Chandigarh-based author Vani Kaushal has successfully carved a niche for herself as a multi-faceted writer capable of handing both fiction and non-fiction with considerable ease. Starting her career as a business journalist for leading newspapers, she took a plunge into the world of fiction back in the year 2014 with a novel titled ‘The Recession Groom’. In her third and latest book, ‘Seconds Later,’ Kaushal explores the flip side of fame. She made a foray into non-fiction with her second book titled ‘Flowers Forever,’ which was published in 2019.
In this interview, Vani Kaushal talks about ‘Seconds Later,’ her writing process, challenges of writing fiction vis-à-vis non-fiction, her influences and inspirations as well as her upcoming book.
Q. Tell us about your new novel ‘Seconds Later’. How did you conceive it?
A. ‘Seconds Later’ is the story of a young celebrity being stalked by her fans and it came about from my own experiences. Growing up, all that I ever wanted was to be famous, not knowing that there’s a price to fame. Celebrities are more vulnerable than any of us but I wasn’t to realise it until after the release of my first novel. Whether receiving marriage proposals on Instagram or getting tagged in obscene videos on Facebook, I wasn’t used to any of it and would normally shove my fears and insecurities under the carpet. But there was one day when I leaned into them, instead, and that’s when this story came to me. What if this happened to a young girl, a celebrity at that? How would it disrupt her life if someone approached her, or eyed her, with not the best of intentions? What would she do? How would she protect herself?
Q. ‘Seconds Later’ is your second book in the fictional space. In between you wrote a non-fiction book. What brings you back to fiction after a hiatus of over half a decade?
A. Fiction or non-fiction—these are mere classifications. When once you start writing, there is a whole spectrum that opens up to you to explore. Why most people don’t do it is because they like to get into a comfort zone—which is what I didn’t want for myself. I started my career as a business journalist and while journalism nurtured my creativity, I didn’t want to limit myself to writing news stories and started experimenting with writing a full-length romance novel. It was tough as I had to unlearn all the rules of business reporting, but the success of my first novel, ‘The Recession Groom,’ gave me the courage to continue my journey. ‘Flowers Forever’ was my first foray into non-fiction and I was still working on it, when the story of ‘Seconds Later’ came to me. I could have based it on my personal experiences, but I decided to make it bigger than ‘myself’ and use my imagination to the hilt, even if it meant spending months to get into the skin of my characters. Three books on, I can safely say that I am comfortable writing both fiction and non-fiction. But, I prefer writing fiction for that’s what gives me an adrenaline rush.
Q. Tell us about your writing process. How do you choose your subjects?
A. For someone who is as creatively-oriented as I am, there is no dearth of topics to write about. However, it’s not the idea that matters as whether or not I will be able to give it a nice shape and create a couple of hundred pages out of it. That’s the only reason why I may trash ten ideas and pick one. But once I go after something, I really get deep into it. For instance, the way the story of ‘Seconds Later’ came to me required a lot of research in to my characters, their professions, their family dynamics etc. Stringing it all together in an exciting way for my readers was another challenge, but it was fun all the same. As to my writing process, I like to have a rough plot line which gives me a fair idea about the research I need to do, the characters I need to build upon, and the style of narration that would work best. For the writing of the book itself, I get up early and work through the day, taking a couple of months to finish the first draft. But from there on to the final manuscript is quite a journey, full of rewrites and revisions.
Q. As a writer who has tried her hands at both fiction and nonfiction how do you look at the both of them?
A. Good writing is always challenging, no matter what space you operate in. But specifically when it comes to fiction, if you aren’t creatively-oriented, you are likely to go only as far before getting stuck. So what I have thoroughly enjoyed doing is to stretch my imagination in all directions possible, writing my stories from multiple points of view, creating characters that are both interesting and relatable, experimenting with multiple plotlines and endings. I may not have had the same liberty while writing non-fiction but that’s not to say it was any easier to write that.
Q. Are there any thematic similarities between your first novel ‘The Recession Groom’ and ‘Seconds Later’?
A. Both my novels offer an insight into the Indian family value system. While ‘The Recession Groom’ allows us to look in and observe the family dynamics at play during important events such as weddings. ‘Seconds Later’ offers the same opportunity, albeit in a more indirect fashion.
Q. What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers who are struggling to get published?
A. To not lose hope. The process of writing a novel is as difficult and as easy as you make of it. There are good days and bad days and a writer must learn to take it all in stride. If finishing a manuscript is a challenge, finding a suitable home for it is no mean feat, achieved effortlessly, at least in my case, by my literary agency, The Book Bakers, and its talented head, Suhail Mathur, who believed in my book and carried it through the publishing process. In that way, I would say, surround yourself with people who can support your journey. No one has had it easy, not even those who are famous today, so things can’t be any different for us. But it doesn’t serve us to get unnerved by it all. So keep going, no matter what.
Q. Tell us about your influences and inspirations. Also, tell us about your upcoming projects.
A. I am an avid reader and take inspiration from many authors like Jane Austen, J. R. R Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Sudha Murthy, Chitra Banerjee Devkaruni and many others. As for my next book, it is for my tribe, best classified as a self-help book in the non-fiction space. In it, I try to explore themes that are dear to us women, but those that we seldom talk about. Maybe because we are shy. Or because we are told not to. I really wish for this book to be an entertaining read and if there’s something more I am also able to offer alongside the fun, I would call it a job well done.