As soon as the awesome news of re-print of Yakshini by Rupa Publications was announced by Neil D’Silva, I knew that it was the right time to hit the spade into his covers and unveil the author responsible for the eerie bestselling books like Maya’s New Husband, Pischacha, and Right Behind You.
To begin with, Yakshini is a journey of emotions. As a reader, I was hooked to every stage on Meenakshi’s journey. So I am intrigued by what Neil D’Silva has to say now. Let’s get started!
Now we know that you’ve been interviewed a lot of times and each time you have probably been asked this question: Tell us about yourself. I want to ask the same question to you too: Tell me the most updated information about yourself!
Ha ha, yes! Everyone asks me that. And this year has been particularly crazy with several things materializing all at once. I started out in 2015 as an author with my first book Maya’s New Husband, and then followed up with more books. This year (2019) brings the count of my published books to 8, with three titles released in October itself — Yakshini (Rupa Publications), Haunted (co-authored with Jay Alani, Penguin Random House), and City of Screams (Half Baked Beans). The first two of these are represented by The Book Bakers literary agency.
I have been a speaker and mentor for new writers for a while now, but this year, there were some major leaps. Among the many institutions that I spoke at, the most prestigious was a six-hour writing course spread over two days at IIT Kanpur. I was also at several litfests, the most notable being the Shimla International Literature Festival, the Pune International Literature Festival, the Noida International Literature Festival, and the Jammu Literary Festival.
I am on the verge of signing a major deal for one of my books for a screen adaptation via The Story Ink. I have already signed away Maya’s New Husband and Yakshini in previous years.
This year really put the spotlight on my literary career. I hold deals with the biggest publishing houses — two with Rupa, one with Penguin, and one with Hachette. All of these were commissioned books too! I made the shift from teaching to writing in 2014, and now I have come to a point where I am sure that there is no turning back.
So I’ll not ask “Why horror?”; rather, I would like to ask “How horror?” How has writing horror been for you? Are any parts of the stories based on real life? Any experiences that you would like to share?
There are many things that gravitated me to horror. Reading Dracula and Frankenstein from my Dad’s collection when I was just 13 was a major influence. Also the fact that my Dad used to subtitle movies from Hindi to English and I used to assist him (I was in Grade 7 then), and that almost all the Ramsay movies were subtitled in our house was a big catalysing factor.
But maybe the biggest factor was the house that I grew up in and my near-loneliness in it as a kid. There were stories that our colony was built on an old graveyard. Indeed, there were parts of our colony where no one ventured after sundown. And I was a super-imaginative kid. All these rumours and stories got to me, till a time came when I wanted to write my own ghost stuff.
One incident in particular stands out. I was in Grade 8 then, I think, when the watchman of our colony had a nasty experience. He claimed to be slapped hard by a ghost woman in the middle of the night. He had seen a shadow and went up to check, when the thing suddenly turned and slapped him right across the face, and then vanished. The watchman had finger marks on his cheeks all right, but who knows if he was telling the truth!
Speaking about using such experiences in my books, yes I do. All authors do. Even the most fantastical fiction is based in real-life experiences in part. Absolute fiction is a myth. In Right Behind You, the stories The Man in the Ceiling and The Midnight Chat are based on real-life experiences. The Ceiling Man was a phobia I had as a child. My recent story in City of Screams is inspired by my driver who had migrated from Allahabad to Mumbai a few years ago and my own experiences with the film industry.
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
No. Every story has a different genesis for me. Maya’s New Husband was born when I observed a newlywed couple who had married without knowing anything about each other. Pishacha came to me when I was exploring paranormal romance stories. Yakshini was born out of a random nightmare that was influenced by some terrifying newspaper stories.
But, one factor that is of paramount importance to me in conceptualizing a story is that I need to have a strong and unique character, especially the negative character. My character has to be conflicted and, through the process of the story, become stronger and much more formidable. Horror is mostly considered to be a plot-driven genre, but for me it is the character that my story builds on. Maya’s New Husband worked for me only after the character of Bhaskar Sadachari became concrete in my mind. Yakshini only started moving when I knew my Meenakshi—a teenage girl who is growing with the spirit of a Yakshini inside her.
Do you ever come up with anything so wild that you scare yourself, that leaves you wondering where did that come from?
Absolutely, yes! I am mostly a pantser, which means I do not plot my stories in elaborate detail before I begin. As I am also finding my way forward as I write the story, some action of my characters shock me.
One interesting incident was when I was writing Maya’s New Husband. The scene was of Maya making her way into a serial killer’s den. I was immersed in writing that scene. It was around midnight and I was alone in my writing room. Things got wildly descriptive as I found myself seeing the scene through Maya’s eyes. I had no charted plan, and I went with the flow. As Maya inched on further, she began to see the body parts strewn around. I described the stench and the suffocation, because I felt it too. At one point, Maya almost stepped on a human spleen. I could see it there! Things got so terrifying for me at that point that I just shut down my computer and got up. After that, I wrote Maya’s New Husband only in the daylight.
Another scare came quite recently when I was writing a story for my upcoming book which contains real-life stories of paranormal investigator Sarbajeet Mohanty. Sarbajeet shares with me his experiences on audio. I write them as a story and send it to him. This happened after the second story. Immediately after I sent it to him, Sarbajeet called me. It was the middle of the afternoon and a lonely time in the house. What he said sent a chill down my spine. He asked me how I had written details that he had not narrated, but had really happened on the scene! Specifically, the way I had described a person mutilating a corpse was really how that had happened. The whole thing creeped me out.
What is one stereotype about horror writers that is absolutely wrong? On the other hand, what stereotype is dead on?
The brazen focus on jump-scares is something we should do away with. The creaking doors, the white saree, the twisted legs, the thunder happening at the right moment, should be completely discarded. Their time was in the last century when people were just warming up to horror.
Today, our readers are wiser and are looking for much more. Jump-scares don’t scare them. What they are looking for is a character they can invest in, and a plot that is unique and drives the story forward. After consuming such a lot of western content on streaming channels and in books, it is time we Indian horror writers upped the ante too and brought more unique plots into the picture. For all my stories so far, the reviews tell me that the story is what gets the people hooked; the horror aspect supplements it.
But we still have a big market of people who want to read about our occult practices. Tantriks, babas, aghoris, peers, etc. are still in vogue. The reason is that these people are real. They exist in our world and they are still shrouded in mystery. People want to know more about these mystics. Contemporary stories steeped in our occult practices still have a large number of takers.
If you could choose a book character to be for a day, who would it be and why?
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore! He was wise, he had all the knowledge, he taught in the most fun school in the world, he fought evil wizards, and the whole world cried when he died.
Are you a Potterhead? Click here to take our Harry Potter Trivia Quiz!
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friends with tons of writers and we all help each other to be better writers. There are several groups of them—the social media author friends, the author friends who I meet mostly at events and litfests, the author friends with whom I have worked as in co-authored books with them or edited their books, the author friends that belong to the same literary agency as me… the list goes on. We often share our experiences and read each other’s books too, but of course, without any compulsions or obligations. We are actually a very friendly community!
We share tips on writing at times. But since writing is a very personal thing, everyone needs to evolve their own style.
I am friends with almost all Indian authors, but will not name any so as not to play favourites!
If I came to your home and looked in your refrigerator, what would I find?
Not much apart from the bare necessities. It’s a regular pauper author’s refrigerator, and on top of that, I am on a constant diet battling against some weighty issues. Also, we are millennials. We will Swiggy it or Zomato it for those occasional cravings; why load the poor refrigerator?
If you have to describe yourself using a quote from your books, what will it be?
Difficult to pinpoint something like that. I have written around 1 million published words so far. Finding just a single quote would be an issue. Maybe you could coerce people to read my books and now, as they know something about me through this interview, they could pick up a quote that signifies me?
When you introduce yourself as a Horror Author do you get those weird looks. Do you find yourself — and other horror writers — to be more idiosyncratic than the average person?
Not anymore. Most of my public appearances now are those where people already know that I write horror. But yes, I do get the random bizarre questions like, “Do ghosts come and tell their stories to you?” At a recent litfest, an audience member actually asked me (I hope in jest), “What is the proof that you aren’t dead and not a ghost?”
On the whole, people are highly enthusiastic when they know I write horror. It creates some kind of intrigue and interest in my work. The usual questions I get are interesting ones that I love to answer, as in this interview.
That apart, I am as average a guy as can be. I watch the shows that the world does—was hooked on to Game of Thrones (but don’t get me started on the finale), laughed with the world over The Big Bang Theory, watched Gully Boy with just as much enthusiasm as most people, and I love to try out new places to eat with my family. It’s a misconception that horror authors are weird—it is just a stereotype as you find in most other horror stuff that is going around.
And…that’s it! We’re done with the interview! Yay! Truth be told, after reading the answers, I am more than curious about reading Neil D’Silva future works! Do let me know what you think about the interview.
I am grateful to Neil D’Silva – Thank you so much! – for agreeing to this interview and answering all the questions awesomely and patiently. You can find Neil D’Silva on:
Will meet you next time with another author interview! Adios.