Renita D’Silva is the super-talented author of Monsoon Memories, which is out today! She’s joining us to celebrate launch day and give a little insight into the inspiration behind her debut novel.
Click on the links below to buy, or here to read an extract.
Q. Monsoon Memories is so evocative of India – the sights, the sounds, the smells – it made us want to go and visit – do you miss living there?
A. Yes, I do. Of course I do. They say childhood memories are indelible, hallowed. For me, childhood is synonymous with long lazy days spent playing in the fields, exploring the woods, raiding fruit orchards during the hazy, mango-scented never ending afternoons of summer in the village of Kallianpur, where I grew up. Having said that, I love living in England. Like Shirin, the heroine of Monsoon Memories, this wonderful country has shaped the adult I have become. When I was little, I devoured Enid Blyton books, fantasized about England. And it has not let me down- it is even prettier, more beautiful than I imagined. The people are wonderful, kind and, contrary to the cold, aloof stereotype, extremely warm. This is home now.
Q. I loved the line in the book which says “English rain smelt and tasted of nothing at all. It had none of the fury, the passion of the monsoons. Instead, it was weak; half-hearted.” Do you have a favourite line?
Oh this is hard. I am going to cheat here and include a couple of lines. I think they sum up Shirin’s longing for Taipur, the village where she grew up:
“I want to go home. To coconut trees whispering in the breeze, conversing with crows. To power cuts, patholis wrapped in banana leaves, mosquitoes humming in twilight skies. To air so heavy it sighs as it waits for the monsoons. To rain drumming on tiles and ricocheting off roofs. To Boroline and the shelter of Madhu’s arms.”
Q. You’ve had a couple of terrific endorsements from both Heather Gudenkauf and Linda Kavanagh. If you could have any other author in the world to offer a quote as well, who would it be?
It would have to be Harper Lee. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is my favourite novel of all time and, like Reena in Monsoon Memories, it portrays the world as seen through the eyes of a child. It would be interesting to know what Harper Lee makes of Reena, whether my description of this crazy world which tilts on the whim of adults described from the point of view of a child passes muster.
Q. Where did the idea for Monsoon Memories first come from?
The book began as a picture in my head: Two sisters sheltering on a veranda, gossiping over hot tumblers of cardamom tea, cozy and dry, while the rain drums on the tiles and whips the mud into slush. In the fields below, women sing as they plant paddy saplings, their backs bent like question marks. It was to be a book about sisters, one slim, fair, perfect; the other dark, dumpy, eager to please. But then Reena clamored for attention- a little girl on the cusp of adolescence who fancies herself detective, stuck in her grandmother’s house on a drowsy afternoon while rain pounds on the roof and sheaths the surroundings in a shimmering curtain. What if she found something? The mystery she’s always wanted. And what if she gets more than she bargained for? It sort of evolved from there.
Q. The book is partly told from the perspective of Reena who is eleven years old and, after discovering a photo of an aunt she never knew, plays detective… a self-appointed ‘Super-Sleuth’. How easy did you find it to write from a child’s perspective?
I enjoyed writing it from the point of view of a child. Children notice everything that goes on, but don’t really understand the whole picture – so in a book, the reader twigs the story before the child, the reader is complicit in the secret and is working to keep it from the child, to preserve her innocence for as long as possible. Reena is young for eleven and as the story progresses, as she digs deeper and finds out more, she is forced to grow up almost overnight. While writing Reena’s chapters, I was always checking to make sure I was not putting adult words and language into her mouth. At the same time, I did not want to make her sound too young. I found the balance challenging and tricky and I had to work on that. And on the bit at the end, where I had to show how she had grown, matured during the course of the story. Overall, I had fun shaping Reena, I loved looking at the world through her eyes. For a while I got to be her and I enjoyed the freedom it afforded me.
Q. Food is a constant theme in Monsoon Memories – Madhu’s cooking constantly made us hungry! What would be your ideal meal to celebrate its publication?
You may laugh at this, but my absolute favourite meal is Jacket Potato with Tuna. However, to celebrate the publication of Monsoon Memories, it would have to be Manglorean Dukra Maas (pork cooked with onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, vinegar, tamarind, garam masala and chilli powder), red rice, dhalicho sar (lentils spiced with tamarind and green chillies), Sono (red chickpeas with coconut shavings and cashew-nuts), spicy mango pickle, tangy lime pickle, poppadum and for dessert, Vorn (vermicelli pudding liberally sprinkled with cashew-nuts and raisins) – traditional feast day food where I grew up.
Q. As well as being a wonderful advertisement for India, the story in Monsoon Memories deals with some of the darker sides of Indian society too – poverty, inequality, religious tensions and attitudes towards women. Was that an intentional decision?
I think India is such a melting pot of cultures, prejudices and attitudes; a place where narrow mindedness and superstition mingle with generosity and kindness – that you cannot show one side without showing the other. The people are as warm as they are bigoted, as small minded as they are caring. I wanted to depict India in all its glory-with all its faults as well as its virtues, but all the same, I tried never to forget that my main aim was to tell a story. It is a story that could happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone- under different circumstances of course, but India being what it is – a land of contrasts; as modern as it is backward, it had to happen there.
Q. What’s been your highlight in your journey to the publication of Monsoon Memories?
That email from Bookouture, waiting in my inbox, on a freezing February morning, when I had switched on my email with fingers frost bitten on the trek to school to drop off the kids. The subject said just ‘Monsoon Memories Submission’. My fingers refused to bend, and after a few tries, I managed to click on the email. Please God, I was thinking. ‘We would like to publish your book.’ And then the cold did not matter, nothing did.
I have to mention one other highlight here- the cover. The brilliant, beautiful cover that makes the reader want to delve in, devour the book. It made me cry. I had never in a million years envisioned such a cover- perfect, absolutely perfect for my book. For that, I suppose, you have to have the massive good fortune of having the wonderful Oliver Rhodes as your publisher. Thank you, Oliver.
Q. Finally, can you give us any indication of when your next book might be out?
I have just completed the first draft, so it should be out by the end of this year, if all things go well, fingers crossed.
We hope you’ll joining us in congratulating Renita on a wonderful debut novel, and in looking forward to the next. Please do share the news!