From the Wordsmith’s Mouth: A Q&A with Kalpana Swaminathan

I have been raving about the Lalli series for a while now ( here, here and here), and recently I had the opportunity to attend a crime-writing workshop facilitated by the author, Kalpana Swaminathan. The workshop itself was a great experience. It was my first ever writing workshop, and I really enjoyed it, especially because Kalpana Swaminathan ensured that all of us participated, and all of us got to create.

I also took the opportunity at this time, to ask her if she would sign a couple of her books for me, and if she would do an email interview with me about her latest book Greenlight and about writing in general. And, yaay! She agreed! So here it is, my Q&A with the creator of Lalli!


Kalpana Swaminathan. Photo credit: Ishrat Syed

About Kalpana Swaminathan: A writer and surgeon, Dr. Kalpana Swaminathan lives in Mumbai. She is the author of the Lalli series, the latest of which is Greenlight. Her books, apart from the Lalli series, include Ambrosia for Afters [2003] and Bougainvillea House [2005]. Her book of short stories, Venus Crossing, won the Crossword Fiction Award for 2009. She also writes with Ishrat Syed, under the name of Kalpish Ratna.

What prompted you to write Greenlight?

December 12, 2012 unleashed a reaction almost as violent as the crime itself. I found that very disturbing. Violence towards children has always baffled me. I wrote this book to address these feelings.

Greenlight has a very different feel to it than its predecessors.  It is a darker book; more ‘noir’. Is this deliberate on your part and will the future Lalli books have a similar tone?

Darker, yes, but not noir, which, by definition, projects a cynicism neither I nor Lalli share, although Lalli finds it hard to overcome despair. Confronting cruelty is always painful, and we’re defeated by its irrationality: yes, this was a very painful book to write. About the future– who knows what Lalli will be upto next? She is yet to tell her own story…


Parts of the book function as a commentary on rape culture and on the hypocritical and voyeuristic reactions to incidents of rape. This elevates the book to something beyond fiction. What is it that you hope readers will take away from Greenlight?

I certainly hope Greenlight gets people thinking about the plane of reality in which we react, especially publicly, to the pain of others. In Lalli’s words, the soul needs more leg-room

Greenlight doesn’t have as many descriptions of food (understandably, given the tone of the book), but many passages in the earlier books made me very hungry! Why is food such an important character in your books?

It’s such fun writing about food, and if your characters must eat, why not gloriously? Lalli has a relish for the simple delights of life, and  Sita  indulges her, while I look on sceptically over Shukla’s shoulder.

Technology has been conspicuously absent from the earlier books, but Twitter becomes a major plot point in Greenlight. Will this continue in Lalli’s future adventures?

The prop depends on what the plot calls for. Technology’s just a tool–people are so much more complex and interesting than machines!

Will Sita and Savio ever realize that they are perfect for each other? I, for one am rooting for them.

I simply can’t understand what they’re upto. Lalli refuses to notice the deadlock, and I’m really worried that Shukla might take matters in hand….

Has your work as a surgeon affected your work as a writer? How?

A surgeon’s job is very like writing. It’s about understanding people in difficult situations, and applying a skill to provide a solution. Their skills may be different, but both a surgeon and a writer take an exploratory approach. Surgery demands a high degree of concentration and focus, and a very sentient awareness–qualities very useful to a writer. It’s also a very humbling skill. That’s useful too.

Crime fiction generally does not receive the same sort of acclaim as “literary” fiction. Is it possible for crime fiction to be “literary”?

‘Literary’ is a book that’s read and remembered, and loved when read again, years later. That’s the only acclaim that counts with me. Labels are meant to be peeled off before reading!

How is your experience of writing on your own different from your writing in collaboration with Dr Ishrat Syed?

Both are exhilarating! Alone, I write in free fall. When Ishrat and I write together, there’s the added element of dissent. There are two streams of thought, very individualistic, converging into a distinctive voice.

Any words of advice for aspiring Indian crime fiction writers?

Peel off that label and just write! Who knows what will emerge?

When do we get to see Lalli next and what curiosities will she be dealing with then?

You’ll be meeting her soon in Murder in Seven Acts, a book of short stories, curiosities allsorts!

Thank you, Kalpana Swaminathan, for your willingness to do this e-mail interview, and the time you’ve taken to answer all my questions!

Kalpana Swaminathan’s books: Goodreads|Amazon

Kalpish Ratna’s books: Goodreads


13 thoughts on “From the Wordsmith’s Mouth: A Q&A with Kalpana Swaminathan

  1. You were attending a writing workshop under the same writer whom you admire so much! Now, that is just fantastic. You are lucky to get that opportunity and I hope it was an enriching experience. As you know, I have not read the Lalli series yet but the fact that food is a main component makes me want to try them (I think you have told me about food on one of our Twitter convos too). I am a bit disappointed that the one I own (Greenlight) does not have food. But who knows maybe another Lalli would come my way soon

    Liked by 1 person

    • The workshop was amazing! She has been very kind and given me some great feedback on my writing.
      The book with the most food in it is the first in the Lalli series, The Page 3 Murders.
      Please do share your thoughts on Greenlight with me once you’ve read it. I’d love to know!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yay! I’m so glad you got to do such lovely stuff. A q&a and signed books! I need to read Greenlight soon, I’m sure it’ll break my heart. (Wish I’d known you were going, I’d have asked for a signed copy myself!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t put two and two together! I knew you went to a writing workshop, and I know you love the Lalli series, but I didn’t know the workshop was with the writer of the series! How wonderful! I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of fantastic writers while I completed my degrees in creative writing. There are times when I think I joined a writing program just so I could meet other people, lol. Dr. Swaminathan has so many great little quotable moments in this interview. I love the soul needs more leg room, and labels are meant to be peeled off before reading. I also love the description of why writing and surgery are similar. That’s a great comparison that makes me feel like there are lots of ways to help people, even if I don’t have a noble profession like surgeon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Writing workshops are such a great way to meet other bookish people!
      I had such fun doing the interview with her and she was so sweet about it all. I really appreciate her taking the time to give me such a good interview with such quotable quotes!

      Liked by 1 person

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