Today we welcome Ravinder Randhawa as she tells us more about her latest novel, A Wicked Old Woman. Drama. Masquerade. Mischief.
A sharply observed, witty and confident novel. Linguistically playful, entertaining and provoking.
In a bustling British city, Kulwant mischievously masquerades as a much older woman, using her walking stick like a Greek chorus, ‘…stick-leg-shuffle-leg-shuffle…’ encountering new adventures and getting bruised by the jagged edges of her life. There’s the Punjabi punk who rescues her after a carefully calculated fall; Caroline, her gregarious friend from school days, who watched over her dizzy romance with ‘Michael the Archangel’, Maya the myopic who can’t see beyond her broken heart and Rani/Rosalind, who’s just killed a man …
Vividly bringing to life a bit of the 60s, 70s and 80s. A Wicked Old Woman is an adult novel but Beauty and the Beast and Dynamite are both categorised as YA, how different was the writing process between these novels?
I’d say language is the first distinctive difference. For A Wicked Old Woman I was writing with my natural but unconscious ‘voice’, although I was surprised at the style that came out. It almost seemed as if it had been sitting inside me, just waiting for the right moment, the right book.
Beauty and the Beast, which was originally published as Hari-jan, was commissioned as a YA book, as an Asian teenage romance – the first one at that time. Because of time constraints I had to work really fast, but loved every minute of it. It’s very difficult for me to say what I consciously did, to enter the teenage voice, the teenage world, but when I was writing, I was Hari-jan, I became her, I was the one trying to make sense of life with that volatile mix of energy, ideas, ambitions, constraints, thoughts, feelings, emotions, defiance and wit; getting things wrong, trying to do too much, trying to do right.
Dynamite is a collection of short stories, and actually includes stories with teenage protagonists as well as young women in their twenties. I don’t think there’s an exact science to different voices, and differently aged characters, but I do feel the character’s voice, world, sense of self, comes from the story, from what they’re dealing with and how they’re dealing with it. If you have to describe A Wicked Old Woman in a tweet (140 characters), how would it go?
Yikes! That is such a cruel challenge. Here goes: Kulwant mischievously masquerades, Maya gets madder than Mad, Caroline is wooed by a toy-boy and Rani/Rosalind’s just killed a man… (134 characters) Are there any moments in the book that you loved writing? Could you tell us about them?
Oh, so many. The first party that Kulwant goes to, the samosa making session, the night at the musical extravaganza… but the one that stands out for me is the conversation between Kulwant and her mother, in the dark night-time garden, the night before Kulwant’s wedding. It’s a moment that’s sad and poignant but quietly dramatic. I find it hard to write such passages, but I feel this one worked. I love it for the quiet, but tragic feel of it. The mother is deeply hurt and bewildered by her daughter’s decision, believing that she’s throwing away her opportunities, perhaps a glittering career, and probably fearing that it will all fall apart in the long run. It’s a moment that captures the fork in the road, the branching of paths. When your creativity is running low, what do you do to find inspiration again?
Give up and watch T.V. Indulge in guilty pleasures, like too many cakes and biscuits. Go and sit in a café, staring out of the window; rifle through old newspapers, that are still waiting to be read, go shopping, meet a friend for coffee… And then at some point, just sit back down at the keyboard, and start typing … and carry on typing… . I may have to throw it all away, but it gets me back into the rhythm. Are there any books that you feel readers of A Wicked Old Woman would enjoy?
Another difficult question. There are such wonderful books out there, but if I stick just to British-Asian authors then here are some suggestions, with the huge disclaimer that this list is in no way comprehensive. ‘The Hope Chest,’ by Rukhsana Ahmad, which is about three women, Ruth, Reshma and Rani, whose lives touch tangentially and who, in their different ways are searching for something deeper. Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera which tells the story of three generations of a Punjabi family: the betrayals, loyalties and loves that play out in the family’s corner shop over more than fifty years. Another Gulmohar Tree by Aamer Hussein. More of a novella than a novel, it’s a tale within a tale, starting with three short fables then telling the story of a British woman who marries a Pakistani man. Anita and Me by Meera Syal; the story of Anita, from the only Punjabi family in the Black Country mining village of Tollington. Questions by Faye Ravinder Randhawa is the acclaimed author of the novels Beauty and the Beast (YA), A Wicked Old Woman, The Tiger’s Smile and the short story collection Dynamite. She’s currently working on a trilogy: The Fire-Magician. Ravinder was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Toynbee Hall, Queen Mary’s University, the University of London, and founded the Asian Women Writer’s Collective.
Ravinder was born in India, grew up in leafy Warwickshire, now lives in London and agrees with Samuel Johnson’s saying (though of course, in a gender non-specific way) ‘…if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Loves good coffee and really good thrillers.