In yet another book club meet at Urban Solace, I met India’s first Mills ‘n Boon author who has also written the novel,“Tick-tock, we’re 30”.
The book is about a group of friends who are turning thirty. It’s a book about love, friendship, growing up, and dealing with the demons within. So the author is quick to point out that she is not comfortable labeling it chick lit. The term ‘chick lit’ immediately brings to mind a story around two or three women characters and slots the book as a beach read. Milan says she wanted to fight the stereotypical pink cover that goes along with chick lit books and asserts that it’s more than just a light read.
The book deals with twelve characters, each of whom has a definite vocabulary, so you know who is talking without having to check the name. Difficult situations do occur in some of the characters’ lives—while one character is grappling with her sexual identity, another is facing a troubled marriage. It also explores the tenuous relationship between six women.
When asked which character she was most like, the author revealed that she was probably a mix of Nanhi and Lara. Nanhi was who she would have liked to be, while Lara is like a younger Milan, although the author is quick to add that she is more hyper and not as chilled out as Lara. Milan says that although the characters are Indian, the theme of turning thirty is a universal one that everybody the world over can relate to.
One of the working titles for the book was “O teri, we’re thirty” with the Hindi-ism in it. The author says that since the story is set in Delhi, there are Hindi words sprinkled throughout, and some people may not get it, but she’s okay with that. In fact, several international reviewers gave the book a 5-star rating, which is the highest rating one can get on Goodreads or Amazon. One reviewer from New Zealand commented that Milan really “got” the characters; if there was one teeny suggestion she had, it was that Milan include a glossary of Hindi terms in the book’s international edition.
Milan says that in real life, she and her friends had planned a reunion, but it never took place. So she joked that her book was her revenge for the reunion that never happened. Talking about the writing process, Milan says she “thought she knew where the story was going” as she was writing it, but halfway through the book, she started hating one of the characters who the girl was supposed to end up with and fell in love with another character instead. Milan says “you have to be the boss of your characters”. Her favourite character in the book is one of the minor ones named Sita who gets “serially infatuated”. As for the character Kalyani, Milan threw in everything that irritated her about all the women she has ever met and infused those qualities in Kalyani. Kalyani has a small role in the book, but she is one character who is truly over the top, says Milan.
One of Milan’s favourite scenes in the book is where the gang goes to see a movie, and it is set in a women’s loo. One of the characters pretends to be Vidya Balan when she overhears two women talking in the loo.
When asked whether she faced any specific challenges while writing about this popular theme of turning thirty, Milan said she was clear the book wasn’t going to be about one’s biological clock ticking. The subject of needing to get married ‘coz one was of a certain age wouldn’t be an issue in the book.
When asked whether the line between fact and fiction ever blurred in her book, Milan said “As a writer, one lives twice—once in real life and the second time, through your character.” She also points out that if you make your writing autobiographical, you can write only one book. You can’t have ten books that tell the story of your life, she quips.
Talking about how she re-energized herself while writing the book, Milan says she once took a break for two months during the writing process. She says writing makes you draw on your emotions until you feel “naked”.
She says her next book will probably not have so many characters since she found it “agonizing” to do justice to so many characters. She took about a year to write this book and a good two-three months of it involved the “plotting stage”.
Talking about the editing process, she said her editors removed two scenes that they found “politically incorrect”, but the rest of what she wrote has found its way into the book. She said her advertising background helped her stay deadline driven. Talking about the different approaches she had to adopt while writing the Mills ‘n Boon vis-a vis this novel, she points out that in an M ‘n B, there is one hero and one heroine and the ending always has to be a “happy” one. In a Mills ‘n Boon, the emotional graph of the characters is very deep. They go through intense emotions —“high highs” and “low lows”.
Some of Milan’s favourite authors include Jill Mansell and Marian Keyes. Some of the classics she likes include Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kafka and Ayn Rand (that she read in college), and Spike Milligan.