Janna Gray’s Kilingiri making its mark on reading charts
Allan Jacob / 15 February 2014
After the positive response to her debut novel Kilingiri, Dubai-based author Janna Gray has her fingers crossed on the upcoming Taprobane and The Scarlet Thread.
Dubai-based author Janna Gray’s debut novel ‘Kilingiri’ is making its mark on the American reading charts, and the British expatriate is honoured by the recognition. It ranked fourth on ‘The Preditors & Editors Readers’ poll of print and electronic books and No. 1 on Goodreads ‘Best Books to Read While Travelling’ list, while it became No. 3 in ‘Best Boomer Lit Books’ for the 1960s generation.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, she says the idea for the book, published last year, about ‘forbidden’ love and the emotional tumult that follows came from her experiences in India. The novelist, a former teacher at Repton School, hopes the buzz generated by her first book will bode well for her writing pursuits. Excerpts from the interview:
From a teacher to a writer. What’s the spark that fired your imagination?
I’ve always loved writing — I had to really — as a child at boarding school I was expected to write home every week and when my husband and I moved abroad in 1982, before the advent of email and Skype, I kept in touch with family and friends via letters. I kept diaries and wrote short stories to entertain my younger sisters, so progressing to writing a book seemed like a pretty good idea. The idea for Kilingirisprang from a load of day dreams while I was hanging around waiting for packers to pack up our house in Singapore and unpack the belongings in Thailand. I have no idea why I remembered prayer retreats at my convent school in Kodaikkanal, South India, and how, one year, a couple of handsome American priests pitched up to teach us the value of prayer and how to be good and one ended up flirting with one of the pretty students. I went on to consider the Catholic Church’s reasons for refusing to allow her clergy to experience the joys and blessings of love and family life.
What has the response been from readers?
Response to Kilingiri has been marvellous. Readers relate to the characters and events. Nina’s (the protagonist) story may be universal but that is precisely what makes it so appealing. The reader can readily identify with her dilemmas and reactions and, as the plot progresses, agree or disagree with her decisions. Readers see the saga right through to the end and, when visiting Nina’s life as she gets older, witness the consequences of her youthful experiences impact on her more mature self. The locations — Kashmir, the Far East, Ireland and France — add more than a touch of glamour and interest, drawing the reader into worlds that perhaps they have not experienced themselves. Lovely comments are left on Facebook, Amazon or Goodreads.
Any interest from major publishers?
Kilingiri is available on Amazon in Kindle and paper back. A major publishing company is reviewing Taprobane my second novel, and a literary agent is looking at my third The Scarlet Thread. My fingers are crossed.
The book is based on your experiences in places you have lived. Any book on Dubai coming up?
There could be! I have a couple of ideas rattling around. It would be exciting to find the right medium through which I could explore the loves and lives of the many different people of Dubai.
How many hours do you spend writing daily? What’s your schedule like?
I’d be fibbing if I said I sit at my laptop at 8.30 every morning and type for hours without a break, but I like to get something down every day and depending on my mood and what’s going on in my ‘other’ life, I could write for an hour or five. I edit as I go along, in as much as I check I haven’t repeated phrases or said the heroine has blue eyes when she started the book with brown. I usually write 5,000 words more than I have to. This gives me room to delete the extraneous gubbins (usually descriptions of which I am hugely fond) without feeling I’ve axed lynchpins. When the novel is complete, I leave it for a couple of weeks before disciplining myself to edit rigorously. Seen with fresh eyes, my beloved words aren’t as precious as first perceived so I delete quite happily before emailing the manuscript to pre-readers. Although criticism of ‘my baby’ is never easy, I appreciate brutal honesty and can rely on two wonderful pre-readers to tell me how it is. Then the manuscript goes to an editor and I play the waiting game…
What does being on top of a readers’ poll mean to you? Is there a sense of satisfaction that you’ve arrived on the literary sphere?
Being in the top five of a poll is hugely gratifying as it indicates the book has been acknowledged and enjoyed by readers. Good reviews and good poll results garner more publicity which in turn gets the book out there.
About critics. What do they have to say? What’s the worst criticism you have received?
I’ve had two potentially soul-destroying criticisms. One I ignored as it was plain nasty… along the lines of ‘This will not do, but don’t throw it on the rubbish heap yet, there are some salvageable sections’. The other was to go back to the manuscript and delete half. Although it was a hefty manuscript, I was hugely taken aback as I loved every word I’d written but I did what the tough-as-old-boots editor suggested and the result is Kilingiri as she is today, a much better read. And with the blessed gift of hindsight, the extraneous stuff was just padding. Choosing the best compliment is not easy as I’ve been lucky to have some fabulous reviews, but this one ticks pretty much all the boxes: ‘Janna Gray’s Kilingiri was a phenomenal read that tantalizes you with the scenery but really comes through with the characters and the story. You won’t want to miss this book, but be ready to want to travel to the far corners of the world that Janna describes so eloquently.’ – firstname.lastname@example.org