PenKonnect with Devapriya Roy

About the Author:

Devapriya Roy is the author of three novels, The Vague Woman’s Handbook (2011), The Weight Loss Club (2013) and Friends from College (2019), a version of which was serialised in The Telegraph from May 2018 to March 2019 as The Romantics of College Street.

In 2015, she published The Heat and Dust Project, co-written with Saurav Jha, a travel-memoir based on their travels around India on a very very tight budget, which debuted at no.1 on the Hindustan Times-AC Nielsen list. Over 2016 and 2017, she collaborated with the artist Priya Kuriyan to create Indira (2018), the acclaimed graphic biography of Indira Gandhi. 

An alumna of Presidency College and Jawaharlal Nehru University, she lives in Delhi with her husband, writer Saurav Jha, and often pines for College Street, Calcutta.

We spoke to her about her book “Friends from College” on December 27, 2019 as a part of #PenKonnect@Penmancy

Penmancy: “Friends from College” the title of the book sounds straightforward. How would you like to describe this book in a single sentence?

Devapriya: It’s about management consultant Lata Ghosh, who lives in London and has been unlucky-in-love, and a group of people who had studied in Presidency College, Calcutta, at around the same time as her – friends, frenemies, former lover Ronny Banerjee, now a famous film-maker – and what happens when they all reconvene in Calcutta one winter after many years. 

Penmancy: This book was written as a serialized version of the story with The Telegraph. Please share a bit about your experience.

Devapriya: As a student of literature I had always been fascinated by the idea of serializing a novel. After all, some of the greatest novels in the world were serialized – Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali, most of Charles Dickens and Sharat Chandra Chatterjee. In Bengal, there is still a robust tradition of serialization, and I remember my grandmother following novels in Desh, a literary magazine, that some of Bengal’s greatest contemporary writers serialized for years. So, when The Telegraph asked me to write a serialized novel for them, I was very excited. It is, of course, a fact that most writers would have prepared for such a difficult project and had a bank of chapters ready for dry weeks – but not me. I actually wrote 90 per cent of the book chapter by chapter, week by week, and while that drove me mad at the time, in retrospect I see how electric the whole process was!

Penmancy: Since most of our writers write against a deadline, what suggestion would you like to give them so that they bring out their best work?

Devapriya: I think the deadline itself is the secret sauce! 

Penmancy: What were the challenges that you faced converting this book from a serialized story to a novel? How different or same is it from its original form?

Devapriya: It’s almost entirely the same. The last chapter is a bit longer, that’s all. My publisher Karthika and I were quite sure that we wanted to keep the flavour of the serialized novel intact, and so we didn’t want to mess with the organic structure that had emerged in the first draft.

Penmancy: Which of your characters from the book do you most associate yourself with? Why?

Devapriya: I think I am a little bit like Lata and a little bit like Ronny. Maybe even a little bit like Pixie, the precocious 8-year-old who befriends Lata in Heathrow. But none of the characters in this novel are particularly autobiographical. For that material you have to go back to The Vague Woman’s Handbook!

Penmancy: Much of your own college life is reflected in this story with little anecdotes included. Were you particularly mindful that you don’t make the characters sound cliché or straight out of your experience? How do you fictionalize the characters that you have perhaps known or know?

Devapriya: The people in FFC are about six years my senior. They are a specific generation of Indians who fascinate me, people who were children of socialist India, turned into teenagers when liberalization happened, and eventually became the first generation to get “6-figure salaries”. It would make the front page of newspapers in those days! I did a fair amount of research to get the details right and I think if one focuses on the right details, then one’s characters don’t turn into clichés. I think what happens is that characters from one’s on life are merely the launchpads of the imagination, after that, in the pages of the book, they take a life of their own.

Penmancy: The Vague Woman’s Handbook, The Weight Loss Club, The Heat and Dust Project, Indira and now Friends from College. All your work is a different genre. What makes you hop from one to the other?

Devapriya: I think I jump into a project with no idea about it and learn how to do it on the way. It’s nerve-wracking. But also great fun. I like to challenge myself that way.

Penmancy: Which is your favourite genre to write?

Devapriya: The novel.

Penmancy: Most of the writers find a way to get their work published. The journey after that is uphill, mostly. How has your experience been so far?

Devapriya: I find self-publicity and marketing rather taxing. So the selling-part of things is more difficult for me than the writing-part. I try and deal with it, with as much humour as I can muster, but I would much rather just focus on the writing. 

Penmancy: You are also a mentor to lot of budding writers, what is that one ‘guru-mantra’ that you always give them?

Devapriya: READ. READ. READ. I can’t emphasize this enough. Every writer is a product of their reading. Read deeply, widely, obsessively, preferably in at least two languages. Spend money thoughtlessly on books, join a library, make friends with people who have an amazing collection! It will make all the difference. 

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