Interview with Indian Author of Crime Fiction – Madhumita Bhattacharyya

Indian female author of crime fiction is a rare sighting on the Indian fiction writing scene. While Indians are voracious consumers of mystery and crime genre, there are hardly any Indian crime writers, let alone female writers.  Madhumita Bhattacharyya, breaks that mould.

Zorba Books decided to play detective with Madhumita, the most popular female Indian crime writer, to unearth facts behind writing a book, success as an author, marketing of books and more. To our surprise unlike some characters in her books, she freely shared her writing secrets without much prodding. Here are the mysteries revealed. 

1. Your first book The Masala Murder has an intriguing title. Tell us a little about how you came to write it?

I had been working on long-form fiction for a while before I started writing The Masala Murder. My first manuscript was written alongside my day job as an assistant editor at The Telegraph. But I didn’t think it was good enough to be published. When life landed me, out of the blue, in Shanghai China, I found myself inspired to try again and Reema Ray was born.

2. You were a journalist with The Telegraph newspaper in Kolkata. Did that in any way influence you to write a book? Why a murder mystery?

Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres to read, which is why it seemed an obvious choice for me. I had decided that as a newbie author, choosing a genre was a good way to go as it is difficult to publish books that fall outside established genres of fiction. Unless you are a literary writer, which I was not. Write what you love to read is a pretty good rule for all authors to follow.

My work as a journalist has helped me in so many ways – I became a good writer and editor on the job before ever seriously attempting fiction. A lot of research goes into my plots and some of those skills were also developed in the office, too. Journalists also feature in a lot of my work!

3. Are we suddenly witnessing a spurt in Indian authors taking to the mystery/crime genre? What do you think is the reason behind it?

When The Masala Murder came out, few contemporary crime novels were being written in English. Now, you will find many. However, there are still few women detectives on Indian bookshelves.

Globally crime novels are incredibly popular, and Indian readers seem to embrace these authors. But this sadly is not the case with novels written by Indians. So much so that most publishers are turning away Indian crime. If readers want more Indian crime novels to reach them, it is time to go out and experiment with home-grown detectives! Else we will see far fewer mystery novels in the future.

4. Your second book, Dead in Mumbai Minute, is also a murder mystery. Where do you get the idea for a mystery story from? Are they based on or influenced by real-life incidents you covered as a journalist?

Reema Ray is so far the star of three books, all of which are murder mysteries. Real-life events didn’t inspire it, but there is a lot of the real world in them. Dead in a Mumbai Minute is set on the fictional island of a Bollywood star. I did have the chance to interview many celebrities during my time as a journalist. While these interactions act as inspiration, the events and characters in the books are the product of my imagination.

5. Your first three books featured a female detective, Reema Ray. How did you develop a character like her?

Developing characters is the best part of writing – it is like making a new friend and solving the puzzle of what makes them tick. The idea of a young female detective from an average, everyday sort of background really appealed to me. Perhaps because there wasn’t anyone like her on the Indian literary scene, perhaps because I could relate to her, or because she is the kind of character I love to read. In some ways, she is the girl-next-door; and in others, she is most definitely not the girl-next-door! The wonderful thing about a series is that you can explore the various facets of a character over time and she evolves and grows.

6. What is the best thing about being an author?

I would say being able to spend your time making things up and calling it a job. What better life could there be?

7. What is the worst thing about being an author?

That writing is only part of the job. Marketing is also an integral part of it, which doesn’t come naturally to many of us. And unless you are in the one percent of the one percent, you will never make a living writing books alone.

8. What would your advice be, to young first-time writers, who don’t know how to start writing a novel?

Spend a little time plotting your story and thinking about character arcs – but not too much. Then just start writing. I speak to so many people who want to write but get stuck before they even begin. It is quite simple: you can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Get the first draft down and then go back and edit. Ruthlessly.

Indian Author of Crime Fiction Madhumita Bhattacharyya is famous for the Reema Ray Mysteries trilogy published by Pan Macmillan. She worked with the Telegraph newspaper in Calcutta for a decade and currently works as a freelance writer, editor, creative writing trainer and also runs a middle school book club. Her first novel The Masala Murder debuted in 2012, followed by three more titles including two more books in the Reema Ray trilogy (Dead in Mumbai Minute and Goa Undercover) and a novella Murder at the Temple. She believes crime novels let one explore many facets of life.

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