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A Conversation with Roopa Pai

1. After reading your book ‘So you want to know about Economics’, I understood how much research you have to go through to write a book. So my first question is, How much time do you take to write a book and how important is research to you?

Research is everything to me, considering that I often choose to write books on subjects that I know nothing about!  🙂 The amount of research required and the time taken to do it would vary depending on the subject. Of course, since my aim in writing the book is only to introduce a subject to a reader and not to give him or her an in-depth understanding of it, research times are not excessive. I only hope to pique the reader’s curiosity about a subject, to make it familiar and friendly enough that he or she is tempted to go deeper into it without being intimidated.

Writing

I take between 3 months and a year to finish a book. I usually have at least two projects happening at the same time – I may be researching one book while writing another.

2. What other types of research did you need to do for this book?

I spoke to a lot of people – experts, students, hobbyists. I found that each of them had something very special and important to add to it, since each was coming at it from a different angle. It wasn’t like I would go prepared with a set of questions to interview these people – it was just conversations. Usually, when I’m in the middle of research for a book, all my conversations become about that subject, whether it is with friends, family or people I’m meeting for the first time. It’s in such casual, unguarded conversations that some of my most ‘a-ha!’ moments emerge.

3. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

9-years-old

Oh, when I was very young. Maybe 8 or 9. I guess I was one of the lucky ones who knew very early what I wanted to do in my life, and luckily, that didn’t change a bit as I grew up.

4. Have you set some schedule for writing or you just write when you feel inspired?

Schedule

I often say that a looming deadline is my best inspiration, my only Muse. I write almost every single day – I feel uneasy if I don’t do some writing, even if it is answering interviews like this one. I write between 9 am and 4 pm – not always through the entire period, and not solely during that period, but that is usually my ‘working day’.

5. What’s the hardest part about writing? And the best part about writing?

I’ve been writing for so long now that there is no really ‘hard’ part about writing anymore, it’s just something I do. Of course, there is always some agonizing about the right words and the right way to explain something, but that is part of the job, it comes with the territory. The best part is finishing a piece, reading through it again, and feeling, ‘Ok, that’s not too bad.’

6. Have you ever had experienced writer’s or reader’s block?

No, never.

7. What are the simple things in your life that makes you happy?

Coming home after a work trip (and it feels even better if the house has been tidied up by the kids and husband!), having my dog slobber all over my face in the morning, going for a long walk in Cubbon Park (one of the two largest public gardens in Bangalore), having a cup of chai with a friend…

8. What are you most grateful for as a writer?

That I am able to pursue my passion single-mindedly and wholeheartedly, without having to think about earning enough money from it to support myself or my family; so grateful to be married to someone who is happy to take care of that part.

9. Are you currently working on any book?

KS Nisar Ahmed
KS Nisar Ahmed

I usually am.  🙂 Just now, I’m working on a book of translation – I’m translating 100 poems of the celebrated Kannada poet KS Nisar Ahmed from Kannada to English. It is very challenging, but it is a passion project, and I’m loving it.

10. How do you manage your writing with all the humdrum of life?

I’m the sort of person who can only write within the rhythm and unpredictability of daily life – I don’t think I’d be able to work in a quiet mountain retreat. So this suits me fine.

11. What’s the one book that you are meaning to read for a long time? Or maybe there is a list?

Oh, there is a very long list. Apart from new books, there are many old favorites I want to revisit and savor. But since I’m usually reading books that are related to the book I am working on or the next one, I rarely find the time to catch up.

12. What are your favorite genres?

Mythology, history, sports, crime fiction, science, food, travel… anything goes.

13. What is the one thing you take away most from your reading?

New insights into, new perspectives on, and new ways of thinking about issues I believed I knew and understood well (and equally, on things I had never thought about at all).

Roopa Pai

14. If I would ask you to suggest 3 books to a random stranger that might change his/her life, then what those books would be?

I couldn’t do it. Each person is different, and I would not presume to know which books would impact someone else deeply. I can only list the books that have had a mind-expanding, spirit-lifting effect on me, and three of those, in no particular order, are:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  3. The Bhagavad Gita

15. Any tips and suggestions for the beginners that might be helpful to them while trying to build up a good reading habit?

Only two pieces of advice. (1) Read, read, read; (2) Write, write, write

16. What are you currently reading?

The Condor and the Cows

‘The Condor and the Cows’ by Christopher Isherwood. It is an amusing, insightful account of a trip the writer took through South America in the 1940s, well before there was Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor. I picked it up at a little bookstore recently when I noticed it was by Isherwood. My only introduction to Isherwood’s writing before this was his beautifully lyrical retelling of the Bhagavad Gita – it was very interesting to discover that he had done other kinds of writing as well. I am thoroughly enjoying it so far.

17. Talk a little bit about yourself. What is your background? What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Computer Engineer

I got my undergraduate degree in computer engineering!

What else can I tell you about myself? I’m curious about stuff, I rarely express my opinions to people outside my closest family and friends, and I am a proud Kannadiga, proud Bangalorean and proud Indian.

18. What were the challenges you faced while writing this book?

 

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Only the usual challenges one faces when one is writing a book for children or beginners – how to make a complex subject accessible, how to keep it engaging, and how not to dilute or trivialize the subject while doing this.

19. Did the thought to give up writing a book ever occur to you?

Nope. When I have committed to something, even if that commitment has only been made to myself, I very seldom give up on it.  🙂

Begin with the end in mind

20. Picture this: You feel uninspired and you’ve sat at the computer for an hour without conquering any words. How do you get your creativity flowing?

Get your Creativity Flowing
Image Source: @theuniversalart

I may answer some pending emails, I may leave what I’m trying to write and finish some other short article I’m supposed to write, and so on, but I will try not to leave my desk. I’m very pigheaded like that.

21. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Saying no to exciting projects, even when I know I will be putting severe pressure on myself by accepting them.

22. How many hours a day do you write?

When I’m working on a book, between 3 and 7 hours. Otherwise, it depends on the project, and what other regular life-stuff I’m balancing at that time.

23. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Taranauts Series

I wouldn’t say writing my first book ‘changed’ my process so much as ‘refined’ it. Writing and planning Taranauts (Taranauts is an eight-part fantasy-adventure series for children, set in an alternative universe called Mithya. It is India’s first original series for children in English and was hugely popular. The series is now celebrating its tenth year) taught me that I worked best when I chalked out a structure for my books beforehand. The Taranauts structure was four challenges to a book. Whatever books I have written after, whether the subject is economics or life skills or philosophy, I first break them down into chapters or sections. I create the Contents page first, and then proceed to write, chapter by chapter, starting from Chapter 1 and going all the way, in order, to the last chapter. I cannot write in a non-linear way at all.

24. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Book Review of So you want to know about economics by roopa pai

Yes, very eagerly! But I don’t give them too much importance, whether they are bad ones or good ones. Since I try sincerely to give my best effort to every book, I am not affected by reviews – I know I could not have written my book any differently. Whether people have enjoyed the book and got something out of it, or found it to be not to their taste at all – that is their prerogative, it isn’t something I can or would wish to control. Instead of getting upset over things I cannot control, I try to live by the Gita’s advice – 100% effort, 0% expectation.

25. What is your special nook at home or writing place where you prefer writing?

My desk
Image Source: @thevoiceofruss

My desk in my bedroom, where I have my large-screen desktop. I can’t write anywhere else and don’t carry my work with me even from room to room, leave alone when I travel. I don’t even own a laptop!

26. How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing?

Not very hard at all, given that it was something I had wanted to do all my life. There was only the problem of confidence – could I do it? Would I actually be able to finish writing a book? Once the first book was done, confidence began to come in, but it was only once the second was done, and I realized the first one wasn’t a fluke, that the real confidence came in.

 

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27. What are common traps for aspiring writers?

  1. Believing you have to wait for inspiration. Don’t wait, just sit down and start writing. And do it day after day after day.
  2. Editing in bits – doing that will bog you down. Write the whole story out, even if it 20000 words long, and then come back to the beginning and start editing.
  3. Trying to follow someone else’s process. You can start that way, but eventually, you will have to find your own. And the only way to do that is to keep writing.

 

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Roopa Pai - Author Interview

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Also, read the Book Review: So you want to know about ECONOMICS by Roopa Pai

 

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Apoorv

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