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Vignettes of loss and trauma

Jessica Faleiro hopes that readers will recognise a little of themselves in each of the characters in her new book ‘The Delicate Balance of Little Lives’. In a tête-à-tête with NT BUZZ



Q: ‘The Delicate Balance of Little Lives’ consists of five stories where the main characters in each are linked to each other. What gave you the idea of doing this?

My first novel ‘Afterlife’ had a narrative frame interlinking shorter ghost stories that could technically stand on their own. My research for that book included looking at stories with narrative frames like Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, ‘A Thousand and One Arabian Nights’ and Giovanni Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron.’ So, stories with narrative frames are not a new concept. When it came to writing these stories, as with my first book, I just began to feel these characters were organically connected, so I interlinked the stories.


Q: How long did it take you to pen this book and what kind of research did you do?

The oldest story in the book ‘Cristina’ was drafted eight years ago. It’s evolved since then, but writing a book isn’t always a linear process. Some stories need to simmer and evolve over time, others go away and new ones replace them. Life gets in the middle of things and other books get written. I’d say that the stories were all ready in some form in 2016, but still required severe editing, others needed deeper research. During the research phase, I did some reading and spoke to a clinical psychologist to get insights about the behaviours of alcoholics and survivors of child sexual abuse – both of which are topics that my book dips into.

Q: Was it a conscious decision to have women as your protagonists?

The stories I wanted to tell were manifesting themselves through the characters and voices of these five women. It’s just how the stories wanted to be revealed. I didn’t force it.


Q: Your book is inspired by the sense of trauma that women in middle-class Goan society live through. Could you elaborate?

My first book was about family secrets coming out through ghost story-telling. This book is also about the secrets a society harbours – the ones everybody knows about but doesn’t speak of. For women, the pressure to be an image of perfection for the family and society is so immense that they don’t feel they have any recourse to acknowledge their own emotions during difficult times, let alone their needs.

The concept of self, for a woman living in India, is still a very new one, let alone the understanding of how to integrate their needs with those of their family and community. Unacknowledged traumas can be borne from these moments and I tried to show this through the portrayal of characters who have suffered in some way but continue living life using whatever coping mechanisms they can.

Suzanne is an accomplished pianist but also a functioning alcoholic who has lost her beauty over time. Cristina has lost the innocence of childhood and accepts the pain, coping in her own way. Penny through her father’s death loses someone she feels understands her. I think it is also important to understand that these characters are complex, as are all humans. They are not just one thing. I tried to portray them in ways that aren’t right or wrong, so to speak. My hope is that readers don’t judge them harshly but recognise a little of the characters in themselves.


Q: It took a while for you to get paperback copies available here in India.

I decided to experiment with getting my books published with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) on Amazon which makes your book instantly available via Kindle in 13 countries and seven countries in paperback. However, India is not one of those countries yet. The book was launched in April 2018 through KDP, but it took me ages to decide on a publisher that would do bulk printing for me in India.


Q: Although there are plenty of Goan books being published, why is that these still get lost in the market?

It depends on so many factors – the distribution network of the publishing house, appropriate marketing, the quality of writing, whether the book speaks to a trending topic, whether the author has a pre-established brand, whether the author invests effort in marketing etc. There’s also a distinction to be made between fiction and non-fiction books. I think the latter written on topics related to Goa tend to fare a little better sales-wise, in my opinion.


Q: You’ve conducted writing workshops; what are your observations on the talent and interest for writing today?

I think there’s a lot of interest in writing across all ages – many have a story inside them dying to get out! Some of my workshops are more attractive than others because of growing trends. For instance, my travel writing workshops are more popular, probably because travel blogs and the concept of the digital nomad, have become popular in India. However, we recently ran a five-week short story writing course at Chowgule College which was well-received. I hope to do more of those.

(The Delicate Balance of Little Lives’ will have its Goa release on November 10 at The Dogears Bookshop, Margao)


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