Meet Our (National) Members: Mahtab Narsimhan

Mahtab was born in Mumbai and after a brief sojourn in the Middle East, immigrated to Canada in 1997. She started writing in January 2004, and after four years and countless rejections, her debut novel, The Third Eye, was ready for publication. It won the Silver Birch Fiction Award in 2009 and Mahtab has not looked back since. To learn more, visit her website.

Describe your workspace.

My office is spacious and has a small window with a lovely view. I’ve spent many contented hours reading, doodling, researching in there. However, it also doubles up as my office for my daytime job. I find that taking a break from it when working on a new manuscript, a change of scenery so to speak, helps the words to flow.

My latest manuscript, a YA historical novel, is taking shape in my guest bedroom where I have zero distractions. Often, when I need new perspective, I change my writing location. It really helps!

Describe a typical workday.

My alarm is set for 5:00 am but I usually get out of bed by 5:30 and am at my writing spot by 6:00. I write for however long it takes me to complete my daily quota of 1500 words. Some days I manage that in an hour and a half, sometimes it takes two. I check email and respond to the most urgent ones after I’ve finished the word count.

My day job starts by 9am and I work till about 3.30pm with a break for lunch.

Evenings are for research, critiquing my friends’ manuscripts and catching up on the “business” aspect of being an author, plus the most important pastime of all: reading.

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Sam. He’s always sat on top of my bookshelf, inviting me to pick up a book and relax. I love his goofy expression.

My (very) old Koss Boombox. No matter how hard I try, I’m unable to get rid of it. I used to play some of my favourite tapes (totally dating myself here!) and CDs on it and still do even though most music is available online.

The lunchbox I brought back from India for the cover of my book, The Tiffin published by DCB in August 2011. The book symbolizes the teamwork of the dabbawallas who work hard as a family to maintain their almost perfect delivery stats; one box in six million lost, which is also the premise of this story.

The other, and more important, reason the tiffin-box is special is that because of my trip to India in March 2011, I had the chance to say goodbye to my favourite aunt who passed away of cancer one day after we arrived. The Tiffin is dedicated to her.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

None really. I just avoid the internet, phone, any kind of distractions and just get down to it. It’s not too hard first thing in the morning and when it becomes a habit.

What do you listen to while you work?

Eclectic Mix but always instrumental. Words distract me. My faves:

Adrian von Ziegler

Thomas Newman

John Williams

Ramin Djawadi

Buddha Bar

Or any ambient chillout music.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Tea with lemon grass and mint leaves. Sometimes I’ll switch to tea with ginger and cardamom.

No snacks in the morning. However, if I’m revising or reading, later in the evening, a cheese platter and a glass of Chardonnay often keep me company.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

During my earlier novels, I never outlined. I was a discovery writer.

Of late I always have an outline and I always know my ending. When you have a dynamic ending, it’s much easier to write towards it. As Brandon Sanderson, one of the hosts of the podcast Writing Excuses (which I love and highly recommend) said; “Plot backward and write forward.” This has worked out very well for me.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I cannot work with anyone in the room. It’s just the way I’ve worked and do not see myself changing anytime soon. But if forced, Roald Dahl. I wouldn’t be able to write, I’d just peek over his shoulder to see what he was writing.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

I love Stephen King’s Book, On Writing. However, this bit of advice was from an interview with him. A journalist asked Stephen King how he managed to be so prolific. His answer? One word at a time.

Often when I’m overwhelmed with the thought of writing a 60K or 90K word novel, I think of King’s words and only focus on the day’s goal; 1500 words.

A book is made up lots of words. I can write a word. And then another and then one more. I’ll get there in the end. So will anyone else who aspires to be a writer.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

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