20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“In times like these it is vital that we continue to shake a fist in the face of the inherent desolation and emptiness that surrounds us, in order to decipher the point of our existence, of how we want to spend the time that we have.” Anushree “Anu” Nande is a Mumbai-born writer who has studied and worked in the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States, and currently works as a publishing professional in Boston. Her micro-fiction collection, 55 Words, was published by Underground Voices in 2015 and her other work (fiction, essays, football pieces, poetry) can be found in a range of online and print platforms. Summer Melody, her new novelette, is available everywhere now.
Nande is also a senior editor and writer at Football Paradise, an award-winning website for longform articles about football, hosts a monthly newsletter featuring in-depth conversations with storytellers, and is an active member of Boston’s literary and publishing community. The rest of her time she spends studying, freelancing, reading, writing, hoarding books, working through creative demons with sport and art, and asking herself what Coach Taylor would do.
I had the chance to get to know Anu for the first edition of 20 Questions for 2022, where she told me all about her creative process, Summer Melody, what inspires and influences her the most, who she’s been reading lately, and much more.
What is the earliest memory you have of wanting to be a writer?
I don’t think it really occurred to me before one day in Year 9 in school when I had to write a made-up newspaper article on an assigned topic (train accident) for my English class. I’ve loved to read since I was a kid (thanks, Dad!) and was rarely without a book, but I never kept a regular journal or wrote stories or poems, even though I had a natural aptitude for languages. I got really good feedback from my teacher on the article that day. When I came home and showed it to my parents, one of my uncle’s best friends was also there and he was the first one to mention the words “creative writing” to me, saying that I should think about it. It was the first time I seriously considered matters; that I did want to be a writer, even if I hadn’t realised it until then.
What time of day are you most inspired?
It can strike at any moment, which is why I’m always carrying around a small notebook and pen, and have so many scraps in the Notes app on my phone! I’ve found that if I like the idea and believe in it enough, every time I sit down with the draft, I’m inspired, even if not always to the same degree.
Favorite book of all-time?
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I wrote an essay about it earlier this year which you can read here.
Favorite social media app?
Twitter for football and Instagram (the Bookstagram community) for books. For all of their downsides, both have undoubtedly enriched my life, personally, socially, and professionally!
One movie that will always make you cry?
There are a few contenders, but it has to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson. Just the opening strains of ‘Concerning Hobbits’ and the waterworks begin! Most of the times the movies make me tear up are happy occasions, though. The force of the emotional landscape of those stories, if you will.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
If you’d have asked me a few months ago, I would definitely have said coming up with ideas about what to write. But, at the moment, I’m in a rich spell (don’t want to jinx it!) and my answer is different, though one that has followed me for much of my writing life—being able to create believable, rounded characters, and the doubt that I’m always lacking one smidge of an ingredient.
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
I’m breaking the rule and giving you three (out of 100, it was hard enough to pick!)
In the End, It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri. All three were memorable reads that I know I’m going to return to in the future; all left parts of themselves in me and vice-versa, altering me in ways I wouldn’t change.
Your new novelette Summer Melody is said to draw from your own experience in London as well as your deep relationship with music. How would you characterize that relationship, and how has it informed your work at large?
I’ve never lived in London (yet) beyond often and extensive visits over the years, but the city has always felt like I’d never not known it, that a part of me was always there and always will be. In a way, it has somehow felt far more familiar than Mumbai where I grew up, and I wanted to honour that by setting this story there. As for music and my relationship with it; I grew up around music. My father, a surgeon by profession, is also a classically trained singer (Hindustani classical vocal) and my maternal aunt is a professional musician. I’ve trained a bit over the years, and there is a deep personal connection to it, whether I sing or I listen. I’d like to share an excerpt from an essay I wrote that was eventually published by Litro Magazine:
“As a writer, I have always been interested in the intricate relationship between art, music, the artist and the audience … One of my main aims is to show music as the main interactive medium between the characters, where the sound and its consequent effect is what matters. My writing is an attempt to verbalise and concretise the ‘sound’ of feelings and emotions, without resorting to structuring the piece in any form of music. It is said that if you could say something in words, there would be no reason for art and music. However, I still believe in the possibility recreating a ‘vision’ of music that has a similar and equally powerful effect on the reader. Attempting to make the abstract concrete is an integral part of why I am driven to write, and that more than anything else forms the hopefully universal sensibility of my work rather than where it is based or what nationality the characters have.
“Music is the way in which many of my characters find a solution to their problems. However, the obvious dilemma surfaces when the mode of communication you feel most comfortable with is itself the source of the problem. I have often thought about what would happen if writing just didn’t make any sense anymore and failed to give me the joy it continues to give. How would I react to waking up, not only lacking that compulsive urge to put pen to paper (or words on the screen) but being actively repelled by it?”
I explore these themes in Summer Melody and try to find a solution that works for my characters.
The last series you binge-watched?
Only Murders in the Building. It went beyond what I was expecting when my sister recommended it—I’m impatient already for season 2!
How would you describe the importance of storytelling, especially in an age of social isolation?
It’s more important now than it ever was, and it was never insignificant to begin with. I believe, as writers, that it’s our little rebellion against existential questions, more so in an age where there is increasing social isolation, increasing uncertainty about the future of our species and the planet, increasing stresses and anxiety. In times like these it is vital that we continue to shake a fist in the face of the inherent desolation and emptiness that surrounds us, in order to decipher the point of our existence, of how we want to spend the time that we have. There’s a quote from Neil Gaiman about it that I want to share because I couldn’t say it any better even if I tried—
“We [writers] decry too easily what we do as kind of trivial—the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction…is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better… It’s a real escape—and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.”
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I’m going to go with writing advice here. There are two that spring to mind: “Write towards the direction of your fear” by Musa Okwonga and “You never think it’s done, until it’s done” by Celeste Ng.
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
I made a list but since you asked me to pick the one, the first to come to mind was Neil Gaiman. I’m in awe of his humanity and sensitivity as much as his ability to convert those beautiful, imaginative, hopeful, humorous, spooky, and, yes, also dark thoughts into just the right words.
One song that you will never be sick of?
There are many but I’m going to go with a song that forms one of my earliest musical memories: “Top of the World” by the Carpenters. You can read about the why here.
As a senior editor and writer at Football Paradise and the editor of Spiffy’s Blog by Ladderworks Publishing, what would you say is your favorite part of being an editor?
I love working with talented writers and seeing their writing develop over a period of time, especially if they are regular contributors. Another part of the same process is helping those writers achieve their vision with a story, and in turn helping shape and tell a story the way that makes it shine the most, in that writer’s best voice.
What’s your current read?
In Arcadia by Ben Okri. I’m also reading, on the side, Upstream by Mary Oliver and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?
The first name that springs to mind is a music composer: Howard Shore. I’d love to chat with him about musical creation, the process and the thought; I want to listen to how he went about composing the monumental soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings movies, how he managed to capture the soul and essence of Tolkien’s work to such a degree of perfection.
Favorite quote of all-time?
That’s a tough one—I have many! Picking this one from what is probably my most favorite TV show, Friday Night Lights.
“Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives… fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts… that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”
Your writing is said to explore how we navigate the emotional landscape of our lives. What inspires you the most in that regard?
I’m fascinated by nuance whether in behaviour or thought or emotion, by small seemingly insignificant details that actually mean everything. I’m inspired by so many things in my journey of exploration of my own emotional landscape—the books I read, the people I meet and their stories, the places I visit, the things I see—and that usually trickles down to my work and the questions I want to answer, explore, and develop on the page. This process helps me to not only clarify my own situation but also that of my characters. I like the quieter moments more than the obvious fireworks, though those are also fun to write, because there can be so much heft and beauty and meaning in that stillness that I feel can sometimes get lost in the voices and noises of our uber-busy and always-moving world. I want to honour those moments and the people who live them.
One thing that’s been keeping you sane during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’ve finally discovered podcasts. I mean, of course I’d listened to some in the past but was somehow never able to integrate them into my life as a regular listener which has been a blessing (or curse, since now there is another interest demanding my time) to come out of the pandemic. I do listen to many football (soccer) podcasts, including Stadio, Wrighty’s House, Left Field, and the Arseblog Arsecast, but another two I’ve been enjoying are The Friendship Onion and The Prancing Pony Podcast (yes, from my Tolkien obsession!) I’ve especially loved having them on while I do chores but also when I’m too tired to read or watch a show/movie but want storytelling and company.
What can we expect to see next from you?
I’m working on a few things, including a flash collection, a fantasy/magic realism novella, and the very early shades of a novel, so we’ll see where all of that leads me!
Follow Anushree Nande on Twitter and Instagram, and find her novelette Summer Melody on Amazon in the U.S. and the U.K.