Recently I had the pleasure to interview author Damyanti Biswas about her debut novel “You Beneath Your Skin”. Welcome, Damyanti! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your debut novel, “You Beneath Your Skin”.
“You beneath Your Skin” is my debut published by Simon And Schuster. It is a literary crime novel set in New Delhi, about a woman who suffers an acid attack, against the background of a crime spree. I’ve been writing short stories for more than a decade, and they’ve been published in a few venues, and for the last three years, I have been one of the editors of the Forge Literary Magazine.
Please share with us what was the inspiration behind your novel?
“You Beneath Your Skin” was written over six years, so I don’t know if there was a firm inspiration. Anjali’s character came to me first, and I kept going back to her. Her son, her lover, her friend, her troubles. The rest of the novel came from there.
You are a very prolific writer, how was working on this novel different from your previous work?
I’ve written “You Beneath Your Skin” over many drafts. 15 rewrites, 15 edits, and many rounds of copyedits. I draft my work several times of course, but this one took more patience and perseverance that anything I’ve ever done.
As an author what does your average work/writing day look like? Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I do not have average days—my days are all different. Some days I write like a maniac for 14 hours, and others, I don’t write at all. Most days I try to get in a long walk, some exercise, a bit of gardening and cooking. I try to write either in complete silence at home and if the words don’t come, at a busy café with white noise earphones. Once in a while I would use a song when writing characters—I did that a fair bit for “You Beneath Your Skin.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a writer and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is within. Mostly, it is about writing without any expectations. To write a novel over months and years needs a lot of discipline and self-motivation, and to sustain this gets difficult on days when the words don’t pour out or the rejections trickle in. The writing life is a head game. To keep at it despite the obstacles can be a challenge sometimes, but I don’t know that I have any tips to overcome them. I cope with self-doubt and disappointment from rejections by writing for fun, for no reason at all. That always reminds me why I wanted to write in the first place, to create worlds, to go out of myself, and for a sense of immersion.
What advice would you give someone new to writing?
Writing is about writing. Not reading about writing. Not writing about writing. Writing is also about figuring out your own process, about listening to advice but taking only that which works for you. About true clichés like hard work and grit and not giving up. It is also about reading a lot, pretty regularly.
What message do you hope your readers take away with them after reading your book?
I don’t necessarily think You beneath Your Skin does or needs to, carry a message. When I began writing it, I had no message in mind. Now I feel it is about appearances and reality, and the ability to look beneath the surface. About women and their place in this world. I had set out to tell a good story, but I hope readers carry away an experience of what it is to be a person in New Delhi in contemporary India.
Can you tell us what is coming up for you and where can we find you online?
I’m on my website http://www.damyantiwrites.com, and that will connect you to my entire online presence. I’m continuing to write more crime novels and short stories, and am currently wrapping up travels in India about You Beneath Your Skin.
About You Beneath Your Skin
“You Beneath Your Skin” is a crime novel about the investigation of an acid attack on a woman from Delhi’s upper class, set against the backdrop of crimes against underprivileged women. They are assaulted, disfigured with acid, and murdered. While the framework is that of a thriller, the novel threads together different narrative strands. The author tackles various social issues: crimes against women and why they occur, the nexus between political corruption, police and big money; the abuse of the underprivileged, be it, adults or children. Of these, the issue of crimes against women is the strongest—why do men attack women? Why do they gang together? What happens when a woman tries to break the glass ceiling? Can toxic masculinity masquerade as benevolent patriarchy? Parents would also find this novel fascinating: how do you bring up a good human being in today’s troubled times? How much do you know about your teenager’s life? If you’re the parent of special needs child, what challenges do you face and what sort of support can you expect? It is a whodunnit, but also a whydunnit because violent crime unravels those affected: the people, the relationships, the very fabric of society, and we get a glimpse of what lies beneath. That’s why the title, You Beneath Your Skin. The narrative of the book was researched and shaped during the author’s work with ProjectWHY and some of the experiences generously shared by acid attack survivors from the non-profit Stop Acid Attacks. To return this debt of gratitude, all author proceeds from the book will go to these two non-profits.
About the Author
Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter. All the author proceeds will go to Project WHY and StopAcid Attacks.
I would like to thank Damyanti for taking the time to speak with us, please Check back next week to read my review of “You Beneath Your Skin“!