It was while covering serial killer Vijay Palande’s case in 2012 as a reporter that Puja Changoiwala decided to write her book, The Front Page Murders. The book documents the 21 days when the cold-blooded crime was unearthed in Mumbai. Puja admits that her impression of a serial killer changed after learning this case. In an interview, Puja tells us about her book, the process behind writing a nonficiton tale and more.
The Front Page Murders by Puja Changoiwala Hachette India pp.312, Rs 262.
The book talks about the Vijay Palande murder case. When did you decide to pen a book on the murder?
It was while I was covering the case in 2012 that it occurred to me that I should write a book on the subject. The story was too compelling to begin with. Until then, my idea of serial killers were cannibals and necrophiles who reside in the the hinterlands of the first world. They definitely didn’t live in posh Mumbai apartments, nor did they attend glamorous Page 3 parties. But Vijay Palande did. He was a serial killer, who could easily be any one of us. And as the story unfolded, every day I would learn a new gory detail of his antic.
How did you filter stories you talk about for your book?
I’ve refrained from using unsolicited material, words I couldn’t back up with concrete evidence. Since the case was a rage when it came to light, there were a few things that were attributed to ‘police sources,’ and published in the press. Although those bits were juicy, I couldn’t compromise on the verifications since it’s a true story.
Please tell us a little bit about the writing process.
I lived in complete isolation during the time I wrote this book. My family owns an apartment in a remote town which is a few hours away from Mumbai. I’d write my book in that apartment. I wouldn’t see anyone else for weeks together. I wouldn’t even switch on the television. Though there was this benevolent pigeon who kept me company throughout! I was my own cook, dish washer, and security guard. As for my writing hours, I’d write until I couldn’t write anymore. When I was tired, I took two- hour naps, woke up fresh, and wrote again.
Did you set deadlines for each essay/chapter?
I have a deadline disorder — I set deadlines for everything. The thing is, when you’re writing, especially if you’re a first-time writer, you’re riddled with insecurities. You’re just so sure that what you’re writing is absolute garbage, and the deadlines help you ignore that bantering in your head, and finish your drafts. Deadlines ensured my drafts and revisions were done in time. It took me a year to finish writing the book, with a few more months that went into research and getting my documents in place.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
A very senior writer once told me that writer’s block is also an extremely misunderstood one. An actual writer’s block is when you can’t produce work for years. I am glad that I haven’t suffered that. As for the times when my brain refuses to cooperate, I simply get up from that chair, go for a stroll, read something completely unrelated to my subject for a few hours, or take a nap. If it’s worse, I distance myself from the work for a few days.