Advertising, writing books, being a family person, Anuja Chauhan has been there, done that, and with much elan and grace. We get talking to the lovely lady to see what makes her tick.
Before we get down to writing, tell us something about your career in copywriting at JWT.
I loved it! It never felt like working…and to think I drifted into it completely randomly! I can’t imagine any other career where I could’ve worked so happily and for so long…It was only when you got more senior and it becomes more about ‘managing’ and meetings and being politically correct than about the actual writing that things began to suck a litte…the pure creative side was always a total blast.
When, where and how did writing novels happen to you?
I had a small epiphany at some typical, out-of-control, fifty-crises-brewing-at-once Pepsi shoot. That if I wrote novels I would have total control. I wouldn’t have to worry about variables like research, and celebrity tantrums and budgets and the weather and anal film directors and exacting clients. I wouldn’t have anybody to blame but myself if the end product sucked. I needed to do that -because when you can blame other people, you have a safety net of sorts, you know? Writing novels would be flying without a safety net. Scary but exhilarating.
What brought about the ideation of your first book Zoya Factor? Being your first book, what were some of the things you had to struggle with?
The idea came from something that actually happened to a friend of mine. People started thinking she was lucky for a certain team. I found the premise fascinating. Imagine if you were a lucky charm – what a roller coaster ride that would be! The tension – the sense of responsibility. And this was three years before Paul the Octopus.
The language in your book is verbose and full of zest? Are you like this in your real life too?
I can’t say really…
Coming to your second book, Battle for Bittora, the first one dealt with cricket, one of India’s biggest passions. What made you choose politics for the second one, apart from it being another passion in India?
I saw huge scope for humour, irony and idealism in Indian politics. And also, I thought is was a very natural (though unexploited) setting for a love story.
Did you ever feel the burden of a hit debut while writing your second novel?
Yes! I did a bit. I had no such worries while writing Zoya. With Bittora though, I did feel a little self-important and frozen with performance anxiety initially.
How much of your stories are inspired from real life and how much do you devote to research?
I do a lot of research – but I really research the feel more, the mood, the emotions, rather than actual dates-and-dry facts. I lift a lot from life as well, but you know, I mix and mash rather than cut and paste, so nothing is ever replicated in its real-life form.
What’s your remedy when faced with writer’s block?
Do something else. Put it away for a bit.
Did you have any second thoughts about how your stories and characters turned out after the book went to press?
No not really – people said Zoya was a bit too long, but I never really felt that. I still don’t.
Which authors do you think have played an important role in shaping up your writing style and technique?
Well, I love Vikram Seth. I love his aunties and hot heroes and witty, insightful asides. I love Lucy Montgomery ( Anne of Green Gables) and Meg Cabot ( Princess Diaries.) And I love JK Rowling.
Tell us something about yourself that no tabloid knows.
I am attempting to grow my nails so I can acquire a 3300 rupee French manicure!
You were with JWT, one of the top ad agencies for more than 10 years and held the VP & Executive director position. You have a successful writing career and you’re raising three kids. What superpowers are you keeping secret from us?
I have a fabulous cook/housekeeper. She bought up my husband, his brother and sister and all my three kids. Her name is Eppa Matthias. I put up with all her attitude (and she dishes out a lot) but I’ll never let her leave me!
Apart from writing, what do you love and enjoy doing?
I love painting furniture, walls, cycles anything! I love chatting with my (or anybody’s) kids. I can knit very good socks and I’m a mean rip-sticker!
What next do we see from the desk of Anuja Chauhan?
That’s a secret, sorry, but I’m working hard at the moment!
Which authors would you recommend from amongst your contemporaries?
I really enjoyed The Immortals of Meluha.
Any tips that you’d like to share with budding writers?
Yes, just write. Write a whole book.Then only worry about agents and publishers and advances! Talk less, write more.
Nikhil or Zain : Zain!
Favorite book: A Suitable Boy
Superboss or Supermom : I suck at being both actually
Favorite holiday destination : Anyplace vibrant and beachy – Goa/Maldives/Australia
Favorite soul food : Hot Maggi noodles with extra mirchi