You read an excerpt from your story A Waterfall of Horses (from Boats on Land) at the Isle Writers’ meeting in Broadstairs. Everyone in the room was visibly moved by the piece. What motivated you to write this book?
JP: The first excerpt I read was from “A Waterfall of Horses”, the first story in Boats on Land, and it touches on some of the main themes explored in the rest of the book – language, oral storytelling, and the power of the word. I grew up in the Khasi community in the northeast of India, which was largely an oral culture (our language didn’t have a writing system) until the coming of the Christian missionaries to the region in the mid-1800s. This colonial encounter changed our relationship with language in many ways, but for the Khasis, the word still remains powerful and transformative. And this manifests itself through a fondness for poetry, music, song, theatre, and folktales. The stories in Boats on Land interweave these folk stories that I grew up listening to with the mundane everyday, the magical and the ordinary, the supernatural and the ‘real’. They are a way for me to capture the many ‘realities’ that co-exist in that part of the world. Since oral culture is also extremely intangible, and difficult to document, these stories are my attempt to archive the community’s stories, to retell them in my own words.
DG: You said that people in Shillong had learned English from Welsh missionaries. Is English the first or second language in India?
JP: English was imposed on the Khasi community by the missionaries in the same way that it was done so in the rest of the colonies. While English is now spoken quite widely in India, various states speak their own regional languages. For example, Bengali in West Bengal, Malayalam in Kerala, Marathi in Maharashtra.
DG: Can we travel to your part of India?
JP: The northeast of India doesn’t usually feature in the western consciousness. When people think of India, they usually picture Delhi, Rajasthan, Agra. My part of the country remains relatively undiscovered and untouched, but you may definitely travel there.
DG: Which writers have inspired you, or motivated you to write? Or, which novel do you wish you’d written?
JP: Inspiration is a very odd thing. It comes, I find, from everywhere. While I am inspired by many writers and poets – Virginia Woolf, Jeet Thayil, Donna Tartt, Philip Larkin, Arundhati Roy – I also find inspiration in other art forms such as photography, installation, painting, music. Sometimes from a piece of graffiti on the wall, or a conversation I overhear on the train. The one book (or series) I would have loved to write would be Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – he’s an absolutely fantastic storyteller.
DG: For the benefit of my readers who may be getting stuck with their writing – do you have any advice for them? Do you think writing should just flow….or is their much perspiration in the process? We have been discussing this a lot recently.
JP: I think the thing to remember is that the writing process can be highly unpredictable. What works for you on some days may not on others. Sometimes, the words flow, sometimes they need to be hammered out. It is incredibly frustrating. A break may help, a walk, a day or month away from the piece you’re working on. What may help is to remember that in the first draft you’re telling the story to yourself – so just write it and put it down. The chiselling and refining and restructuring can happen later.
DG: Where do you go from here?
JP: Hopefully, more books, and then more! I’m currently finishing my first novel, Seahorse, which will be published in November 2014, and it’s been utterly different from working on short stories. But this is what I love about writing, I learn something new every day, with every page.
DG: Where can we buy your work?
In the UK, you may buy the ebook on Hive, or the hardback and paperback on Amazon.
For links to Janice’s work visit: http://www.hive.co.uk/ebook/boats-on-land/16987796/