I was recently interviewed by Chennai-based blogger Sarath Babu about my experience writing and having ‘The Shrine of Death’ published…
Following the launch at the SIBF 2018, this interview appeared in one of the region’s leading English dailies, the Khaleej Times.
For debutant Indian novelist Divya Kumar, the protagonist in her maiden book The Shrine of Death had to be a woman. “It was a no-brainer,” she explained to Khaleej Times, after launching her book at the Sharjah International Book Fair late last week.
The Dubai-based author and former journalist’s first book was published by Bloomsbury India in April 2018. The fiction title is a fast-paced thriller deal with the issue of idol theft and is a heady mix of crime, mystery, romance and the paranormal.
“The book is a fictionalised account of actual events that occurred in Tamil Nadu in 2009 when a set of ancient Chola idols disappeared from an abandoned temple and were later discovered to have been smuggled out of the country,” said Kumar.
“This was the watershed case that eventually leads to the high-profile arrest of Manhattan-based art dealer and smuggler Subhash Kapoor.”
The book’s central character – Prabha Sinhan – is an IT professional who gets pulled into the murky world of idol theft and goes in search of her missing friend Sneha Pillai.
“Mainstream Indian media often portrays a certain stereotype of women in mass media. Like a manic pixie dream girl, or a virtuous, pious woman, or an oversexed glam doll, or even a confused, flaky millennial,” she added.
Kumar’s character had to be a relatable, regular young woman who was not epitomised in any manner. “I also wanted my character to be strong, stubborn, and fiercely loyal,” she said.
A former journalist of The Hindu newspaper in India, Kumar moved to Dubai in 2016. “I finished a big chunk of the editing and re-writing process in the UAE,” she added.
Though the book had its first release in India, Kumar said she is extremely proud of being part of the Sharjah book fair.
“I wanted to write fiction for pretty much my whole life. From childhood, I’ve had a set of unfinished books and manuscripts. I worked at The Hindu from 2006 – 2011, but I stopped working full-time after my daughter was born,” she said.
She began seriously working on the novel, and it took shape after details of the Chola idols case unearthed.
“I was still with The Hindu when the bust of the idol smuggling ring was in the news. From a local case in Tamil Nadu, the case went international as it was linked to an international crime ring. It was covered extensively in the India media and I followed it with a lot of interest.”
For Kumar, the theme was a perfect fit for her book as she got increasingly fascinated with the subject. “The plot evolved out the details of the case,” she added.
As she began writing the book, Kumar imagined it to be part of a trilogy. “I am definitely working on a sequel,” she added.
The original article appeared here in the Khaleej Times.
Loved doing this interview with Smita Singh for the amazing Bookaholicanonymous Blog!
“I was quite clear that this was not a historical novel. It was to be a fast-paced contemporary thriller with elements of Chola history woven in” Divya Kumar
Bookaholicanonymous is extremely happy to present Divya Kumar, author of the novel ‘The Shrine of Death’. The book is a chilling crime thriller in which a beautiful young historian who discovered two priceless bronzes from the 10th century disappears without a trace. Her friend sets out to find her and is drawn into a world of fraud, murder and betrayal where no rules apply. Get hold of this racy thriller, we gurantee its unputdownable!
About Divya Kumar: Divya is a journalist, writer and blogger, earlier based in Dubai now Chennai. She spent her early 20s studying and working in the U.S., dabbling in web-design and media studies, before settling down to a career in journalism. She returned to India in 2006, and joined ‘The Hindu’ in Chennai, working as a senior reporter and feature writer with ‘The Hindu’ Metroplus for five years, covering mainly the book and art beat, before taking a break for the birth of her first child in 2011.
This is your first book right, what made you finally dive into the world of letters/books and become an author?
I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been an avid reader – a bookaholic, in fact! – especially of fiction across all genres. And my childhood and adolescence are littered with novels I began and never got around to completing. As a features journalist in The Hindu in Chennai, I got to cover the book beat extensively, attending book launches and interviewing authors, and of course, reading all the books that came my way with relish. Through it all, the dream of writing my own book remained a constant. But it wasn’t until I took a break from full-time reporting for the birth of my daughter that I finally got started. And this book idea was different – it took root in my head and didn’t let me go, and unlike all those other times, I actually finished writing it!
How did the idea of the book come to you?
Quite literally in a dream! I woke up one morning with the character and tragic backstory of Jai, the empath, lingering in my mind. At that time, The Hindu was doing in-depth coverage of the bust of the idol smuggling ring allegedly headed by the Manhattan-based Subhash Kapoor, and the two parts – the character of the empath, and the idol theft plot came together in my mind almost as a complete whole.
Did you deliberately choose to not go in to the detailed history of the time (Chola kingdom) you have chosen to write about?
Yes, it was a conscious choice made as I wrote the book. I was quite clear that this was not a historical novel. It was to be a fast-paced contemporary thriller with elements of Chola history woven in, and I didn’t want to bog down the narrative with long paragraphs of historical detail. The reader learns the pertinent facts along with my main character Prabha as she uncovers them, through her conversations with the professor, or through books she or Jai read, so that the history I reveal – about the great Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, and about ancient sepulchral shrines or pallipadais – feel like an integral part of the scene, rather than a heavy info-dump that becomes a speed bump in the plot.
How much research did you have to do on idol thefts? Did being a journalist help you?
The research was primarily trawling through all the newspaper coverage of high-profile idol thefts stretching back a couple of decades, especially in The Hindu, and also going through the Tamil Nadu Idol Wing website, which had considerable detail on thefts they had uncovered. Being a journalist certainly helped me in sifting through the various sources of information and using them optimally.
How long did it take to finish writing the book?
About three and a half years. But the writing was not continuous. I began, as I mentioned, when my daughter was a baby, so initially I wrote only late into the nights or on weekends. I was also, during that period, doing a weekly column for The Hindu Metroplus and doing freelance reporting as well, so my work on the book often happened in fits and starts. I’d write intensely for periods and not at all for stretches in between. It wasn’t until the final six months that I was focused entirely on the book and its completion.
You know Chennai more than any other city in India, is that why you based your novel on the city?
Yes, Chennai is the city of my birth, and although I grew up for most part in Muscat, Oman, I returned to Chennai every summer to my grandparents’ house. It was the place I came to for college, and then again returned to after studying for a while in the U.S. Most of the important milestones of my life are linked to Chennai – it’s the place where I began my career as a journalist and writer, where I met my husband and got married, where my daughter was born… So when I began to write my first book, it was only natural that Chennai would have a starring role in it!
Which of your characters did you develop first?
Jai, the empath. As I mentioned, his character arrived almost fully-formed in my head, and I knew from the start that I wanted to explore his past traumas and his struggles with his abilities alongside the idol theft mystery.
Did you weave a little bit of yourself in the character of Prabha as you were a Computer Science student?
I guess I did! Prabha is definitely not me – she’s very much her own distinct person. But I suppose I did use certain aspects of my experiences and my life in shaping hers. One, as you mentioned, is the transition from computer science to journalism – though mine happened under very much more mundane circumstances than hers! And the other, maybe, is her search for roots and finding them in Chennai, something I went through after drifting between Muscat, India and the U.S. for the better part of a decade in my late teens and 20s.
Did you have someone in mind while developing the character of Gerard Ratnaraj?
Not really. He’s a composite of the cops I read about while researching the idol thefts, with a liberal dose of my imagination thrown in!
When and what can we expect from your next book?
The ‘when’ is uncertain… all I can say is that I’m working on it and am about half way through currently. As for the ‘what’… It picks up a few years after ‘The Shrine of Death’ and takes us back into the lives of the three main characters, Prabha, Jai and Gerard. Jai is struggling to deal with new aspects of his evolving abilities, even as more of his murky past is unveiled; Prabha is growing into her new career as an investigative journalist but that brings fresh conflict into her relationship with Gerard; and the three of them find themselves fighting against a powerful and dangerous enemy…
Bookaholicanonymous wishes Divya…all the best…and yes we are waiting for your next novel eagerly!
The original interview can be found here