As a girl, I spent most of my time with my nose buried in books. I wanted to go ice skating with the March sisters in Massachusetts and eat russets- I didn’t care much for apples, but this word had a ring to it- by a cosy fire in Avonlea, or watch the snow falling on a birch-lined road. Because it wasn’t possible in tropical Vizag, I decided to write my own stories and set them in countries I read of.
A few people have told me I should perhaps try writing proper stories, instead of rambling on incoherently- they don’t use these exact words, of course, because people are often more polite than I give them credit for. But you’ll see now, as I tell you of my various brushes with fiction, why I prefer this disjointed style that doesn’t tie me down to a commitment I can barely ever keep. My threadbare plots would never go too far in serious literary circles, and padded with the inanities that I am fond of, they’d be nothing short of sheer torture. But because I spent a good deal of my growing-up years writing stories that will never see the light of day- a massive, serious investment for someone who went around telling people she’d be a writer when she grew up- I might as well tell you how unintentionally comical they turned out. Here is a selection of plots.
It was never really my forte, and I often laughed at romantic scenes in movies (I still do). But after crying over The Call of the Wild, I was so moved that I decided I wanted to write a story with Canada for a backdrop. The similarity started and ended with the cold, snowy setting. My story featured a deeply in love French-Canadian couple (note the hint of exoticism). The woman was dying of cancer or something else, and her husband was summoned to her hospital bed during a raging storm to be by her side in her last moments. But wonders of wonders! As he whispered goodbye in some words I shall not repeat here, her eyes flickered open and she came back to life from the brink of death. I’m sure they lived pretty long afterwards.
Home turf. In the early years, I wrote about queens dressed in sequined pink velvet gowns, with diamonds all over their person. This was followed by the conversion of Jane Eyre into a poem, but the crowning glory was a sequel I wrote to Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci. While the poem featured a fairy-lady who seduced men and left them hopelessly in love with her, my story was about a soldier who was somehow immune to her charms but played along and went to her grotto. There, as they were about to “lie together”, as Homer would have put it, the soldier pulled out a dagger and stabbed her to death, even as her ruby blood flowed and the mountains rang with her shrieks. Vestiges of Greek tragedy seeped in as I was reading snatches of The Odyssey around this time.
See also: The Pirates of the Pacific
The Detective Novel
Only slightly less ambitious than my MA dissertation, this was to be my magnum opus and comprised several chapters. When I was about twelve, the purpose of my life was to read as many Nancy Drew novels as possible, so it isn’t difficult to see where the “concept” of this story originated. It featured three American girls hot on the trail of a jewel thief following an engagement party, weaving in numerous peripheral characters so that I could use my dazzling skills to describe their titian hair and aquamarine eyes. When they were not solving the mystery, they were driving around in a blue car and eating ham sandwiches, scones and chocolate cake, and drinking gingerbeer- which seems to have been my way of paying homage to Enid Blyton. Each chapter ended on a tantalising note: the ringing of the phone broke a deathly silence, a knock sounded on the door, or a friend ran into the house crying.
Eventually, the clues led the girls to a wedding where an inopportunely timed snatch landed the thief in hot water. A diamond necklace was stolen and discovered in the thief’s elaborate chignon, turning the girls into instant superstars. All my protagonists (and the criminal) were women, and the cross-cultural influences clearly heralded globalisation.
These, then, are some of the very silly stories I wrote. But I worked very sincerely, spending an hour on them every evening after finishing my homework, even illustrating them. And I’m quite sure I’d have written them even if I knew they’d sound ridiculous some day. I don’t often let practicality get in the way, and it’s a good thing you can’t read my thoughts.
I’ll finish with a few plots that I never really developed, partly because I had not the vaguest idea about the ambitious backdrop I was trying to give them.
Religious charlatans and escapades
A woman finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue at an ashram, where she goes to find peace under a stunning Godwoman. Instead, she uncovers a major drug racket.
Russian spy thriller
Two fugitives flee along the Volga. I can’t remember what they were running away from, or where they were going to find themselves. This must have been when I was getting interested in Robert Ludlum or heard of the KGB, and decided that I had to add a story set in Russia to my repertoire.
A man finds himself in prison because he gets on the wrong side of a powerful political group. Only his lawyer sister can save him now.
Excited at India’s success in the beauty pageant industry of the 90s, I was very fond of “designing” evening gowns and swimsuits, even before I could really grasp what a woman’s body meant. But words always took precedence with me, and I began a story about fashion sabotage. Now that I come to think of it, it was also inspired by a Nancy Drew mystery.
We’ll talk about the actual horror stories some other day.