"The author's job is to let the characters take over…"

A conversation with Nayantara Sahgal

I never 'learned to write.' Never studied English literature. But I came from a family of readers and I read widely. I believe that is the only 'lesson' an aspiring writer needs, which is to read great storytellers. Powerful writing comes out of the feelings that words evoke, and the simplest sentences can do this. As a child I was moved to tears by Dickens' Dombey and Son and his other works. As an adult I have been profoundly moved by Graham Greene's work which is bare and economical in the telling.

If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be not to rush to put words on paper, or to strive for effect. Wait till a character or an incident or an atmosphere is clear in your head so that you can get started.

There's no need to 'give up' anything. Being better improves with practice and with reading.

This book moved at a fast pace, writing itself. I didn't edit out anything.

It is no exaggeration to say no scene was hard to write. The author's job is to let the characters take over and that's what I did.

No. There are no 'secrets.' What happens is that the story gets revealed as it goes on, rather than being explicitly told. It is my way of building suspense.