Author by the minute: Nandini Bajpai, author of Red Turban White Horse

How and when did you decide to write?
I was a military kid and my family travelled all over India, but I mainly studied in Delhi. I’ve lived in the US for close to 20 years, but I still have a bit of Delhi in me. I wanted to write after finishing the first book I ever read — probably an Enid Blyton. I took a few wrong turns before getting into writing, but it’s never too late.

How did the book come about? Is it autobiographical?
We did have a wedding in the family the weekend of Hurricane Irene — that was the inspiration for the book — but the characters in the book are all made up. Having lived through the situation helped with the weather- related research, but it isn’t autobiographical at all.

Tell us about the process of writing the book — literary influences, your choice of characters (are their doppelgängers in your own family, for instance?)
I started writing the book for National Novel Writing Month (November) in 2011. I had serious deadline and basically had to get it done. It was lots of fun creating my characters, but all the main characters are fictional. As to some minor doppelgängers here and there, I have to plead the fifth!

What makes a great YA novel? And what must not, under any circumstances, make its way into one?
There is no single formula — for me, a great YA novel must have a compelling voice, a wholeness and depth to the storytelling. The things that do not belong in it, I think, are moralising and parental or authorial voices intruding into the narrative. I believe all kinds of difficult topics can be tackled in a YA novel, because young people today do have to deal with such things in their actual lives. However, even if there isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, there should always be a sense of hope at the end. I think we owe it to young readers to deliver some optimism.

Which YA novels do you swear by, and why?
I’d include Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott as YA reads, but some of the newer YA novels I love are by John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Elizabeth Bunce. Even though they write in genres ranging from contemporary to historical to fantasy, their work always has an authentic voice, a richly imagined setting, a solid plotline, and great emotional resonance that does not descend into sentimentality.

(As told to Kareena N Gianani) 

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