goes, it’s mostly a solitary process, revising the manuscript over and over again till I can’t change it any more. Once an editor of a publishing house looks at it, I know I’ll go through at least 2-3 more revisions before the book goes to print.
NAW- Which writers would you name as your influences?
Innumerable authors have shaped me, and continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire me. A few favourites are:
1) Rohinton Mistry
2) Ray Bradbury
3) J.K. Rowling
4) C.S. Lewis
5) Roald Dahl
6) Kenneth Graham
7) Enid Blyton
How was the response to your first work?
My debut novel, The Third Eye, won the Silver Birch Fiction Award in 2009.
It was a huge boost to my writing career and a sign that I was on the right path at last. Writing was something I enjoyed and it was wonderful to know there were others who enjoyed it too!
Since then I’ve published four novels, and a few short stories and articles. And I’ve never looked back.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
My new middle-grade novel will be published by Scholastic in 2016. This one is also based in Mumbai but is a funny one.
We’ve heard many stories of immigrants to North America trying to fit in. I wanted to turn that premise on its head and have a North American try to adjust to India, during the monsoons!
NAW- Your favourite book and why?
There is no one favourite book.
As a child I loved to read:
- Eleanor Farjeon: The Little Bookroom
- C.S. Lewis: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
- Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals
- Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach
- Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice
- Enid Blyton: The Magic Faraway Tree and Famous Five series
- Amar Chitra Katha : Comics with Indian Mythology and Folk Tales
NAW- Any advice for upcoming authors?
Read a lot, Write everyday if possible. And take courses, ask for help to perfect the craft. Enjoy the process to publication and not just the end result of having a published book in hand. Writing is all about re-writing and unless you passionately enjoy shaping words into a story, this profession is not for you.
I was recently invited by the Thorncliffe Branch of the Toronto Public Library to be a Human Book. It was a fabulous experience and as rewarding for me as it must have been for my “readers.” Many asked me what it was like being a writer and I had the same advice to give them; if you do not like the process of writing and re-writing, don’t even think of being a writer. But if you love it; this is one of the most creative ways to express yourself. I mainly write fantasy fiction and it’s such a joy to create something out of a bunch of disparate ideas. I’ve done it four times now and yet, if someone were to ask me how I wrote a novel, I would be at a loss for words to describe it exactly. One has to write it, to know how to do it and no amount of “how-to” books will help.