Once a journalist, not always a journalist. Prashant C. Trikannad, a career journalist for three decades, has turned his sights on building a second career out of writing. He is currently working on a few projects that include a potential novel, a nonfiction book, and a collection of short stories. Prashant, who currently works as a content writer in a public relations consultancy, lives in Mumbai with his wife, two children and a dog. His story ‘A Little Murder at Dinner’ has been chosen as the Editor’s Pick of the Week.
Juggernaut had a tete-a-tete with Prashant about his story.
Your story is Editor’s Pick of the Week. Please tell us more about it, and its inspiration.
Thank you for selecting A Little Murder at Dinner as Editor’s Pick of the Week. It came as a delightful surprise.
I did not actually plan to write A Little Murder at Dinner. I just happened to write it with little thought or process. I was returning home from work one evening when the name “Harry Hemmady” popped into my head and I thought to myself, “He’d make a fine homicide detective.”
I have been reading detective, crime and mystery fiction for a number of years, and I always wanted to create my own fictional police detective or private investigator on the lines of English author H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ghote of the Bombay Police, as it was then known. So I cast Hemmady as a sleuth in the Mumbai Crime Branch and wove a story round him.
Unlike a detective-mystery story or novel, A Little Murder at Dinner is not a mystery, which requires a great deal of research, planning, plotting, and deductive reasoning. I intended it to be an atmospheric tale set around a homicide. One evening, DCP Hemmady, investigating the murder of a rich old widow, discusses the intricacies of the case with his wife over dinner and gets into a bit of a marital discord when his ex-flame enters the narrative. The story then ends with an unexpected twist.
After this story, I’m tempted to give DCP Hemmady his own detective-mystery novel.
Do you have any particular rules or rituals you follow as a writer?
I don’t have fixed rules for writing, like specific hours at a particular time of day or night, the way established authors do. I write mostly on weekends and that’s because I get very little time on working days.
I also write when I feel like writing, though there are times when I sit at the computer and type as a means to relieve stress. A few lines or a couple of paragraphs, and I’m back in the writer’s saddle. I find writing — and by that I mean writing anything — therapeutic, much as I do playing a game of chess or solving a cryptic crossword.
When I write, I have this annoying habit of re-reading and editing as I go along. This is a waste of time as it disrupts the thought process and the writing mood. The ideal thing to do is to first write out, say, an entire chapter, and only then revise it. I have read of authors who write reams and reams one day and revisit those pages only the next day. The idea is to get as many words down as possible and take it from there. I’m trying to adopt that rule.
For inspiration, I read about other authors, their writing rituals and working habits. I’m a big fan of the ‘Writers at Work’ interviews of The Paris Review. I read those exhaustive interviews with famous authors and I’m thinking, “So this is what it takes to be a writer, and then a great writer.” It all sounds quite daunting but it’s also exciting at the same time.
What got you interested in becoming a writer? Where do you go for inspiration?
I come from a long line of journalists and writers, who influenced my career as a journalist and later as a writer.
Three of my great-grandfathers wrote extensively on spiritual matters, and one of them published over 20 books. My paternal grandfather was an editor at a well-known publishing house known for its English grammar books. He also reviewed books for newspapers. And my grandmother was a columnist and the author of a collection of short stories about families and relationships. My father and his elder brother were both journalists. So I grew up reading their stories and articles from a very young age.
Besides, I was also surrounded by all kinds of books, from the Classics to bestselling fiction and nonfiction, and a lot of spiritual literature. My dad, in particular, told me fascinating stories from Indian history and mythology through the medium of comics like Amar Chitra Katha. By the time I was out of college, I had decided that I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a newspaper reporter.
Today, my biggest inspiration is my family. My wife, a former journalist, and my children are constantly encouraging me to write and publish, because they believe I have it in me to make a second career out of writing.
What’s that one piece written by you which is your all-time favourite?
I won’t call it my favourite, but I like it a lot. It’s a short story called Innocent Justice I wrote and published on my blog two years ago. It’s about a young boy who is sent out by his alcoholic stepfather, on a stormy and wretched night, to fetch a bottle of hooch from a country liquor bar. On the way back, Kiaan, the boy, decides to kill his stepfather for nearly destroying their lives.
I read a lot of dark and gritty stories and novels, and thought it’d be nice to try my hand at one.
Your bestselling authors and books list. Why do they make it to your list?
I’ll name two authors, both English — thriller writer Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson in real life) and Oliver Strange — who remain my favourite writers ever since I first read them in my teens.
I enjoy reading Higgins because, unlike Tom Clancy or John le Carré, he writes his war and espionage thrillers in a clear, simple and engaging style with minimum attention to detail. He tells a story like it is. In fact, he even makes story-writing look easy.
Oliver Strange, who created the Sudden series, was my first brush with Western fiction, my favourite genre. He was very popular among readers of my generation. I believe Strange wrote about the exploits of his eponymous hero, James Green, alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw — a moniker he earns because of his quick draw — without once crossing the Atlantic. His description of all things associated with the Wild West, even the dialogue, is astonishing.
Both Higgins and Strange created honourable and very likeable heroes who stood by their friends and went after their enemies. They often romanticised their principal characters. Higgins’ Liam Devlin in The Eagle Has Landed and Martin Fallon in A Prayer for the Dying instantly come to mind.
Leaving aside these two authors, this is always a difficult question, one I can never answer convincingly. There are far too many early and contemporary authors, across genres, whose books I delight in reading.
Any writing tips you’d like to share with fellow writers?
In my opinion, the biggest enemy of an aspiring writer is procrastination. If you want to write, you’ve to get right down to it. You can’t put off writing until tomorrow, like a grocery chore. When you don’t write, you’re losing a writer’s most precious resource — time. If you look back, as I have so often with regret, you’ll realise how all the time you wasted not writing could’ve translated into that book you always dreamt of publishing at a young age.
Here’s another tip: Keep off social media when you’re writing. This may sound simplistic but it’s a fact that the digital medium in all its alluring avatars is not just a disruption, it’s also a distraction — it can kill your writing career even before it takes off.
You can read his story A Little Murder at Dinner here.