I'm super excited to have the brilliant Sarwat Chadda here today - with a giveaway too!! :D UK and Ireland residents enter for a chance to win a complete set of the Ash Mistry books!! :D
Enjoy the interview!! :D
A pleasure, Megan, thanks for the invite.
Ok, so I am officially totally biased, being one of your number one fans (I won't say number one definitive, because Laura from Sister Spooky might kill me...), but you are brilliant. I am currently loving your newest series, Ash Mistry, the third book of which has just come out. Can you quickly describe what the series is all about?
I love mythology and superheroes and exotic settings and Ash Mistry is a combination of all three.
Ash is your typical 13 year old geek who gets the chance to become the sort of superhero he’s always read about in his comics.
I don’t want to give too much away but he discovers he’s the Eternal Warrior, destined to be reborn again and again throughout history to face evil. He’s battled demons, tyrants and bad guys since the dawn of time.
Now, in Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress, he discovers the demon king, Ravana, is back and its down to Ash to stop him.
Fortunately he gets some help in the of the black goddess, Kali. She’s got six arms, armed to the teeth, has a necklace of skulls and drinks blood. She’s the goddess of death and destruction and has chosen Ash to be her living weapon, the Kali-aastra.
It’s a series about a boy becoming the ultimate BAD-ASS and discovering it’s not as great as he thought it would be. Saving the world is a dirty job and Ash really doesn’t want to do it.
We had a brilliant conversation about ethnic diversity in books - and more specifically on covers. How important do you think it is to bring more diversity into children's fiction - like Ash Mistry, who's Indian - and how much do you think stereotypes influence books written about 'ethnic’ minorities (sorry: sociology term)?
My issue is that when you have an ethnic lead, it’s always an ‘issue’s book and tied up with the experience of being that ethnicity. It’s about the, say, ‘Asian/Arab/African/Eskimo experience. The Ash Mistry series is about the ‘monster-fighting’ experience.
In truth all cultures have monsters in common. And they all have heroes born to fight them. I love fantasy but, ironically, fantasy has become more and more mundane as all we get is dwarves and elves and castles and knights and long-bearded wizard types.
What some may view as ethnic I view as a fresh perspective. But the hero’s journey is universal.
Ok, the Ash series is awesome - so so awesome! Pleeaase tell me there's a new one in the works! I know I'm behind, but I'm loving it so much that I just need to know that there will be another one!!
Ash had a very clear three book arc. I’m incredibly chuffed I was able to explore it to the full. But it has led to interesting opportunities. I’m working on a brand new comic project which will be using Indian settings and myths and history to bring a new superhero team into the world. Stay tuned for that...
Saying that I’m not quite done with Ash yet. I’ve got a new book in the pipeline but would be more than happy to revisit Ash in a year or two.
Sorry about fangirling, Sarwat... Until you've forgotten that incident, don't look down: there's a bit more... Anyway: Your original series, the amazing amazing Billi SanGreal series, has a main character who's a girl. You are, to state the obvious, not a girl. Was it difficult to write as Billi and what were your influences?
Nope, not hard at all. A character is defined by far more than their gender and to focus on that as a central issue is to deny them a lot more scope. The risk of viewing a character as merely their gender risks all the clichés creeping in. The BIGGEST being romance. I never, ever wrote a YA paranormal romance and hope the first line in Devil’s Kiss made that clear. Billi’s journey is not about finding a boyfriend! I think that took a lot of readers by surprise as it came out during the Twilight peak and was packaged as a YA paranormal romance.
Gender was an issue in how Billi is treated by the world around her. She was brought up in a very male environment, and that brings its own dynamics.
That said I have plenty of women in my life to inspire and guide me including (but not limited to) wife, daughters, agents and editors. They made sure Billi worked.
I've been wondering for a while and just thought I'd ask: I know you're a huge Buffy fan. Is anything of Billi's character based on the legendary Slayer?
Oh God, that was a bizarre situation. I completely missed the Buffy TV series the first time round, having only ever watched the somewhat disappointing movie. I had written an early draft of Devil’s Kiss when my sisters told me about the tv series and I watched it. BLOWN AWAY!
Billi’s world isn’t the same as Buffy’s. Buffy has the Scooby Gang and is supported and is clearly the lead. Even the others know she’s the hero in their story.
Billi’s just another soldier for the Knights Templar. Her father is the boss and their victories are at far higher cost. They are quite clearly mortal. The body count was an issue with the Billi series and I wanted to dwell on the impact such deaths have. Billi’s world is bloody dark!
Don't say I didn't warn you: PLEASE tell me there's going to be a third Billi book?!?! And what will it be about?! You've already driven me insane with those first few chapters, so PLEASE put my mind at ease... Of course, if you need a proof reader or somethin' let me know. I'm happy to help. ;)
Sadly the series got cancelled. The usual poor sales problem. Maybe I should have put some romance in it after all...
How much research goes into all your books? I mean, the details in the Ash series about India are absolutely stunning. Well, all the details are - the heritage, the... I could go on, but we'll just go with everything. And all the Templar, religious, etc details in the Billi series are just as brilliant. Exactly how much time has to go into all of these awesome details?!
A lot. I mean A LOT. With Billi I read up on Templar history, mythology, studied the Old Testemant and even Judaism to get the details right. Dark Goddess meant going to Russia to get the Moscow scenes spot on.
Ash Mistry was a trip to India and Pakistan and Tibet and Hong Kong and Nepal. The Savage Fortress is based on a maharajah’s palace in Varanasi I visited and the Lalgur is a building overlooking the ghats. I even attended a funeral. I’ve travelled a lot around the Far East and that travelling probably inspired the Ash series in the first place. That’s probably why the first Ash book took almost two years to write.
If it’s worth doing its worth doing right. Especially for children’s books.
One of the things I love most about your writing is that you never hold back. Ever. You write the most amazing fight scenes that are fast paced, gory and dangerous. You don't shy away from killing people we love off (though I have some serious issues because of that, man. Like serious serious scars). Even in Ash, a MG series, you don't hold back. Do you think some people try to bubble-wrap fights in fiction and why did you decide not to? And do you think the informal 'rules' should be different for children than for young adults?
Firstly I don’t believe in the division between YA and MG. It’s arbitrary and basically more about marketing than quality or subject matter. The Indian mythology in Ash is pretty complex as it’s unfamiliar to The Western reader and the definitions of good and evil don’t match what we believe in the west. But not to include that would have done the reader is disservice and delivered an inauthentic book. I don’t believe in writing down to the reader. Its far better to push them, challenge them with what’s thrown out of the story. Even if its disturbing. Hence the death of main characters. And that when I kill them, they don’t come back. It should be upsetting and leave scars.
I want to write the best book I can. I never second guess the reader and don’t really tailor it to suit anything but my passions. Life’s too short to be worrying about what other people want, or worse, should have.
You have got to be one of the funniest people I know. But in Billi especially there isn't that much laugh-your-head-off humour. I mean, there's a dark humour, but nothing like your own funniness (is that a word)? There's more in Ash, though. Is the difference in humour a reflection of how Billi was born into the life of a Templar and Ash just kinda... stumbled across it? Or is it more due to the target-audience differences?
Billi and Ash come from two different worlds, as you point out. Billi’s is grim so the humour reflects that. It’s very black. That said the joke about Arthur needing shovels still makes
Ash is a geek, so his humour will have that sort of references within it. Hence all the stuff about superheroes and Star Trek and Doctor Who. That’s his world.
It’s not to do with the target audience because I don’t know who that is.
My personal humour is about me. And if you want to know the truth, I only have three amusing anecdotes.
All of your books are fantasy-paranormal-action-adventure types. Something I love about them? No one falls for one of the Unholy. Let's face it: no one in their right mind would love Dracula! Do you think that there's a difference between female and male writers: like do some female writers romanticise the paranormals more than men? For example, Twilight versus Billi SanGreal?
YA has become very female-orientated, both as writers and audience. Twilight’s success has slewed the style of stories being published to being more romance-based. That’s just the market which I don’t have issue with.
My issues about the romance is the questions it raises about expectations and gender balance. I’ve said it before (and so have others much cleverer than me), but Twilight did the cause of feminism no good at all.
I’d recommend readers to go to Angela Carter’s books, especially the ‘Burning Your Boats’ collection of stories which include A Company of Wolves. Then pick up ‘Women who Run with Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Billi has been inspired by those heroines.
Ok, onto fun questions now! If you could have any superpower ever, what would you choose?
Flight. It’s a classic. Flight and really, REALLY fast.
One of your books needs to be made into a film. It's criminal that they aren't... Anyways, if they were, who would you cast as the lead characters in both series?
Well, given how slow these things are either daughter would play Billi as she was based on them! James Purefoy for Arthur.
The guy who played Pi, Suraj Sharma, in Life of Pi would make a cool Ash. Benedict Cumberbatch as Lord Savage.
If you could have a dinner party with any two 'real' people (dead or alive), two fictional characters and two mythical/paranormal beings, who would you choose and why?
Wow. Off the top of my head Genghis Khan and Caligula for real just because they would be the most insane guests imaginable!
Fictional probably Lestat and Conan the Barbarian.
Mythic lets go for Helen of Troy and Aphrodite for obvious reasons.
Last question: I believe you are obsessed with a certain actor, yes? Can you tell us who that is and whether or not they would beat Billi in a fight?
Yes, you mean Christian Bale, right? Ah, my love for Christian is a deep and pure and beautiful thing. It all started when I saw him in American Psycho. The showers scene at the beginning but that’s another story.
WRT him and a Billi smackdown do remember he is actually an actor while Billi is a highly trained killer. I’ll leave you to decide the result based on those two facts...
Hope you all enjoyed the interview!! And don't forget to follow Sarwat's Site, follow him on Twitter and check out his books on Goodreads! :DAnd keep up to date with MonthOfGuests on Twitter using #MonthOfGuests2013! And stop by tomorrow for an awesome Top Ten post by the brilliant Philip Reeve and Sarah McEntyre!!
Now, UK and Ireland dwellers:
Enter the giveaway!!
You'll win a complete set of the Ash Mistry series!! The giveaway is open only to people in UK and Ireland (sorry!) and will close 14th October 2013!
Tweet and let people know!! :D
Check out The Book Addicted Girl's Giveaway Policy before entering.
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Sarwat Chadda has lived and travelled throughout the world, from China to Guatemala. He’s been lost in Mongolia, abandoned at a volcano in Nicaragua and hidden up a tree from a rhino in Nepal. Not to mention being detained by Homeland Security in the US and chased around Tibet by the Chinese police. Maybe he just has that sort of face.Anyway, now he’s trying to settle in one place and stay out of trouble. Hence his new career as a writer. It’s safe, indoors and avoids any form of physical danger.Throughout his travels, Sarwat has soaked up the myths, legends and cultures of far away places. Now, with the Ash Mistry series, he aims to bring these unfamiliar tales of ten-headed demons and blue-skinned heroes back home and put them beside the exploits of Achilles and Thor. His heroes are Prince Rama and the demon-slaying Kali. Isn’t it about time you met them too?