Interview with Smita bhattacharyya, Author of "Shut the Light"When I write, my books play out like movies in my head. If they cannot excite me, I cannot expect it to enthral my readers.
on Mar 27, 2023
SMITA BHATTACHARYA writes atmospheric cosy and psychological mystery fiction. She is also a management consultant, coffee lover, and gipsy-in-her-head. She lives in Mumbai but has solo travelled to 45+ countries and thus, her stories are heavily inspired by her travels and by those she meets. She has worked in a vineyard, in a newsroom, in a school, in a library, in a bank, in an audit firm, and in a technology start-up.
Frontlist: The concept of a lockdown as a blessing is a unique perspective. Can you elaborate on how you came up with this idea?
Smita: I believe the hallmark of a good mystery fiction novel is surprise, and so, I'm always trying to think out of the box. As the Covid-19 pandemic began, most of us experienced fear and anxiety, but I imagined a family for whom it came at exactly the right time. Why? Because, while the pandemic was terrible, their secrets were even worse. Those secrets could be the downfall of their family and their lives.
Frontlist: The characters in "Shut the Lights" each holds a dark secret. How did you develop these secrets and ensure they were believable and realistic?
Smita: As I sat in my apartment during India’s first Covid lockdown, the characters of Mridul, Suvini, Damien, and Tara came alive around me, as if they were living with me in my apartment, and the sordid stories of their lives were playing out in front of my eyes. Their secrets are inspired by true life events and the sordid gossip I’ve heard in the high-rise apartment buildings I’ve lived in. We think those families have it made, but we never really know what goes on behind those closed doors until we become one of them.
Frontlist: "Shut the Lights" has been described as chilling, shocking, and unputdownable. Can you discuss your process for creating a sense of tension and unease throughout the book, and what techniques did you use to achieve this effect?
Smita: When I write, my books play out like movies in my head. If they cannot excite me, I cannot expect it to enthral my readers. I love slow-burn atmospheric mysteries, where the plot and the characters take time to develop, building tension and creating a sense of anticipation over a longer period. And while you are immersing yourself in this new story world, BAM! the twist hits. This is the technique I favour and use liberally in all my stories and books.
Frontlist: What was the most challenging aspect of writing a book inspired by real-life events?
Smita: Writing a book inspired by real-life events requires attention to accuracy, storytelling, ethical concerns, and emotional and personal aspects. It was a challenging but rewarding process and resulted in a powerful and impactful story for readers. The real-life events that inspired it were not one but many tiny ones, and I had to weave them together into a plausible and coherent story. Thus, the most challenging aspect was achieving the perfect balance without losing the suspense element.
Frontlist: How did you approach balancing the suspenseful elements of the story with the emotional depth of the characters' experiences?
Smita: I love world building, and I love books with vivid descriptions of settings and characters. My books have a gradual pace and unfolding narrative, with a focus on character development and subtle, nuanced storytelling rather than action-packed sequences or fast-paced events. When I write, I put myself in the head of my characters, thinking, feeling and talking like them, until I get it all out on paper. However, I had to be careful not to sensationalize the events for the sake of the story. It was a continuous balancing act.
Frontlist: What do you hope readers will take away from "Shut the Lights" in terms of both its story and the themes it explores?
Smita: The basic premise of the book is the perennial question—what lengths would you go to protect your family? What lies would you tell, what secrets would you keep, what sacrifices would you make? For many of us, families can be a bit of a paradox - sometimes we love them and sometimes we hate them. But they are your family. You are stuck with them, for better or for worse. Value them. Because they have your back.
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