‘A writer needs to locate in himself the traits he gives to his characters’

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Ankush Saikia
Ankush Saikia 38, Author

How much of your own experiences do you incorporate in your stories?
I try and use as much of what I’ve seen and experienced. For example, the run-down bars that the protagonist in The Girl from Nongrim Hills visits and the ’80s hard rock songs he recalls come from personal experience. The arms smuggling and vote buying is common knowledge in the Northeast, at least to those who follow the news. Even the “Girl” herself is partly based on news reports of the female members of armed groups in the region. At the same time, while writing fiction, and especially while writing a thriller, I do have to rely on my imagination to come up with interesting scenarios.

Is it painful or cathartic when you dig into your own experiences?
Because I try and use as much of what I have seen as possible, I think the correct word would be “helpful”. It is helpful for me to have those experiences to dig into.

Are your characters loosely based on real people?
I would say they are a composite of the people I’ve met, observed, read about and imagined. And, of course, as a writer you need to locate in yourself the traits that you attribute to your characters.

Why expose the dark side of Shillong, a city you love?
When you love a person, it is regardless of (or even because of) their flaws, which are an inseparable part of them. Similarly, I have a deep affection for Shillong, a city I grew up in, and wanted to portray it as a whole, with its good and bad sides. But since The Girl from Nongrim Hills is a crime thriller, it does invariably look at the shady side of things!

Do your characters decide their own course or are you the master puppeteer?
It’s both. I do have a rough idea of what I want them to do and where I want them to go, but often they surprise me by doing something on their own, which is the mark of a believable character.

In between books, do you relax or start worrying about the next one?
I try to keep writing at all times, because what you write and the publishing process are two different things. My next book, out later this year from Westland, is a thriller called Red River, Blue Hills and is set in Delhi and the Northeast. And I am working at the moment on a crime novel set in Delhi featuring a private detective.

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