Madhulika completed Diploma in Hotel Management from IHM Pusa, New Delhi and BA from Delhi University. She is currently working as an Independent Writing Professional. She is an Overall Winner of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition, 2003; Winner of the Oxford Bookstore e-author version 4.0 Competition, 2006. Let us know more about her writing.
What inspired you to start writing?
Even as a child, I was always surrounded by books. Both my parents and my elder sister were avid readers, so I grew up with books and was fascinated by them. When I was about 6 years old, I was introduced to my mother’s best friend from her college days, Swapna Dutta (a renowned writer and translator). Actually meeting and getting to know somebody who wrote such wonderful stories helped encourage me to try writing too.
What did you like to read when you were a girl?
My very early reading—when I was in primary school—mainly consisted of the children’s fiction that was popular back then: lots of Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the like. A little later, by the time I was about twelve, I had fallen deeply in love with PG Wodehouse, Captain WE Johns’s Biggles books, Richmal Crompton’s William series, and various works of detective fiction—especially Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
The plotting! I rarely face problems with actually writing the book, because that (generally) seems to flow for me. But that breakthrough—what story to tell, what challenges to present for my protagonist, how to resolve those challenges—that is what I find most difficult.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
That depends upon the book. When I wrote my first novel—The Englishman’s Cameo, which was set in 1656 Delhi—I had to start almost from scratch to understand Mughal India. Not just the politics, but culture, society, economy, religion: everything from what people ate to how they dressed, to their beliefs, their social interactions, and much more. It took me 7 years to write that first book, and I spent about a year doing research for it.
Now, 7 years later, when the fourth Muzaffar Jang book (Crimson City) has been written, I don’t need to do much research into Mughal India: I’ve already spent so many years constantly reading about the period (even unconsciously doing research) that I end up looking up facts only as and when I need them.
What motivated you to write the book “Crimson City”?
Crimson City is, as I mentioned, the fourth book in the Muzaffar Jang series. It’s set in 1657—a critical period for not just the Mughal Empire, but for India itself. Shahjahan’s extravagance had depleted the treasury, and in an attempt to boost its wealth, he was trying to annexe the prosperous Deccan—and, all the while, Aurangzeb was preparing to capture the throne for himself. I was interested in writing a Muzaffar Jang book that was set in this turbulent time, because I wanted to explore how what was happening in the Empire at a higher level might have—even indirectly— affected the capital. And, paradoxically perhaps, how the city went on functioning, society went its way, with crimes being committed for reasons far removed from the Empire and its interests.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “Crimson City”?
Crimson City is set in the Delhi of early 1657. The Mughal armies are down south in the Deccan, besieging the Fort of Bidar. In Delhi, young Mughal nobleman and detective Muzaffar Jang, brother-in-law to the city’s kotwal, is intrigued by the seemingly pointless murder of a cloth merchant. Muzaffar would like to investigate, but the kotwal snaps at him, telling him to keep out of the way of the law—but Muzaffar finds himself drawn deeper. A moneylender’s child is kidnapped; a wealthy and influential nobleman is murdered—and that isn’t all; there are more murders in the offing. Muzaffar finds himself caught between his grudging promise to not interfere with the law, and his own curiosity about this sudden spate of crimes.
How did you come up with the idea of writing historical detective fiction genre book?
In fact, I have been reading historical detective fiction set in all sorts of periods and in all sorts of places, ever since I was a teenager. Medieval England, medieval China, ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, Czarist Russia, Victorian England… just about any interesting time and space, and you’ll find that someone’s created a historical detective series around it. I was disappointed to realize that there were no Indian historical detectives—so that was what I set out to do, and Muzaffar Jang was born.
Who are your favourite authors?
PG Wodehouse, Gerald Durrell, Ruskin Bond, Bill Bryson, Ellis Peters, Steven Saylor, Peter Tremayne, Robert van Gulik, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Munshi Premchand—and those are just some of them.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
I don’t allot time for writing every day; instead, I have a daily goal for writing. My goal is at least 1,000 words of creative writing every week day. How much time I spend on it varies, depending on what I’m writing, how well thought-out it already is, and other factors.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Write on something that touches you deeply (it could touch you in different ways: it could make you indignant, it could make you laugh, it could make you go “Wow! I didn’t know that!” or whatever). Do your research very well—and that doesn’t only apply to historical fiction or fiction with a technical bent: it could be something as mundane as ‘what locally-grown fruit can I find in Delhi in December’, or ‘what is the distance from Chennai to Pondicherry?’
And, always, always edit, re-edit, and re-edit your work. Be ruthless, treat it not as if it were your child, but someone else’s. Only then can you polish it.
Lastly, read as much as you possibly can. Somewhere, somehow, every book you read—good, bad, indifferent—influences your own writing: you learn what you should and shouldn’t do, what works and what does not.
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