For Bonobology: Are mothers who go on business trips leaving children with the husband selfish?

Wrote this for

As it so happens, in my marriage, I am the one who travels. As far as arrangements go, this is quite the reverse of the ‘dad travels – mom stays back in town.’ When it is book launch time, I can actually go through a couple of months of living out of my suitcase.

The spouse on the other hand, as a stock market trader, is in a profession where he is at his desk all day and home after the market shuts. Between 8.30 to 3.30 he is completely unavailable. Post that he is completely available. He can be counted upon to be at home when I’m not.

Last year, the offspring’s midterm exams came about at the same time as my third book, All Aboard was released. As is mandatory during book launch time, I was shuttling between events and cities. Well-meaning mommy friends gasped in shock. “Can’t you reschedule your travel?” they asked. “After all, it is the midterm exam.”

“But his father is right there,” I replied. The censorious gaze was unblinking. Bad mom. Bad mom. Bad mom. It had been printed out in bold and slapped onto my forehead.

Read the rest of the piece here

The Face At The Window in the Hindustan Times today


“Scaring people through just words on paper, like making them laugh, is not easy. It either works or does not. In the case of The Face At The Window it does, and there are some truly terrifying moments in the book. The sense of this leisurely, soporific life in a small hill town, the abruptness with which this tranquility is broken and the build-up is reminiscent, at times, of Ruskin Bond’s ghost stories. Manral’s descriptive prose brings this fictional world and those within it to life. This is true of the naive goatherd child Mrs McNally teaches in her free time and who is fiercely protective of her or the apparition, who greets her in the middle of the night, sitting and smiling eerily in her rocking chair.”


In the Hindustan Times today.

#WritingOn11: Ten Tips to write better by Madhulika Liddle

By Madhulika Liddle

Ten tips to write better

By which I mean writing that doesn’t make an editor wince.

Let me provide the context to this. Every now and then, I am approached by a wannabe writer who wants me to have a look at their manuscript and give my feedback. Very rarely (and what a sad reflection this is on Indian Writing in English), I find something that is a delight to read, even in its unpolished, unedited form. More often than not, what I receive is riddled with errors. Grammatical errors, factual errors, errors of everything from casing to punctuation.

When I have suggested, as part of feedback, that the manuscript be subjected to a series of self-reviews and (this is something not many Indians seem to be keen on) that an editor be  hired to clean up the manuscript, the usual reaction is, “But won’t my publishers do the editing?”

And my answer to that is, Of course they will. If they decide to take your manuscript in the sorry state it’s in (I word that rather more tactfully). Because editors in publishing houses are so snowed under with work, if they receive a manuscript that’s yelling, “You’ll have to do a lot of editing with me!”—no, unless the story is exceptionally compelling, they’re not going to take it on. What you’ll get is a reject note.

So, on to the list. Ten tips to make your writing easier for an editor to read and appreciate.

Good writing

Read. The simplest and most basic of them all. Unless you read, you won’t know a good book from a bad one. These days, what with the Internet, it’s become a lot easier to find out which books are considered good. Not all of them will be good, not all of them will be to your liking, but as you read, you’ll imbibe lessons on what makes a book readable. Not just the story (if it is fiction or creative non-fiction), but the style of writing. The number of words used in a sentence. The words used. The words not used. I have never come across a really good writer who wasn’t also an avid reader. 


Do not fall in love with your own writing. In 2003, I began working with NIIT as an instructional designer. As part of our training, one of the most important lessons we were taught was this: Do not fall in love with your own writing. It’s an easy trap to fall into: most of us wouldn’t be writing if we didn’t think we could write, so it’s obvious that the next step is to think we write so well that there aren’t any flaws in our writing.

Which, sadly, is a recipe for disaster. It makes for a frustrating relationship with your editor, because every edit cycle becomes a question of who will give way first. Eventually, unless your story is so compelling that a publisher is absolutely certain it’s bestseller or award material, your editor is going to give up. And chances are, they won’t want to work with you again.

Subject your work to self-edits. I typically edit anything I write at least thrice. That is for novels. For shorter works, like short stories, the number of self-edit parses can be anything from six to ten, occasionally more, before I’m satisfied that I can submit it. The fact is, every time I go back to my work, I find ways to polish it further.

My way of doing this is to finish writing my manuscript, set it aside for a while (if it’s a novel, even for a few months), and then return to it. The errors, the things that could be better, leap out at me when I look at it with fresh eyes. I use these parses to tighten up the writing, to eliminate unnecessary words, to shorten rambling descriptions, to bring further coherence into the writing—it may be all of these, it may be one. But no work of mine, not even a book review to be posted on Goodreads, ever gets published without my having read and re-read it a couple of times. 


And now, some more specific tips. 

Watch your punctuation. Nearly all punctuation marks—commas, periods (or full stops, call them what you will), hyphens, exclamation marks, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, etc—are preceded by the previous character (without a space between the character and the punctuation), and are succeeded by a space before the next character.

Read that sentence again, and this one, for examples of what I mean.

Note, too, that that rule may not apply to some punctuation marks, such as m-dashes or n-dashes, which often come under a specific style guide followed by a publisher. Whatever style you adopt for these in your manuscript, make sure you follow them consistently throughout.

Another important note of caution: be very, very sparing with exclamation marks. Amateur writers seem to think exclamation marks help emphasize your point. They don’t. They just irritate the discerning reader. Exclamation marks are usually only appropriate in dialogue, and then too when judiciously used.

(Recommended: Lynne Truss’s brilliant book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves—this one is worth reading if you want to make sure your punctuation doesn’t make an editor wince).

Be consistent. Not just in punctuation, but in other aspects of writing too, such as casing, spelling, voice and tense. I’ve seen too many pieces of writing start off with colour and honour and organise, and then veer away into color and honor and organize. I’ve seen people switch inexplicably from past tense to present to past again, all in the course of one paragraph. I’ve seen random capitalization (words, for no rhyme or reason, being written in title case), and so on on. This reeks of carelessness.

Go easy on the adverbs. Most good writers say you should keep adverbs completely out of your writing. I don’t agree; my contention is that adverbs have their place, even in good writing—but they must be used with extreme discretion. One in about eight or ten sentences is forgivable. Also, make sure you use the adverb in its correct sense: ‘Her face was luminously radiant’ is contrived and repetitive, because ‘luminous’ and ‘radiant’ mean pretty much the same thing.

Think twice before using words you’re unfamiliar with. A couple of years ago, a debutant writer sent me his book for review. It turned out to be a fairly predictable college campus story; what made it abysmal was the sheer ridiculousness of so many of the words he’d used. A party, for instance, was described variously as a corroboree and a wassail (both of which are very specific types of gathering; these words cannot be applied arbitrarily to any party, especially in a non-Australian setting). I guessed what this was: a case of somebody wanting to show off his vocabulary, and picking words out of a thesaurus to help him find synonyms. The result was a painful, often unintentionally hilarious book.

So, don’t use words that you aren’t familiar with. They may turn out to have connotations you are unaware of, or they may simply read wrong.


Use simple words. The author I mentioned in the previous point also made another major mistake when writing: he thought that using ‘complicated language’ would make his book better (he actually admitted this to me in a conversation after I’d published my review of his book). Nobody in his book ever ‘talked’; they ‘confabulated’. ‘Then’ was replaced by ‘anon’ (this book wasn’t a historical), and nobody ever ‘heard’ anything; they ‘discerned audibly’.

Simple language is nothing to be ashamed of; on the contrary, it makes a book far more readable than something filled with words you’ve culled out of a dictionary or a thesaurus. Try reading some of the world’s best writers (and no, I do not necessarily mean bestsellers), and you’ll see that their greatness lies not so much in using big, fancy words but in using simple words well.

Weed out repetitions. Most of us tend to have some stock phrases or pet words that we use again and again (mine, when I’m writing non-fiction, include obviously, of course, and for instance). A lot of writers also have a habit of trying to explain things further by using additional adjectives and adverbs (as an example: ‘frozen icicle’, which I came across in a recent manuscript sent to me for review. It just needs a little reflection to realize that an icicle is always frozen; if it’s melted, it’s not an icicle any more).

Get rid of repetitions; they put off readers.

Use spellcheck, efficiently. Everybody—or everybody who knows anything about writing and uses a word processor—emphasizes the importance of using spellcheck. Running a grammar and spelling check should be an essential part of work on a manuscript, but it must be done intelligently. For example, don’t arbitrarily accept all changes your spellchecker suggests: many of these do not cater to some writing styles, and they do not, of course, take into consideration a lot of non-English words. Make your task easier as you proceed by checking each change the spellcheck suggests, and then—if there are words you use often—adding them to your spellcheck dictionary. As an example, I have Muzaffar, baoli, haveli, and other words that occur frequently in my writing added to my spellcheck dictionary, so these don’t show up as errors when I run a spellcheck.

Work on

Naturally, this isn’t all, because submitting a clean, well-edited manuscript doesn’t guarantee that it will get published. Lots of other things matter—the story (and that can actually refer to non-fiction too; how well you put your point across); coherence, writing style, characterization, your ability to draw your reader in.

(This was originally posted on Madhulika Liddle’s blog here and has been reproduced with permission)

Madhulika Liddle is an award winning short story writer and novelist.

#WritingOn10: “The Best Writing Tip is to not seek tips from other writers.” Nishant Kaushik

By Nishant Kaushik

Every time I am asked for tips on writing, I am instantly reminded of the time I had asked someone else for such advice. Mainly because it sure as hell did not work for me.

Circa 1998. I had read a few books in the Enid Blyton series (and maybe a few meaningful excerpts from some Sidney Sheldon novels that would interest a typical teenager), and I had begun calling myself a voracious book gobbler. It was around then that I was introduced to this slightly older boy who had a few of his short stories published in a community magazine. Fascinated, I asked him for writing tips, and what I got sounded reasonably profound, and hence reasonably correct:

“Find pain within you.”

It pains me to recount how long I waited for pain. I pursued love, I watched Hello Brother, I attended Chemistry tuition. Nothing seemed to help, and therefore I shelved my halfhearted intention to take to writing. A few years later, in the workshop of my engineering college, amidst the cacophony of students hammering away at metal, I found my inspiration to write.

I could not find pain, though. I hence realized early in the day that advice on writing is not a one-size-fits-all concept. The writer of short stories was motivated by pain, I was motivated by the need to do anything as long as I didn’t have to sit in a workshop, and there are several who are motivated by the sheer joy of telling people stories. Today, when I am asked for tips on writing, the most honest advice I can give is:

“The best writing tip is to not seek tips from other writers.”

Find your space:

The experience of writing is too sacred to let it be overly influenced by the guidance of someone who hasn’t breathed the same story as you. Sure, there must be some safe rules to play by when you set out to write for the first time. But the most important of them all is to be able to think freely, unchained by doctrines laid down by some handbook. Thinking freely gives you room to mull over an idea, to nurture it, and to own it.

Are you there yet?

Then it may be a good idea to now talk about those other safe rules.

Done is better than perfect:

The DIRFT (Do It Write The First Time) principle is unlikely to work with prose or poetry. And why would you want it to, because the struggle makes the journey special. A common mistake I have heard a lot of people make is getting intimidated by the struggle to write that perfect first paragraph, solving the “organic versus structured plot line” conundrum, and those weak moments when they spend hours looking up How To Rid Myself Of Creative Blocks on the internet.

The easiest way to get started is to get started. It is perfectly normal to not know what precise shape your final story is going to take. It is acceptable that you take ages to write your first word even if you know the entire story already. It is routine to write almost an entire book like a breeze and to struggle with the end. Don’t get thwarted by the what-ifs; instead, focus on what you can produce today. There is a reason that manuscript is suffixed with a “version 0.1”, so do not cower under the prospect of significant rework later on.

Keep post-its handy:

Note Murphy’s law: the best ideas will occur to you when you do not have your laptop handy. You could be on a train, at work, at a party you have no one to talk to. Ideas can give you the slip rather easily. Register them on a piece of paper wherever you are, so that you don’t have to regret having forgotten them once you are back home.

Read a lot:

For no other reason, except that the more you read, the better you get with semantics and vocabulary. This can be a little tricky though, I will admit. You may run a risk of reading too much of a certain author and then inadvertently let his or her style of prose influence yours. This could take away from your distinct style, and no artist would like people to scoff at his or her lack of originality when the influence might not even be intentional. A possible solution to steer clear of such a risk is to bring about diversity in your reading habits. Pick up acclaimed novels by different authors. Popular playback singer K.K. had once rightly said at a concert I attended: “The best way to get better at singing is to listen to world music. Absorb and understand what makes various artists tick, then blend their technical genius with your distinct style, and the results will be rewarding.”

Totally works in the field of writing too.

Fine line between trolls and critics:

I have heard people say they write only for themselves. Very well. But if that is the case, I expect such work to be written on a piece of paper that stays safely vaulted in the drawer of some study. The moment your work is out in a public domain – a published novel, newspaper column, a blog, or a film – you are subject to public opinion and feedback on your work. Whenever you are miffed about someone deriding your work, remember there are people who have praised it too.

The bouquets always come with the brickbats. Respect the brickbats, because they help you learn what part of your work can be bettered. This, of course, as long as you can learn to differentiate hollow criticism from meaningful, genuine feedback. The world is full of people who will take a dig at your work because being mean is often funnier, wittier and classier than being patronizing (especially on the social media). Read reviews, and identify the feedback that matters. It will usually have a tone of “I did not like this book because” rather than “Piece of trash, don’t read”. The best critics are likely to maintain a tone of basic respect even for something they haven’t enjoyed reading.


With all said and done, be proud of the fact that you have picked up that pen to write. The final verdict may be at the mercy of your readers, but the story and its beauty will always be yours.


Nishant Kaushik is the author of many bestselling novels including My Father Is A Hero, A Romance With Chaos and Chaos Down Under. You can write to him at, and his Twitter handle is @nofreecopies. You can order his books below:

My Father Is A Hero

Good Boy Joe

Chaos Down Under

Conditions Apply

A Romance With Chaos

Watch Out! We Are MBA



#WritingOn9: Writing Tips by Aruna Nambiar

Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Write what you know. Use adjectives sparingly. … Writing tips? Dear God, where does one start? Here’s my stab at my top five:

Read: Avidly, Widely, Daily. I stopped studying literature in school, studied engineering and management, and worked as a banker. For long, much of the writing I did involved the use of phrases such as ‘aforementioned subject’ and ‘for your kind perusal’. If I’ve been able to make the transition to writing fiction for a living, I credit a lifelong reading habit. Reading has been my classroom – it has given me all the tools I need. Everything I’ve learned about plotting, character development, pacing, setting, grammar etc has been from the books I’ve read. I can’t recommend it enough – read what entertains you, moves you, makes you think. Don’t feel pressured to read only books that are considered intellectual enough to be worthy of writers, but do occasionally step out of your comfort zone and pick up something that you normally wouldn’t. Read good books, for they will inspire you to reach for greatness. Read badly written books for they will teach you what not to do – and give you the confidence that your infinitely better work is saleable too… what can I say, we writers are an insecure bunch.

Find your Voice: Admit it – haven’t you gone through a Wodehouse phase or a Bill Bryson phase or a (Insert Favourite Author Here) phase? And hasn’t the end product always left you feeling inadequate and derivative? It’s why new writers often choose not to read in their genre when they’re writing, so that they won’t be influenced by their idols.

Voice is perhaps the single factor that will differentiate you from every other writer in your genre. For there may be only a handful of original stories, but there are a million different permutations. And what makes your particular permutation unique is your voice – the way you see the world, the way you choose to express it, the turn of phrase you employ, the settings you choose. It is what differentiates Malgudi Days from Adrian Mole and One Day from Love Story.

It’s not the easiest thing to do, finding your voice, but it does get easier with experience and writing success, for it requires confidence in your own perspective and writing style.

Get into your Character’s Shoes… wriggle your toes, and walk for miles till they’re worn through. If you write slice-of-life stories such as I do, there is nothing more important than your characters – they drive the plot, they dictate the twists and turns, they command the dialogues. But even for genre fiction, a memorable character can lift a book from the realm of the ordinary. Bridget Jones. Perry Mason. Feluda. Enough said.

Know your characters as well as you do your childhood friend, so that if he makes an unlikely move or she speaks a stilted line, you spot it immediately – because if you don’t, your readers certainly will. Make out descriptions for all your main characters – include physical traits, foibles, aspirations, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, how the character changes during the course of your story – and refer to the descriptions often as you write.

Sweat the Small Stuff: The Devil is in the details – and God too, when you get them right. The best writers know how to paint a picture with words, by adding just the right amount of detail, at the right juncture. It’s what makes the reader feel the sun on his back, smell the salt from the ocean, hear the soft tread of the killer before the victim does, see a flicker of an emotion pass over a protagonist’s face. Add too much detail and you’re dragging the story down. Add too little and it’s too dry. So pay attention to the little things – so that your reader falls in love with your characters, steps into your setting, gets involved with your plot. Do your research too – if you’re setting your book in Eighties India, for example, do ensure that your character doesn’t own an ATM card or drive a Nano.

Forget the World: The World is inordinately interested in writers – it wants to know what you’re writing, how many words you’ve written, why you’re not done yet; it has an opinion about what you should write, what you shouldn’t write, what sells, what doesn’t, what would make a good story, what doesn’t. But know this: The World will desert you as soon as you’re in the front of a desk trying to bang out word after word, day after day, for months and years…only to reappear to ask you how much you got as an advance and how it compares to Amish’s or Chetan’s.

So forget about what you think The World wants to read, or what will sell, or what might win awards. Because great books were never conceived with one eye on The World – great books are born in the pit of your turning stomach, the depths of your racing heart and the far, far corners of your searching mind. So write about what you want to, to the best of your ability, and hone it and nurture it until you’re ready to send it out into The World. And no matter what The World thinks about it, whether it languishes on a slush pile or scrambles up a bestseller list, you would have experienced the only thing that makes a writer’s life worthwhile – the demands, the joys, the challenges and the deep, deep gratification of the writing journey.

Aruna Nambiar is a Bangalore-based writer and editor. Her debut novel, Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth, is a funny, poignant coming-of-age story set in small-town Kerala of the 1980s. You can reach her here on Twitter: @ArunaNambiar

You can follow her on Facebook here @arunanambiarauthor