My story up on Juggernaut

I recently posted about my story The Demons of November up on Juggernaut. It has garnered good ratings so far.

Here’s the opener:

The Demons of November

The rooftop of our tenements affords us a direct view to Bansilal’s farmhouse just opposite. The ugly purple curtains framing his picture windows are drawn apart in that artistic style as if he’s hosting a play in his living room. Soni trains the binoculars at the window – the bania is entertaining guests. His maid must have served them exactly two biscuits and a cup of tea. He wouldn’t part with any more than that from his pantry.

Soni demands to know – is he really chatting with friends, or executing one of his “transactions”?

We each take a turn with the binoculars, but none of us can spot cash changing hands. It might be a personal visit, but with Bansilal one never knows.

The new government had marched in one day armed with bulldozers and razed the slums, leaving us homeless. They promised us new tenements, but no timeline. Shakti Uncle witnessed our plight, and eased his conscience by handing us the keys to his flat before he headed for the Gulf for a company posting. Then the water turned bad and Pinki fell ill with amoebic dysentery, and we had to hustle to buy her medicines. A week to the day of her recovery, Jivan Uncle tumbled down the stairs and fractured his leg in a freak accident.

The tenements came much later.

We light up a cigarette and pass it around. This is taking more time than we’d planned for.

The guests leave. Minutes pass, then the maid opens the door. A man enters and slumps down on the divan facing Bansilal. His bald pate shines under the chandelier lights in the bania’s house. He runs a hand over his head.

Jivan Uncle stubs out the cigarette and touches my shoulder. “That’s our cue, Amar. Let’s go.”

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Security guards fall in two categories – the ones you can pull aside and slip a little more cash than they’re used to, and the other burly kind who’re gunning for a fight. The latter can knock down most opponents with a glare of their bloodshot eyes and a punch with a well-rounded fist. Bansilal’s guards hold steadfastly loyal to him – I don’t understand why – but it means Soni and I need to use our hands and knees. It doesn’t faze us. We dispatch them easily.

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If you liked what you read and want to know what happens next, click through to the Juggernaut site/app and grab the rest of it! It’s free for your reading pleasure! Please do leave an honest review and rating and let me know what you thought of it!

What I’m Reading

Every so often, I list out the books I’ve managed to eke out precious time to read. The time constraints imposed by a day job and a baby means I have less time to read than ever before, so my annual totals are nothing to write home about. I have dipped from an average of 3 books a week to perhaps 1 or 2 a month.

Despite that, however, I recently read and enjoyed five rather popular and well-reviewed novels.

 

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

I recently joined a readers group on Facebook that has fuelled my reading like nothing else has before! This one was recommended by one of the members there who had posted the link to it as it is available online. This is an amazing science-fiction novella, though the title might scare away potential readers who might mistakenly believe it is a software engineering textbook. The story revolves around “digients” – digital pets who are trained to grow and gain intelligence, and how their human owners strive to maintain them.

 

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Here’s a book that I wanted to read before watching the movie. I had read so much about it but finally I caved in and read it. A young girl called May joins a Google-type company, and while initially she’s lost at sea, she eventually gets sucked into its vortex. Reviews online have criticized it for adding nothing new to the conversation about tech companies like Google becoming an overarching monopoly, which I agree, but I enjoyed reading it nevertheless and totally recommend it.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The TV show is making waves on Hulu but I haven’t started on it yet. This is another one that I wanted to read first before watching the show, and I’m glad I did. It’s dark, foreboding, but page-turning, more quiet and literary than a thrilling adventure. For some reason it brought to my mind Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, though they have nothing in common apart from both being dystopian novels. Read it at leisure, and wait for the drama to slowly unfold.

 

Carrie by Stephen King

I have to shamefully admit here that I have NEVER read a Stephen King book other than On Writing because he writes primarily horror! I am very squeamish and even violent or gory thrillers give me sleepless nights. But I caught the movie version of Carrie and generally knew the story, enough to know that it was well-within my tolerance limits. So this became the first Stephen King novel I have read. And I, of course, loved it. I am glad to have read it and will be seeking out more of the same, non-gory stuff that he’s written. This one is not gory (in my opinion, YMMY), and recommended for all who are on the fence like me about Stephen King.

 

 

Unbroken by Nadhika Nambi

I came across this on my Juggernaut app and simply started reading without any context or background, knowing only that it was YA. A few pages in, it dawned on me that the protagonist Akriti is in a wheelchair, which is probably what fuels her acerbic chain of thoughts.

I have to say – it was an engrossing read. The author writes sensitively from the POV of the teenager, who is suffering twice the regular teen angst thanks to her situation. My only gripe with this book is that the character of the brother is a bit of a Mary Sue – almost too good to be true, but nevertheless, this is a great read for young and old alike!

 

Note: All links above are Amazon affiliate links.

 

Have you read any good books lately?

Jane Austen in India!

I had blogged earlier about the inclusion of my essay ‘Jane Austen Lives in India’ in the anthology Cocktails with Miss Austen.

Here’s a tantalizing glimpse of the print books!Jane.jpg

The book is out in the world since November. It had a great launch day and even made it to number one in Amazon UK’s hot new releases in its category. Just above Philip Pullman at no. 2 and Umberto Eco at no. 3 – so we have some famous company!

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What’s more – we’ve even bagged our first 4-star review! I was thrilled to find it mentions my essay specifically, as well as two other brilliant ones!

These “conversations on the world’s most beloved author,” as the book’s subtitle has it, are charmingly informative: Pride and Prejudice serialized on TV in India and a rapt teenager and her mother both, in their own way, musing about the man the teenager — Gargi Mehra, one of the collection’s seventeen contributors — should marry. Another piece with a fine meditation on the subject of complicated lives by the Australian writer Imogen Armstrong Orr, who has learned from Jane Austen that “. . . the quietness of the lives lived in her pages highlights the passion of the women who live them.” When I tired of reminiscence and craved some straight lit crit I found it in several essays, my favorite being one combining the two, mingling criticism with anecdote. Elizabeth Davis’ “Jane on the Brain” is an occasionally hilarious account of the author leading a class of young American students around England as well as around their much loved Jane Austen.

The subject is so close to my heart that the essay was relatively easier to write. The words flowed when I was writing and all I had to do was edit it for clarity and structure in my subsequent drafts.

The book is a treat for Jane Austen fans, and it would make a great Christmas/ New Year gift! It is available for only $0.99 on the Kindle store right now. Do pop over and take a look! Please leave a review if you read the book and like it!

I’ll be sitting curled up with my own copy meanwhile!

ReadingBook

Cocktails with Miss Austen

Personal FB Cover COCKTAILS WITH MISS AUSTEN

As I mentioned earlier, an essay of mine will feature in an anthology about Jane Austen by Ben Bulben Books, which is schedule for release in November this year. 

The book will be titled Cocktails with Miss Austen, and includes essays by several authors. Take a sneak peek at the book below!

The Big Birthday

Not mine, but Harry Potter and JK Rowling.

Twenty years ago, the story of a boy wizard and his adventures lit up our lives. Seven books totaling around four thousand pages gave us more than we needed for the rest of our lives to obsess over.

Only, I didn’t buy into this particular bestselling phenomena until the fourth book was out.

I had been aware of the hype building up around Harry Potter, which had reached a peak around book 4, but I contented myself with the knowledge that I never read much fantasy anyway, and even if I did I wouldn’t delve into childish tales of wizards and witches flying around on brooms like imbeciles casting spells on one another for lack of anything better to do.

Boy, was I wrong.

Around a year before the fifth book released, I spoke to my sister, a voracious reader just like me. She said, have you read Harry Potter?

I said, no, why would I?

She said, read it. It’s like John Grisham for children.

Are you serious?

Get it now!

But I was still not sure. And I was weary of shelling out money and more importantly purchasing books that would further add to the burdens on my already ever-groaning bookshelf. Fortunately, I had a neighbor who was also a fan – a teenage boy who had read the books to tattered bits. I loaned them from him. He was kind enough to loan them to me, albeit with a sigh. I just can’t wait for book five, he said.

I thought: What losers! What could be so suspenseful that you couldn’t wait a little for a silly book?

That evening I read the first book. It was fun! I couldn’t guess the villain, which disappointed me profoundly.

I read the second book. I didn’t like it too much at first. Too dark for me. But the suspense pulled me over to the third, which many ranked as the finest of the series. By the time I reached the fourth book I was madly hooked. I read well into the night and woke up with puffed eyes.

When I reached the end of The Goblet of Fire, I was mad! We had to wait months for the next book? Where was the justice in this world?

From then on I stood in queue for the books. I put off packing for my trip to Singapore because I was too busy shedding tears when (do I really need to put a spoiler alert here??) Snape kills Dumbledore in Book Six.

Book Seven sealed my love for this series.

I tried to analyze why it appealed to me when other fantasy fiction didn’t. The answers I find online don’t match with my experience. I believe I liked it and it goaded me to consume more fantasy fiction because it was easy relatable in terms of the magic world that was created. Up until then I had found it difficult to dive into the fantasy world, but this one was easier to visualize.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I overcame the inertia and embraced this book with all my heart. JK Rowling made all our lives richer, and deserves all the accolades for it.

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Which is your favourite book of the series? Do share!

The Legacy of Jane Austen, and a New Story Publication!

I’m happy to post that my story Perils in the Post has found a wonderful home in The Ilanot Review in their Letters-themed issue. The Ilanot Review is an excellent literary journal from Israel! Do hop over and take a look.

In other exciting news, 18th July this year marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. How fitting that my essay on Jane Austen was accepted just days ago, for an anthology by Ben Bulben Books. The piece, which I drafted over a week, captures my love for this great author and her delightful work. I would love to share a link to the anthology when it comes out.

Though I’ve read all her books, my favourite works of Jane Austen are the usual culprits: Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. My next favourite after these two would be Emma, followed by Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I haven’t read Lady Susan yet but as it was her first novel she wrote, the general consensus is that it differs from her later work.

As a Jane-ite, I am not enamoured of all the variations on her work that have flooded the marketplace in the past few years. I’ve read only a few of them, but haven’t had the stomach to read any more. Here are a few that I’ve read: 

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Pride and Prejudice strides into the mystery genre courtesy the late great P.D. James and what an entry it is! I loved this book and would wholeheartedly recommend it.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

This was quite successful but I didn’t enjoy it much. It spawned a movie version as well, and I tried watching it in an attempt to help reading the book, but that did not work either. It’s just one of those where my taste apparently doesn’t mesh with the general reading public. 

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

I read this years ago and though my memory of it is vague, I remember enjoying the read. She incorporates dialogues from the original text as well.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, and others in a similar vein

Pure blasphemy in my humble opinion, but that’s just me. The book was quite popular and well-appreciated, though I am sure it literally left JA turning in her grave.

This is only a sampling and there are many more, but I don’t want to tarnish the image of the original in my mind by reading derivative works. Perhaps at a later stage, I might grow a taste for it, but not now.

What’s your favourite Jane Austen novel?

 

Fictional research: a quick tour of seven contemporary novels

Today I am delighted to welcome debut author Anne Goodwin to my blog! I stumbled upon her blog Annecdotal while reading her illuminating post on the Black Fox Literary magazine, and ever since I’ve been a fan of her and her writing. Her debut novel Sugar and Snails was out last week.

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I’ll hand it over to Anne to tell us about research in fiction:

When fiction writers mention research, they’re generally referring to the fact-checking and reading around the subject required to accord their imagined scenarios verisimilitude. When scientists talk of research, however, they tend to mean setting up the conditions to test whether a given hypotheses is likely to be true. For fiction writers, research implies collecting information which certain others already possess; for scientists, it’s about building on existing information to discover something new to us all.

What happens when the two come together? Do novels that address scientific research make for a good read? I will argue that they do, with reference to seven novels across different genres, two focusing on the subjects of research endeavours and four following the perspective of the researcher, while one gives us both. Each of these novels raises issues about the human condition which take us well beyond dry academia.

What’s it like to take medication you don’t actually need? Virtually penniless, and with the student loan collection agency on his back, Billy Schine thinks he’s found the ideal solution to his problems when he comes across an advert for volunteers for a drug study. He’ll have free food and board, and a generous payment at the end, as long as he doesn’t mind taking a hitherto untested antipsychotic medication and being closely monitored for a fortnight. David Gilbert fills The Normals, with comic set pieces on the routines of blood tests, urine samples, and petty rivalries between the research participants with little to do but watch each other for signs of the drug’s effects.

What’s it like to be the subject of an experiment from your earliest days? In We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler also explores the impact of being a research participant, in this case many years after the research has come to an end. Rosemary’s father is a psychologist who used the family home as a laboratory for a naturalistic study of child development. A team of graduate students recorded the behaviours of Rosemary and her sister, Fern, almost from birth, comparing their achievements across various milestones. While the experience has left Rosemary a little weird, she’s much more concerned about the fate of her sister, whom she hasn’t seen since the experiment ended when they were both five years old.

Are researchers as objective as they should be? The pressures on ambitious young researchers are the subject of Allegra Goodman’s novel, Intuition, set in a high-pressure cancer research lab. When one young man’s experiments begin to show promising results, everyone feels the excitement. But suspicions are aroused when his colleagues fail to replicate the effects. With the outside world already primed to expect some good news, the novel explores the morality of the research endeavour and how human emotion can contaminate the quest for truth.

A comical take on the same question arises in Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep, set, as you might expect, in a sleep research lab. The lead researcher, Dr Gregory Dudden, perceives sleep is a waste of time and will go to any lengths to see it eradicated. His assistant, on the other hand, has joined the research team in order to get access to a former friend who has dreams so vivid she mistakes them for real events.

Do Western researchers exploit the less developed parts of the world? There’s another maverick researcher in Ann Patchett’s novel, State of Wonder. Annick Swenson is also on the trail of a new wonder drug, but her laboratory is deep within the Brazilian jungle. When she refuses to produce the required progress report to her investors, Marina Singh, her former student, is sent to investigate. What she finds beside the muddy waters of the Rio Negro takes her into her own heart of darkness and life will never be the same.

Is the research endeavour a means to understanding ourselves? Roopa Farooki, in her novel The Good Children, has also deftly employed the research topic as a way of reflecting character. Although the psychological research featured here is only one of many elements within this wide-ranging family saga, the novel opens with what appears to be an experiment on memory. But this is an experiment with extremely serious consequences for errors and, rather than being about memory, it’s part of Stanley Milgram’s vast research programme looking into obedience to authority. For Sully, a junior researcher on the team, a childhood regime in which brutal punishments were handed out for the slightest misdemeanour has prepared him for the role all too well.

Do the researcher’s insights transfer across to their own lives? In my own novel, Sugar and Snails, I’ve also used an actual (but less well known) methodology from psychological research to highlight my main character’s internal struggles. Diana Dodsworth is a psychology lecturer whose PhD in adolescent decision-making required participants to make a choice between two alternatives. Tainted by her association with a researcher suspected of fiddling his results, instead of following up her own promising initial findings, Diana took a sideways move into another area. Life becomes challenging when circumstances force her to reconsider the topic, not only from an academic perspective, but in a deeply personal way regarding the momentous decision she herself took at the age of fifteen.

Thanks for reading. Have you come across any other novels that feature research? What aspects of the human condition is fictional research best placed to explore?

 

Links are to my own reviews of the novel in question to the author’s website.

Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last month by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.