Author Q&A: Deepa Anappara, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
Author Q&A: Deepa Anappara, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
23 January 2020
Everyone has been talking about Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by debut novelist Deepa Anappara. It’s the Winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, and the Bridport/Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel. It was also picked as one to watch by the Guardian, Observer, Vogue and Stylist – as well as referred to as “storytelling at its best” by Anne Enright, Booker-prize winning author of The Gathering.
Which is why we’re so excited to be hosting Anappara for a London event on 11 February 2020. Held in partnership with Foyles, Anappara will sit down with journalist and editor Sarah Shaffi to discuss the realities of the harsh landscape in which the story is set, and its stark, truthful reflection of India and other major cities around the world today. She will also open up on her own writing process, and the steps that led to the publication of her first novel.
Ahead of our event with Anappara, we asked the author a few questions about this stunning new debut to wet your appetites further.
The novel is drawn from a spate of real-life disappearances of children in India, where I lived for most of my life and worked as a journalist for over eleven years. During that time, I learnt about impoverished neighbourhoods where twenty or thirty children had gone missing over two or three years, never to be found again. The police refused to register cases, and didn’t investigate these disappearances. I used to interview children for my news reports on their schooling, and so naturally I was interested in their stories, in how they made sense of these horrors, and how they lived with the knowledge that they themselves could be abducted any day. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an attempt to answer those questions through fiction.
“The children in my novel are composites of the children I had interviewed as a reporter. They were often cheeky and funny and sarcastic, and I have tried to recreate their voices in that of my characters.”
The book, although a work of fiction, touches on many social issues ranging from social inequality and child trafficking to religious tensions. What role do you think fiction plays in raising awareness about social issues, and in what way can it be a powerful tool to do so?
I do think of myself as a political writer and, because of where I am from, my background, and my experiences, I hope to more than just entertain in my fiction. At the same time, I am aware that writing fiction isn’t the same as writing a polemical pamphlet. Fiction has to succeed on its own terms, and I personally believe a novel can’t be gauged on authorial intent.
Therefore, my aim while writing fiction is to inhabit the world of the characters and, it is through their voices, interactions and relationships that I hope the world of the novel and its themes will be revealed. I didn’t set out to write a novel about inequality or trafficking – rather, I wanted to write about a nine-year-old boy named Jai and his friends, and how they coped in an extremely difficult situation. In their daily lives, they aren’t insulated from the pressures of the outside world where religion, caste and class determine who receives support and who doesn’t. My aim in the novel was to portray their lives as honestly as possible.
How much research did you have to do for the book, and what sort of places and people did your research introduce you to?
I worked as a journalist for eleven years, writing among other subjects, about the impact of poverty and religious violence on the education of children. As part of this, I visited neighbourhoods like the one in my novel, and I was fortunate that the residents often invited me to their homes and talked to me. I couldn’t have written this novel if not for the generosity the people I interviewed showed me.
While writing the novel, I referred to academic books and journal articles (a few of these are listed on my website) to fill the gaps in my own understanding and knowledge. I spoke with members of civil society organisations in India that work towards finding missing children, and for the education of children, and also policemen to understand the procedures they are expected to follow when there is a missing child case. A surprisingly difficult part of the research was watching the true-crime TV cop shows that inspired the fictional one Jai loves, and prompts his sleuthing. It is safe to say that unlike Jai, I found their recreation of crime scenes and investigations unsettling.
Which character in the book did you most enjoy writing – and why?
I enjoyed writing all of them. Jai is the main narrator in the novel, and I liked seeing the world as he sees it – he is naïve and perhaps overconfident, and his still-forming, often-questionable ideas of the world are dictated by what he has picked up from those around him, but he is also full of innocence and good cheer and warmth.
Do you have a specific writing process – i.e. a place or time of day that you like to write most, or a rule about how often you write every week?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that processes, routines etc are often a result of privilege in whatever form; while it is a good goal to aim for, not everyone will be able to write every day or at a particular time each day, and the hours we can carve out for writing will depend on what we are dealing with in our personal lives etc.
Writing rituals and routines are not as important to me as attempting to stay in the world of the novel during the time it takes to write one – this may involve just going over what I have already written every day, and changing a word or two.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
It is hard to think of yourself as a writer unless you are published, but perhaps there is no such thing as ‘aspiring’, and if you write, you are a writer. I struggled and still struggle with that question as to whether I am a ‘real’ writer; imposter syndrome is real, at least for me, and part of my daily work is to quieten these critical voices in my head and keep writing.
“I do think it’s important to write whenever you can, to persist with the story you want to tell and try to find the best possible way to tell it, regardless of rejections and failures.”
I also think it’s important to read as widely as possible, and to find a community of writers with whom you can share your writing.
What message do you hope people will take away from the ‘Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line’?
It is finally up to readers what they will take away from the novel. I can only hope that the reader will connect with Jai and his friends, and see their world as they see it; and perhaps this will encourage the reader to reflect on the vulnerable children in their own communities as also those thousands of miles away.
Do you have your own questions for Deepa Anappara? Join us on 11 February 2020 to ask her yourself!