Himanjali Sankar on her fascination with the teenage mind and the writing of her latest novel The Lies We Tell, which talks about mental illness in youngsters
Himanjali Sankar’s powerful YA novel The Lies We Tell isn’t your average fun read, though it is a romance of sorts. Through her protagonists, Himanjali explores the world of the millennial teenager — the pressures they deal with, the weight of parental and adult expectations, their friendships and loves … and how some of them are more fragile than others. In an email interview, the author talks about why she chose to write about mental illness and how the book came together. Excerpts:
The Lies We Tell by Himanjali Sankar
What made you select this particular theme?
It was the shadowy outline of the story that came to me first, more than the ‘theme’. Of course, the way the human mind often moves in directions that we aren’t comfortable with or understand possibly plays a part in any work of art.
The teenage mind particularly, with its hormonal imbalances and excesses, has always baffled and fascinated me and, through The Lies We Tell, I have tried to explore the ways in which our minds can sometimes break down and come apart and then come together again.
Also, younger people as I see it embody the future and hope so, even while writing about seemingly dark issues, I feel there is always scope for redemption and endless possibilities when dealing with the young.
- Where: I can write anywhere, any time. At least I could. I don’t feel like writing much any more.
- When: Whenever I feel like but I like to have an uninterrupted stretch of at least an hour or two when writing.
- What: I generally like to keep a knife which is dripping with blood on the bed next to me while I write. I find it frees my mind and makes me feel all uninhibited and inspired. No, seriously, I need my laptop, I guess, and nothing much else.
- How: Laptop. Could do desktop too. I just need to type.
Can you tell us about how you developed the characters of Irfan, Uma and Rishi?
These three teenagers developed and grew organically on the page as I wrote. They have little scraps of traits from people I know but, in themselves, they are living, breathing humans and very much their own persons.
What made you use the format of WhatsApp chats in between Irfan’s narration?
Irfan’s story is a little relentless and dark and, being in the first person, it didn’t give much scope to the rest to breathe or express themselves. The WhatsApp chats are there to break the story up a little, to give glimpses into minds other than Irfan’s.
And I guess I selected WhatsApp because it’s something I use a lot personally and it plays such a big part in most of our lives now.
Five favourite books
- I find lists very unfair since there’s too much good stuff out there. But here’s five:
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
- The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- Leave it to Psmith by PG Wodehouse
Have you had any reactions to the book from youngsters?
So far so good. The reactions have been by and large positive; some teenagers have been disturbed by the book. But then it’s not a happy story really so that’s an okay response to get.
You’ve written for children, adults and teenagers. What’s next?
Well, I’ve covered most categories of humans then and I’m now left with no new demographic to prey on! So I’ll take a break and perhaps get back in a year or two when the world has changed a little perhaps and I feel like I have something new to say.
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