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#WOTSTalks: Interview with Rabindranath Maharaj

September 6, 2018

It’s finally September! We’re so excited about WOTS that we couldn’t wait to talk to some of the authors that will be joining us on September 23! We sat down with Rabindranath Maharaj to talk about his book Adjacentland, imagination and his writing process.

 

WOTS: Adjacentland is named for a land within the book filled with misfits and outsiders, which is the last place that imagination has survived. What does it mean for misfits to be adjacent to reality? Do you believe an “Adjacentland” already exists?

Rabindranath Maharaj: “Misfits” may possess their own reality. There is a section in the book where a character says, “In a lopsided landscape, a symmetrical tree may seem crooked… Sanity seems like madness to a mad person.”

When I was writing the novel, I was thinking of how technology was gradually eroding our ability to speculate. Everything is now presented in such a predigested manner there are rarely these moments of reflection and of thoughts forming gradually. So we are controlled in ways not always known to us. Adjacentland, the counterpoint to such rigidly controlled societies, is a place of conspiracies and confabulations and vendettas. There are places that fit this description.

 

WOTS: Adjacentland is told from the perspective of a man who has no memory of who he was. What is the most difficult part of writing a character who has to reconstruct their entire past? When writing this character, did you know what about his past was real and what was part of his own construction?

RM:  A character who must reconstruct his past is an extremely unreliable narrator. He has no idea if the memory he is evoking is real or if the event he is describing is authentic. Early in the novel, the narrator confesses, “I am aware that this formal account might be stilted and whinging to you as it is to me. I feel that I was once gifted with a humorous manner of transcribing events but unfortunately that is gone now, and I can only describe my situation with the tools left to me.”

In the novel, the narrator addresses the reader directly. I hoped to create a sort of intimacy between narrator and reader and at the same time alert the readers to facts unknown to the narrator.

During the first draft I was not sure what was real and what was part of the narrator’s delusions. I wrote the story the narrator wanted to tell. During subsequent drafts, as I understood him better, I removed and modified and added.

 

WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and building out a story?

RM: I do most of my writing in a coffee shop in Ajax. I like the movement and the sense of action on the periphery of my vision. I also believe that the act of distancing the activities and conversations helps me to focus better.

I am interested in aberrations and curiosities so when I begin a story I am typically inquisitive about a character’s predicament and the avenues open to ameliorate the situation. I always begin with a character and a vague idea of the theme. The plot emerges from these.

 

WOTS: Adjacentland draws a lot of influence from pulp fiction, graphic novels, and films. How did these mediums influence your storytelling? What were some of your favourite sources of inspiration?

RM:  This novel took three drafts before I was comfortable with it. During the third draft I realized that I was writing a novel not only about the imagination but also about the process of crafting a story; the way the imagination operates and the reliability of memory and so on. Everything that influenced my own writing came into the mix. Apart from pulp fiction and graphic novels and films, I tried to weave into the novel bits of the Trinidadian oral tradition, magical realism, nineteenth century British writers, the Bible and the Mahabharata, folk and fairy tales. I am sure there are other influences of which I am not aware.

 

WOTS: Tell us a bit more about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?

RM:  My first attempts at writing were imitations of the stories I enjoyed. I would have been about nine or ten and I wrote little stories on my school copybooks in the styles of Enid Blyton and Captain WE Johns and Stan Lee.

I grew up in an extended family so I wrote close to a ravine at the back of the house and hid the copybooks in the hollow trunks of the bamboo. I am not sure why I did this but, in any event, the annual bush fires levelled the bamboo.

 

WOTS: What would you say to a writer who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think it’s crucial to know?

RM: It’s crucial to know why you are writing this novel or story. What’s your purpose? Is it an idea  or a theme with which you are intrigued or is it something you have not been able to shunt aside: a memory or a character or some evocative setting? You must also have a clear idea of the genre you have chosen and some knowledge of its conventions.

 

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