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Author Highlight: Divya Kumar Discusses her New Book ‘The Shrine of Death’ and Stories from her Life

We are back with another author interview. Today, with us, we have Divya Kumar – the author of ‘The Shrine of Death’. In this interview, Divya Kumar talks about her writing aspirations, the route to getting her book published, and her inclination towards crime thrillers. Stay on...while we chat with her.

What motivates you to write and how long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember – my mother has saved my first story, about a turtle and fish who were best friends, written when I was five years old. That was followed by comic-strips and Enid Blyton-inspired adventure novels begun during summer holidays, angsty poetry in my teenage years, and articles for literary journals and campus newspapers in college. But I became a professional writer after I completed my journalism degree in the U.S., and joined The Hindu Metroplus in Chennai as a feature writer, covering mostly the book and art beat.

What motivates me is an abiding love of stories, and the joy of self-expression. I write stories that I want to read, about people/characters whom I want to know better. That, I’ve realized, is the only thing that makes you want to keep writing, that brings you back again and again, amidst periods of self-doubt or low inspiration.

How did you feel when your book got published?

It was, quite literally, a dream come true! I grew up in a home filled with books and love reading, so to see my own words within the covers of a novel was an incredible feeling, almost surreal.

What are some of your favorite authors and novels?

I love reading fiction of all sorts – I enjoy Edgar Allan Poe and Anne Rice as much as I do Georgette Heyer or P. G. Wodehouse. Crime writer Dick Francis is an old favourite of mine – I love the way he deftly depicts his characters’ emotional lives even as he sets up his fast-moving plots. I love the brooding atmosphere that Daphne Du Maurier conjures up in her all novels and short stories. I recently re-discovered the thrillers of Ira Levin -- what a genius for plot the man had! And I love the gentle humour and kindness in the writing of James Herriot.

What inspired you to write this book? Any tales to tell…

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

How do you manage your professional and creative life? Don’t they clash?

It’s always tricky to find time to create, unless you’re lucky enough to be a full-time author! In my case, I began writing ‘The Shrine of Death’ after I quit my job with The Hindu for the birth of my daughter. But I was still writing freelance as a feature writer and a columnist, as well as being a full-time mom, so I often wrote in the late night, after everyone was asleep, or on the weekends when I could get away to a café for a few hours. I still struggle with finding the time to work on my writing, juggling my household responsibilities, mom duties and other freelance work – but my New Year’s resolution is to try and prioritise it more!

What was your biggest learning experience throughout the writing process?

I think it was just the act of completing the book – my first full-length novel – not just a rough draft, but a fairly polished final product after rewriting, reworking and editing. I’ve done that for feature articles, of course, but a 95,000-word novel is something else altogether!

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in as a writer?

I think working as a journalist gives you a great head start. It ensures you’re writing and editing every day, and teaches you to cope with days when the words just aren’t coming that easily. It exposes you to a world of creative people – I loved my years covering the book beat, attending book launches and interviewing authors, everyone from Amitav Ghosh to Jeffrey Archer. And it also exposes you to an array of new experiences and takes you to new places every day – a lot of what you read of Chennai in my book comes from my years as a reporter in the city.

Any best piece of writing advice from your side that we haven’t discussed?

If you’ve always dreamed of writing, just get started. If you’re working on a story, just keep going. Don’t wait for some perfect moment or a perfect situation to begin. Don’t wait to be perfectly inspired, or for everything you put down on paper to be a gem. The only way to write is to keep putting words on the page.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’ve been writing songs for almost as long as I’ve been writing stories. I hope someday soon to put some of them out there too!

Any future books that you would like to discuss now?

I’m currently working on a sequel to ‘The Shrine of Death’, and the plan is to complete a trilogy eventually. This book picks up about two years after TSoD, and you find out what’s going on in the lives of the main characters of book. Jai’s abilities are evolving, and he’s struggling with some strange visions he can’t explain; Prabha is finding her feet in her new career in journalism; Gerard finds himself and his team at the Idol Wing under attack; and they all have to team up to face a powerful and dangerous new enemy…

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