Tag Archives: crime fiction

Article: Divya’s debut novel is a thriller on stolen antiques

Following the launch at the SIBF 2018, this interview appeared in one of the region’s leading English dailies, the Khaleej Times

DSC_0081

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.

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.

dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com

The original article appeared here in the Khaleej Times.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Interviews, Media coverage, The Shrine of Death, Uncategorized

‘The Shrine of Death’ launched at the Sharjah International Book Fair 2018!

My debut novel, ‘The Shrine of Death’ was recently launched at the prestigious Sharjah International Book Fair 2018 — the third largest book fair in the world, and the largest in the region!

45327677_10156101215916859_5799594116174053376_o

Look what’s on the shelf at the SIBF 2018!

Here’s a glowing report of the launch in the Gulf Today

SHARJAH: Debutant Indian novelist Divya Kumar received overwhelming response as she introduced “The Shrine of Death” to booklovers at the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

Published by Bloomsbury India, the novel was released in India in April 2018 to glowing reviews by the press and readers alike. Since then its arrival was awaited by the UAE book aficionados.

It is a fast-paced thriller dealing with the hot-button issue of idol theft, and has a heady mix of crime, mystery, romance and the paranormal.

During a conversation at the SIBF with the acclaimed poet and author Anuradha Vijayakrishnan, Kumar said that the book is a heavily fictionalised account of actual events that occurred in Tamil Nadu, India, 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. This was the watershed case that eventually led to the high-profile arrest of Manhattan-based art dealer and smuggler Subhash Kapoor.

“The Shrine of Death” tells the story of Prabha Sinha, an IT professional in the south Indian city of Chennai, who is plunged into a murky world of idol theft, murder, and betrayal after she gets a mysterious phone call one night from her old friend Sneha Pillai. As she races to find answers before the people she loves get hurt, she seeks the help of Jai Vadehra, a troubled young man with a tragic past, and police officer Gerard Ratnaraj of the Idol Wing, CID, whom she can’t help but be drawn to. Their search takes them from Chennai’s newsrooms and universities to the abandoned sepulchral shrine of a Chola queen in the heartland of Tamil Nadu. And here there is a twist in the tale.

Divya Kumar is a journalist, writer and blogger, currently based in Dubai. She spent her early 20s studying and working in the US, dabbling in web-design and media studies, before settling down to a career in journalism. After returning to India, she joined The Hindu newspaper in Chennai, writing for The Hindu Metroplus, covering mainly the book and art beat.

“I started writing this book when I took a break for the birth of my first child. Naturally, it took me three years to complete the book. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run after dozens of publishers. The only difficulty I faced was to convince famous literary agent Kanishka Gupta to have a look at my work. Once he agreed to, it was quite smooth as the editor, Himanjali Sankar, also had confidence in my work,” she added. Encouraged by the tremendous response, she has already started working on its sequel.

Currently available at Jashanmal Books stand at the SIBF, the title will shortly be available at leading bookstores in the UAE.

45731009_10156105114616859_403384883218481152_n

Also featured in the SIBF 2018 newsletter! 🙂

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Media coverage, The Shrine of Death, Uncategorized

A rave review for ‘The Shrine of Death’ in the Indian Express!

shrine of death-R1 (Final)

Book: The Shrine of Death
Author: Divya Kumar
Publication: Bloomsbury India
Pages: 296 
Price: 399

If reading Divya Kumar’s The Shrine of Death while stretched out on a beach somewhere, remember to slap on some sunscreen and order enough beer to last you at least a couple of hours. Because once you start on this book, it’s unlikely you’ll set it down before you race to the end. The Shrine of Death has all the ingredients required for a thrilling beach read: an ambitious and beguiling beauty who stumbles onto a web of conspiracy and then vanishes, two amateur detectives — one of whom is harbouring a disquieting secret — and a dishy love interest (a man in uniform, no less).

The plot is fairly straightforward: IT professional Prabha Sinha gets an unsettling phone call from her old friend, Sneha, and is drawn into an investigation of her disappearance and the theft of some priceless Chola sculptures. The book switches between Prabha’s perspective, and that of the troubled Jai, who is, for reasons of his own, helping her figure out what happened to Sneha.

Apart from the deftly managed suspense, what draws the reader in is Kumar’s ability to flesh out characters. One gets a real sense of the emotional stakes involved, and, as the story progresses, the stakes only get higher. Given the premise — that of heritage loot, a major problem in India — this book could have quite easily been overloaded with research. But the writer maintains a light touch, although there should still be enough to satisfy art history and archaeology wonks.

This review for ‘The Shrine of Death’ was part of a round up of this season’s detective novels the Indian Express’ book section. You can read about all the other fabulous novels in the list here

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Media coverage, The Shrine of Death, Uncategorized

Interview for the Rayaan Writer blog

Really enjoyed doing this thorough, in-depth interview with the talented Mohammed Rayaan over at http://www.rayaanwriter.com
IMG_0011LR

Photo credit: Shuchi Kapoor

Divya Kumar is the author of ‘The Shrine of Death’, a thriller novel released in April 2018 by Bloomsbury India. She is also a freelance journalist. Her column, ‘Toddler Talk’ in the Metro plus has garnered many fans.

In her website, she describes herself as “Singer-songwriter and sometimes pianist. Movie geek. Netflix addict. Tennis nut. Mom of one little diva. Former physics student, computer scientist, web developer and media studies grad student among other things. Card-carrying member of the Happy to Have Been a Gulfie club.”


 
The Interview
 

 
How did you get the idea to write ‘The Shrine of Death’?

Divya: It literally came to me in a dream! I woke up one morning with one of the main characters of the story, Jai, fully formed in my head – his tragic backstory, his struggles. At that time, The Hindu was doing a lot of coverage on idol theft in Tamil Nadu, and the bust of the international smuggling ring headed by Manhattan-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor, and I was following it closely. So, the two – Jai’s story, and the idol theft plot – sort of just came together in my head, almost as a complete whole.

What kind of research did you have to do when writing your novel?

Divya: I did as much reading as possible on the idol theft cases in the news, as well as from the TamilNadu Idol Wing’s website, which had considerable detail on the busts, and I ensured that my information on the Chola dynasty was historically accurate. Especially helpful was a talk I attended on Chola temples by historian Pradeep Chakravarthy, from where I got the final piece
of the plot puzzle – pallipadais, shrines built to honour dead Chola kings and queens. But all of that was just a jumping off point for the story – the bulk of it comes from my imagination.

Can you tell us about your writing regime and your approach of writing a novel?

Divya: When I started writing this novel, my daughter was just about a year old, so there was no regime to speak off! I wrote whenever I could, late into the nights after she slept, or on the weekends, when I left her with my husband for a few hours and sat at a cafe with my laptop. The result was that I wrote intensely in bursts, but then there would be long stretches in between when I barely wrote at all. It got easier as my daughter got older – now I set aside three to four hours every morning while she’s in school to focus on writing or editing.

But I still like to write late into the night on occasion – though I pay for it in the morning! I always have a basic plot outline, an overall idea of where the story must go, and basic character
arcs mapped out before I begin my novel. But, of course, as I get deeper into writing each part, the plot evolves and changes, and the character arcs get tweaked to so that it all works, and fits together as a cohesive whole.

Can you tell us about your life as a journalist?

Divya: I began writing for The Hindu’s Metroplus supplement in Chennai after I returned from the U.S., where I was studying. It was, in all ways, a wonderful experience – we had a young, lively group of reporters and our editors were experienced and dynamic.

Books and art became my beat, so I had a chance to interview visiting authors – everyone from Amitav Ghosh to Jeffrey Archer – and leading artists in the city, and cover book launches and contemporary art shows.

I also got to explore Chennai, the city of my birth, and came to know it in a way I might never had been able to do otherwise. I think a lot that I learnt and experienced in the years I worked for The Hindu reflects in the setting and the themes of ‘The Shrine of Death’.

Who is your favourite author and your favourite books?

Divya: I love reading fiction across all genres — I enjoy Edgar Allan Poe and Anne Rice as much as I do Georgette Heyer and P. G. Wodehouse. I don’t have a single favourite author, but there are elements of different authors’ writing I love. For instance, crime writer Dick Francis is an old favourite of mine — I’ve always loved the way he foregrounds his characters and their emotional lives, even in the midst of a fast-moving plot.

I love the dark and brooding atmosphere that Daphne Du Maurier conjures up at will on her novels and short stories. I recently re-discovered Ira Levin — what a genius for plot the man had! And I love the gentle humanity and kindness in James Herriot’s writing.

Can you suggest tips for aspiring writers on how to get their novel published by reputed firms?

Divya: Being just one book old, I don’t know how much gyan I can give, but I can try! I guess the main thing is to make sure your manuscript is ready before you send it out – clean it up, edit, and revise until you feel sure it’s good enough to be out there. You want to make sure the agent or editor is seeing the best possible version of your work.

Also, it’s worth putting some effort into how you package your submission – your query letter/email, your synopsis etc. Make sure you stick to the guidelines the agent or editor lists on their website. These are small things that can make a difference. A lot of writers in India approach publishing houses directly;

I chose to approach Delhi-based Kanishka Gupta, one of the country’s top literary agents. He believed in the book enough to take me on, and he made things happen at record speed thereafter. Based on my experience, I can safely say that there’s nothing like having a dedicated, hardworking agent in your corner to make your publishing dream come true!

It must be quite difficult being a journalist. How do you manage to get new ideas for your articles?

Divya: As a features journalist, I never found it difficult to find story ideas! People are an endless source of inspiration, their stories, their accomplishments. Not just the people you meet when you go out to cover an event or a story, but the people you meet in daily life as well. And when that fails, you can always look within your own experiences for the germ of an idea.

 
How do you manage your life as a journalist and a fiction writer?

Divya: Journalism has taken a bit of a backseat for me in the last two years. It was partly that I came away from Chennai to Dubai, where I’m currently based, and partly that I’ve been pretty focused on completing the book and getting it published, and starting work on my next book. But in the preceding years, I was juggling a weekly column, doing freelance writing, and working on the book as well, and that happened pretty organically – I worked on the book when I didn’t have looming deadlines, and put it on the backburner when I did!
 
Do you get writer’s block? If yes, how do you handle it?

Divya: In my experience, if I’m feeling blocked and unable to write, it’s due to one of two things – fatigue or plot problems. Sometimes, if I’ve been writing intensely for a stretch, I hit a point of burnout, and start hating everything I’ve written. When that happens, I’ve found that just taking a step back and giving myself a break from the book helps a lot. Then I come back to it with fresh eyes, and find that hey, it’s not too bad after all, and the words start flowing again.
 
But sometimes, that doesn’t do it. And those times, I’ve realized that there’s often an issue with the story itself. Maybe I’ve written myself into an uninspiring corner, or some aspect of the characterisation is just not working. Then it’s worth reassessing/tweaking the original outline to try and fix the problem.
 
What principles do you live by?

Divya: I believe in kindness, in the old-fashioned concept of being nice. I always try to see the other person’s point of view, to be empathetic. But I also have very clear boundaries; I don’t stand for anyone disrespecting me or hurting the people I care for. I am extremely straightforward — I don’t have the inclination or the patience to play games – and excessively honest, to the point where I put sometimes myself in a spot by being unable to lie. But this is who I am, and I take pride in the ethical code I live by. I’m a friendly person but also intensely inward-looking. I need my own space, and I think that can sometimes be off-putting to people. But those who are close to me know that I will be there for them, no matter what.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Divya: I was born in Chennai, but I actually grew up for most part in Muscat, Oman, and finished my schooling there. Then began what I think of as my wandering years – I was in Chennai studying physics for a couple of years before transferring to the U.S. to complete my undergraduate studies – a dual degree in Computer Science and in Journalism at Rutgers University. I worked there as a web-developer and coder briefly, before deciding conclusively that programming was not for me! I then did my masters coursework in Media Studies before once more returning to Chennai. It was then that I interviewed at The Hindu. A position had just opened up at the Metroplus and was offered to me – the rest, as they say, is history. I knew after just a few days on the job that there was nothing else I’d rather be doing.  
 
Can you tell how your normal day goes by?
 
Divya: Like any mom, my day starts early, packing lunches, making breakfast, and sending the family off to school/office. I wrap up my chores by 10 a.m. and begin my day’s work. During my intense writing phases, I’ll jump directly into reading through/reworking the previous day’s writing, and then continuing where I left off. At other times, I might spend an hour or two responding to emails, messages, etc. before getting into editing/writing. At still other times, I might take a break from writing altogether and work on my music. Then my daughter comes home from school in the afternoon, and it’s time to make the evening meal, take her down for playtime, and then back home for the dinner, and the bedtime rush…
 
Can you talk about your experience as singer/song writer?

Divya: Music is an essential part of me. I almost always have a song running through my head, that I’m humming under my breath. I am a classically trained singer, having learnt Hindustani vocal music since childhood. I enjoy singing Indian semi-classical and light music, but my heart really lies in Western music, specifically classic rock/folk/pop music. I’m an alto and have performed in choirs through school, college and beyond. I also play a little piano (not as much as I’d like!) and have been writing my own songs for as long as I can remember. In the last couple of years, I’ve begun to record my covers of some old favorite Western songs, and hope to share more of my own original songs soon too! You can check out my covers at my Sound cloud account: (https://soundcloud.com/user-396816675.)
 
How did your column “Toddler Talk” came about? 

Divya: The idea for the column really grew out of the writing I was doing on my blog, divyakumar.com, at that time. After the birth of my daughter, I took some time off from full-time reporting, and was freelancing for The Hindu. I began to write humorous posts on my daughter’s escapades on the blog, and found that people enjoyed them. When I was asked to do a column for the revamped Metroplus, I suggested ‘Toddler Talk’, a light-hearted look at raising this generation of high-maintenance, tech-savvy toddlers. My editor liked the idea, and the column was born. I loved writing it – it was such fun way of recording the memories of my daughter’s Terrible Twos and Threenager years, and also proved to be a wonderful way to bond with other moms going through the same experiences. 

The original interview can be found here
 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Interviews, The Shrine of Death, Uncategorized

Article: To each his own (Interview with Mark Billingham and China Mieville)

A crime writer who’s also a stand-up comic; a fantasy fiction writer who’s also a left-wing political activist. Put them both together in a room and what do you get? A rapid-fire, roller coaster conversation on everything from avant-garde fiction to rakshasas and assorted monsters, the induction ceremony to Agatha Christie’s Detection Club to falling anvils in Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Best-selling crime novelist Mark Billingham and fantasy fiction writer China (his parents were hippies and named him after a popular Cockney slang term, in case you were wondering) Mieville from the U.K. were recently in Chennai as part of British Council’s Lit Sutra initiative. Lively, opinionated and articulate, the two quite literally talked up a storm, first during an interview at the British council and then again at the public event at Landmark.

At first glance, it would appear that they wouldn’t have much in common, but Billingham and Mieville quickly proved that to be untrue. Both exuded self-admittedly geeky enthusiasm for their particular genres of fiction, and a love (and a staunch fight-unto-death loyalty) for genre fiction in general.

Mark, for instance, said he was a ‘crazy collector’ of first edition American crime fiction, and took to interviewing writers and doing book reviews just so he could get free copies. “Seriously,” he said, straight-faced, “it was costing me a fortune. After a couple of years of that, I decided to try my hand at writing one myself.”

Giving up on the idea of a ‘comic-crime novel’ (“It’s rubbish”) the TV actor turned stand-up comic turned novelist created what would end up becoming his most famous character  – the country-music loving, world-weary D. I. Tom Thorne – in his very first novel Sleepyhead. “Crime writers use exactly the same tricks as comedians – the way the punchline is revealed is the same way a key piece of information, a clue, for instance, is revealed in a crime novel,” he said. “It’s all about timing.”

Mieville, on the other hand, quite simply never outgrew his childhood love for monsters, aliens and witches. “People often ask ‘what got you into it?’ and my answer to them is, ‘what got you out of it?’” he said, adding with a laugh, “I’m just more rigorous than they were.”

The two-time recipient of both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and British Fantasy Award admits to ‘cheerfully philistine piracy’ of mythologies the world over to create his awesome array of weird creatures, such as the half-man half-bird Garuda in Perdido Street Station. “Anglo-American fantasy draws on certain creatures – elves, dwarves and dragons – but what I wanted to do is take creatures from other mythologies, deliberately not concerning myself with their mythic resonance, and do something new with them,” he said.

At some point, the chat about their work – the filming of Billingham’s Thorne novels for TV, for instance, or how Mieville’s strong political leanings influence his writing – segued into a passionate discussion on how ‘despised’ genre fiction was amongst some readers in the U.S. and the U.K.

“There’s this general sense of literary fiction being ‘real fiction’ versus all the rest,” said Mieville.

“The problem is that literary fiction is judged by its very best, while genre fiction is judged by its very worst,” added Billingham. “It just isn’t a fair fight.”

Mieville, in fact, loves genre fiction so much that he once rashly claimed he wanted to write a book in every genre. “I blame the Internet – you say something once and it’s never forgotten,” he said ruefully. “But I am fascinated by the protocols of the different genres.”

That’s why for his latest book, a crime novel but set in his fantastical universe, The City and the city, he ensured that he was ‘absolutely faithful’ to the protocols of a police procedural. A crime novel without those protocols, according to Billingham, would be like a Western without a horse, a gun or a cowboy hat.

“In that sense, crime novels haven’t changed that much since Sherlock Holmes – detectives who have problems with booze, music and can’t seem to form relationships,” said Billingham. “But the protocols have changed in other ways, of course – back in the 1920s there were some preposterous rules such as ‘there can be only one secret passage’ and ‘no Chinamen’!”

This lively discussion spilled into the Landmark event, ‘Thrill of the Unknown’ with ease. Co-ordinator Shreekumar Varma simply had to sit back and watch as the two took off on another freewheeling –and very funny– chat on novels of the future (“Remixed-novels will become the norm.”— Mieville), the perils of too much research and nitpicking readers (“It’s a novel, not a train timetable.” – Billingham), a running joke on their dislike for Jeffrey Archer’s books, and much more, with plenty of time devoted to audience interaction.

After all, as they said at the interview, they were here for a conversation with Indian readers. And boy, what a conversation it was.

BOX:

You can read excerpts from Mark Billingham’s latest novel From the dead and China Mieville’s latest Kraken on Lit Sutra’s blog: http://www.litsutra.com/

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, Books, People