NAW interview with Renita D’Silva

Renita D’Silva loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her short stories have been published in ‘The View from Here’, ‘Bartleby Snopes’, ‘this zine’, ‘Platinum Page’, ‘Paragraph Planet’ among others and have been nominated for the ‘Pushcart’ prize and the ‘Best of the Net’ anthology. She is the author of ‘Monsoon Memories’ and ‘The Forgotten Daughter’. She is currently working on her third novel, set partly in India and partly in the UK.

NAW-  Tell us about your book, ‘The Forgotten Daughter.’ How did you get the idea for the book?

All my stories start as pictures in my head. Over time, the people in these pictures become fleshed out and three dimensional, nagging at me to tell their story.

‘The Forgotten Daughter’ started as a picture of a little girl in chapel, hiding amongst the pews, breathing in the musty scent of feet, damp wood and incense and looking up towards the ceiling charting the ponderous path of prayers heavenward. I wondered why the girl was in chapel, why she felt so at home there. She lives there with the nuns, my imagination supplied. Why does she live there? I thought. And my musings gradually supplied the rest.

‘The Forgotten Daughter’ is the story of three very different women, Nisha, Devi and Shilpa, who are all searching for something. Nisha finds out via a letter left in her parents’ will that she is adopted, from India at that, a country she has never visited. Through the course of the book, she embarks on a quest for identity, and in the process discovers a culture she has never given much thought to or felt part of and also finds herself opening up and changing in myriad ways.  Devi grows up in a small village in India. She is in search of freedom, freedom from the oppressive restraint her culture imposes upon women and from the bind of her mother’s suffocating love.Shilpa is searching for redemption, for a validation of the choices she has made in her life.

NAW- Adoption is a rarely addressed theme in Indian fiction. How did you carry out the research for the book?

I am fascinated by identity, by how much of a person is defined by who they think they are. I wondered if that might change if they discovered that they were someone completely different from the person they believed themselves to be.Nisha is a statistical consultant;she relies on facts, sets great store by the truth. I wondered what the knowledge of finding out that she had been lied to all her life would do to her.

For research I used the internet for the most part. Also I talked with people who had been adopted and those who had adopted children. I then put myself in Nisha’s shoes and wondered how I would feel if I found out I was adopted after my parents were dead, so I couldn’t ever clear the air, sort it out with them, get answers to my many questions. It feels like a double betrayal for Nisha as she has to question everything her parents told her. She has to come to terms with the fact that her whole life is built on a colossal lie.

NAW- Do you feel it’s best to tell an adopted child beforehand rather than he/she finding it out like your character does through a letter? I mean there are always ways that a child can find out (different blood groups, no resemblance to either parent etc) and the shock experienced upon such a fact being hidden would perhaps leave scars for life.

I think it is better to tell the child, especially in this day and age, when, as you say,there are so many ways of finding out. But then that is just my opinion.All families are different, and ultimately it depends on the family and the child in question and also the circumstances surrounding the adoption. If the child has suffered trauma before adoption, then the adoptive parents might decide to withhold the truth from him/her thinking they were acting in the child’s best interests. And also, there is the question of when to tell. It is really a very hard decision to make, but I would say, it is always better to be open so then the child learns to trust rather than have her trust shattered by the truth. If she caught her parents out in a lie, it might do more damage than being informed of the truth might have done and rupture the fragile relationship between her and her parents which is, at the best of times, in most families, quite fraught without this added upsetchurned into the mix.

NAW- Tell us about your first book, ‘Monsoon Memories.’

Monsoon Memories is about journeys. It is the story of a woman who is lost and floundering, who journeys into her past to try and come to terms with what happened. It is also the story of a young girl on the cusp of adolescence who finds a photograph and sets out on a journey of discovery, inadvertently putting into motion a string of events that will change her life forever.

Shirin lives a dry life in the UK, yearning for home and yet denied access to it because of something that happened in her past, something so big and devastating that she cannot reach beyond it to access memories of her childhood and young adulthood.

Reena is an inquisitive eleven year old who fancies herself detective. When she finds a photo and starts asking questions about the stranger in it, she inadvertently pulls the lid off a secret that has been buried for more than a decade. In the process of her investigations, she is faced with evasions and lies and discovers that the adults in her life are not the heroes she imagined them to be but rather fallible human beings, people she cannot quite trust, liars who do not practise what they have always preached to her. For Reena, it is a pursuit of the truth, an entry into the capricious and devious world of adulthood.

NAW- Tell us about your publisher. We were hesitant to pick up a book from an unknown publisher but they’ve seemed to done a marvellous job. How did you land up with Bookouture?

I did not know any agents, publishers or fellow authors, coming from an IT background, so, when I penned ‘The End’ on ‘Monsoon Memories’, I bought ‘The Writers and Artists Yearbook’ and started sending out my manuscript to agents.

The process of publication was a huge learning curve. I was impatient and sent the manuscript out before it was the best it could possibly be, ignoring all the advice decreed by writing manuals. I got some very positive responses nonetheless. The agents and publishers told me, some gently and others brusquely, that the book was not quite ready and to get back to them when it was. And so I worked on it, polished it and sent it off again. This time, they said that the book was good but they were not accepting new authors due to the recession. I had almost given up when I saw the ad for Bookouture in Ms lexia and submitted to them. They agreed to publish me and I haven’t looked back since.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I studied Engineering and worked in IT before giving it all up – gladly – when my kids came along. Now I work at the local school part-time during the day and tutor in the evenings and on Saturdays and try to squeeze writing into the gaps in between. I love to read and to cook – I always have a book and a spare in my handbag, just in case.

NAW- Name your five favourite books.

I have so many that it’s hard to restrict myself to just five, but I’ll try my best. 🙂

1)  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2)  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

3)  Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel

4)  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5)  The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

I signed a three book contract with Bookouture, so am currently working on Book 3. After that…I would like to continue writing. Have ideas for more books, watch this space. 🙂

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