What made a dentist turn to writing? Our readers’ favourite thriller writer, Yamini Pustake Bhalerao, currently the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV, wrote her first book a year after she completed her degree in dentistry. And she was not one to be deterred by the rejection the book faced from all major publishing houses. She felt so rewarded by the process of writing that she gave up dentistry altogether to become a full time writer.
Yamini wrote The Laundry Girl, a gripping spy story that our readers finish in one sitting, while she was living as an expat wife in Vienna. And she wrote the sequel while holding a full time job. Readers have taken to Indira Sanyal, her fiery protagonist, and they have been waiting to read more of her adventures. Yamini has now upped the ante and written a serialized spy thriller A Spy In China. Set against the backdrop of the border tension between India and China as well as the global pandemic of covid-19, the story will give you goosebumps! This week we spoke to her about her writing process and her inspiration for her upcoming thriller. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers!
Q. What drew you to the idea of making this story a serialised thriller instead of a novel?
Y: I have been keen on doing a serialised story for some time now. I see it as a challenge because you have to keep the readers hooked to an extent that they are willing to wait for a few days, till the next chapter drops. In thrillers, the rush is as much in all the twists, as in the pace. That’s why serializing a thriller feels like a bigger challenge because you are deliberately breaking your readers’ pace and you have to leave them with something that’ll make them come back. As a writer this is a challenge I have not taken up before, so I am very excited about it.
Q. Why did you choose a female spy to be the protagonist of your Laundry Girl stories and your upcoming story as well? Was it a conscious choice?
Y: Yes, it was a conscious choice. I have grown up reading thrillers and it remains one of the biggest joys of my day to day life. But I have always felt this absence of kickass female spies in thrillers. With the Laundry Girl series I am trying to push the envelope when it comes to how women are portrayed in thrillers.
Only when the readers read about a sassy, smart, bold yet brutal woman spy, will they realise what they have been missing out on. Writing this series has been liberating, both as a writer and as a reader who craved for an Indian female character who can solve cases and crack a few bones if needed.
Q. This thriller is set against the backdrop of a pandemic. How has using setting changed the way you write your plots?
Y: COVID-19 has clearly divided our lives into “before” and “after”. No matter what you do or think about today, it is impossible to not do so in the context of the pandemic. I think COVID-19 is influencing every writer right now, it is making us question the premise of our stories, and characters we create, because of the magnanimity of the situation and because there is simply no clarity to where we are headed. When will this crisis be over? What will the post crisis world be like? Will we ever go back to living the way we did in the pre-coronavirus world?
We are dealing with these questions on both personal and professional levels. So in a way, it has impacted every aspect of my writing. The entire universe that I have created for the Laundry Girl so far, stands challenged by a global catastrophe I didn’t see coming. However, the good thing when you write fiction is that you can turn and twist the situation as you like, it can be cathartic for a person who hasn’t left her house for months now.
Q. How do you find the time to write while you work a full-time job? Do you have a set writing schedule?
Y: The only reason why I am able to write a novel despite having a full-time job is because I have a strong support system at home. My husband and in-laws ensure that I can focus one hundred percent on whatever work I take into my hands. The kind of things a woman can do, when her loved ones have her back!
But the hectic schedule does require a certain amount of discipline on my behalf, which doesn’t come easily to me because laziness is my default setting. I have given up on Netflix while I write this book, I have reduced my social media time as well. Going to bed on time like a good girl and exercising five days a week, for half an hour, these are the things that I do to ensure my wellness. Once you are in a good frame of mind, it becomes easier, despite being hectic, to stick to the schedule.
Q. What would you like to share with your readers about A Spy In China without giving out a spoiler?
Y: These past few years have been very difficult for all of us. Our lives have been marred by tragedies, fear, tension and resentment, non-stop. For me, writing this thriller has been like letting out a scream that I had been suppressing for four months now.
Despite being a work of complete fiction, I think readers will be able to relate to it because it is a tale set in the times that we live in. I hope this ride will give them an escape from reality. If reading A Spy In China even helps you forget your worries for say, half an hour in a day, then I’ll think of it as a mission accomplished.