Mishi Saran is the author of Chasing the Monk’s Shadow: A Journey in the Footsteps of Xuanzang and The Other Side of Light. A journalist based in Shanghai, she is currently working on her third novel, set in Shanghai in the 1930s.
QDescribe your favourite writing space.I write in Shanghai’s cafes, sometimes at a secret location that I shall one day disclose, sometimes in the Shanghai Library. Years ago I learnt that I should not try to write at home where too many undone chores call for attention.
QDo you have a writing schedule?Yes, a rather inflexible one. I’m usually at work by 8.30 am. My phone isn’t switched off, in case our aayi (domestic help) needs to reach me regarding our toddler daughter, but I’ve become ruthless about not answering any other phone calls. Over the years, my family and friends have also learnt that my mornings are sacrosanct.
QEver struggled with writer’s block?Of course. Every day. I’ve learnt to accept it, build it into the routine and not fret about it.
Q What inspires you to write? Do you have a secret trick, or a book/author that helps?a book/author that helps? A story that won’t go away, an idea that makes me itchy until it’s written down and fleshed out. When I need companionship and consolation in this lonely craft, I turn to Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead.
Q Coffee/tea/cigarettes — numbers please — while you are writing?One cup of tea in the morning and one cup of coffee after lunch. No cigarettes — I quit smoking 12 years ago. No drugs, very little alcohol, sadly. I try to eat healthy food, I try to exercise. I’ve learnt that I have to be in as good shape as possible, because writing (oddly enough) is physically taxing. Late nights and hangovers mean that I can’t be at my desk at 8.30 in the morning. Boring, boring, boring!
QWhich books are you reading at present?I’ve just finished Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s gorgeously written, and bursting with intelligence. I want to read it all over again.
QWho are your favourite authors?Each author brings to me a unique gift. I read books for different reasons, to satisfy various hungers. It’s always fiction, though.
QWhich book/author should be banned on grounds of bad taste?One person’s bad taste is another person’s feast, so who am I to judge?
Q Which is the most under-rated book?Under-rated by the reading public? By critics? This is shaky ground. I will say one thing: When I first read Krishna Sobti’s Dil-o-Danish in its English translation, The Heart Has its Reasons, I thought this writer is brilliant and how I lived until now without reading her work.
QWhich are your favourite children’s books?I’m thrilled with Kutti and the Mouse by Shobha Viswanath, which I’m reading to our daughter these days. It was a present from a friend’s mother. The book comes with an audio CD where actors read out the story, with a lovely musical score in the background and a tap-tap-tap sign to turn the page. We’re all addicted.