Exploring the Depths of Imagination with Kiran Manral

Kiran Manral, the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, has recently released her latest work, ‘All Those Who Wander.’ The novel explores the themes of time, existence, and emotional healing through multiple stories and characters from different timelines. In this interview, she discusses her inspiration for the book, her writing process, and the message she hopes readers will take away.

What inspired you to write a book like ‘All Those Who Wander’ with multiple stories and different protagonists (in different times as in the past, present, and future)?

I started out with a simple thought. We all live with regrets, in hindsight, we wish we had taken another decision or done something differently in our lives, and wished we could have gone back to warn our younger selves about what decisions not to take. There is also, in the later years of one’s life, now that I have crossed the hill of 50 and can sit for a moment here, at the peak and look back at my journey, the contemplation of the many what ifs. What ifs one had taken this path instead of that, what if one had bumped into this person when one did, what if one knew that the route one was taking was dangerous and would lead us to an accident, the possibilities branch out to an entire network of possible optional lives. And this is what led me to situate the protagonist going back to meet her younger self, and possibly try to change what she believes is the inevitable progression of her life. And the story evolved from that point, of the future and the present or the present and the past, depending from whose perspective you see it, coexisting at the same point in time, in the same space.

Kiran Manral

The book provides aspects about time and existence. What prompted you to explore these themes in your writing?

I have always been seeking information about what constitutes time, what makes us live it out in a linear fashion, the possibilities of looped time that physicists and cosmologists speak of, of the possibilities of multiverses, what would constitute them, how many kinds would there be, how do we defy time and journey back and forth through it. I don’t think I am unique in this, many others before me, and after me, will continue to ask these questions, to wonder about the questions we yet have no answers to, to probe about all the facets that seemingly define our existence on earth, a boundary of finite life and finite living that we have not yet made our peace with seeing how experiments to extend human life span continue across research laboratories around the world. I keep reading the strangest things, and it was inevitable I think that all I read, about the cosmos, about quantum physics, about spirituality, and more, sneaks its way into my writing.

What challenges did you face while writing this book, and how did you overcome them?

I don’t know if you can call them challenges, but they are the regular ones I think any writers face, especially women writers, that of not finding the time and the emptiness in the course of the day to be allowed to create unhindered, to find one’s writing time constantly intruded upon because sitting at a desk and typing at a computer is not considered real work, and most important, the realization that what one does, creating works of fiction and nonfiction is at best a hobby, even though one calls it a passion and a career because one doesn’t make a working wage from it given the years of effort put in. These are challenges I encounter with every book. To get what I do taken seriously, to be allowed undisturbed writing time without constantly being intruded upon by domesticity, to have my work earn enough so I can say I make a living from my writing books. How do I overcome these? I don’t. I just write through it all.

What is next for you as an author, and can readers expect more books in this genre?

At the moment, I am working on two commissioned nonfiction books and both are research heavy and very intensive. These are consuming all of my time. I hope to get back to working on fiction once I’m done with these.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to experiment with different genres and writing styles?

Go right ahead. Unless you experiment how will you find your true voice. Experiment, be inspired, but be wary of imitation. I speak from my own experience. I was such a devoted fan of P G Wodehouse, that consciously or subconsciously, my writing style in the early days was heavily influenced by his. While that is all too good as a tribute, the fact remains that I had to struggle really hard to find my own style and voice, which when I did, turned out to be completely different from Wodehouse (whom I still revere, along with Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams) and I wrote my first noir, The Face at the Window in 2016. I have now written four noir books, The Face at the Window, Missing Presumed Dead, More Things in Heaven and Earth, and All Those Who Wander, and I think finally I am somewhere near finding my own voice after all these years.

Kiran Manral

The book touches upon various themes like mother-daughter relationships, emotional healing, and paranormal activities. What is the message that you want readers to take away from the book?

That ghost lives, the lives we’ve not led, like Cheryl Strayed says so wisely, have to be waved goodbye from the shore of the life we’re living. We cannot take the journey they are on, we can only live the life we are living with the utmost honesty and all the vulnerability we can. And that we are here, where we are for a reason. And we must live out our lives knowing that nothing can or should be changed and that we have lessons to be learnt from our individual journeys.

The book is compared to the Oscar 2023-winning film ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’ Were you influenced by any films or literature while writing this book?

Well, this book was in the writing for four years then two years with my publisher, so this particular movie was definitely not an influence because I hadn’t even heard about it until it became an Oscar contender. But there have been many many books and movies of time shifts, time travel, and multiverses over the years. I guess everything you read and watch has an influence on you, and the work you put out. So, for me, everything from the Terminator series to Outlander, to Time Traveler’s Wife, to Kindred, to Slaughterhouse Five to 11/22/63, to To Say Nothing of The Dog, to A Wrinkle in Time, to Dr Who, to the series Dark, Interstellar, and so many more I can’t recall at the top of my mind right now. I think what one produces as a creative person is always a distillation of all that one has read or watched, and it is impossible to name one or two works as inspiration.

Could you discuss your writing process and how you crafted each story in the book?

I don’t really have a process. I write a first draft, and then I write multiple drafts and keep shifting and tinkering with it with each revision so the final manuscript looks nothing like the first version of the book. How did I craft each story in the book? Honestly, that’s a difficult question, I always find it difficult to explain the how of any writing I do, it just happens, and it is a lot of sitting in front of the computer and one word after another and letting your fingers type without letting your inner critic come in the way of what you are typing.

The book has multiple timelines and jumps back and forth between the past and present. Was it challenging to keep track of the different timelines while writing the book?

Not really, because in my head the story was clear. It was just a matter of getting it down as accurately as I knew it in my head.

Kiran Manral

Your previous works have also explored complex themes and characters. What draws you to writing about these kinds of stories, and how do you balance the need for entertainment with the desire to tackle serious issues?

I don’t really think about balancing anything. I don’t think my books are really balancing anything, they’re just telling stories and sometimes they’re funny, at others they’re dark and grim. The only thing I try to be true to is the telling of the story. So, I have written books that are light reads and funny reads with The Reluctant Detective, Once Upon A Crush, All Aboard, Saving Maya, The Kitty Party Murder. But beneath the laughs and the fun, there are layers to these too, with The Reluctant Detective and The Kitty Party Murder are the very real issues of the leaky pipeline in the corporate world where women fall out of the workforce when they have a child, of domestic violence, of adultery, of pressures to look a certain way, dress a certain way. In All Aboard, Once Upon A Crush, it is the pressure on women to settle down before they hit a certain age, in Saving Maya it is the challenge a woman faces in rebuilding her life after a divorce. The social commentary, layered with frothy humor, is very real and part of the narrative. In books like Missing Presumed Dead, More Things in Heaven and Earth, All Those Who Wander, The Face at the Window, I’ve deal with dysfunctional marriages, mental illness, adultery, murder, domestic violence, illegitimacy, child abuse, and more. These are dark books, and I deal with the issues I talk about in a hard-hitting manner, with no layers of froth or humor. It all depends on the kind of book, but the complex issues you mentioned are present in every book I write.

What books or authors have been the biggest influences on your writing, and how have they shaped your approach to storytelling?

I’ve already mentioned how P. G. Wodehouse was a great influence in my early writing. Apart from Wodehouse, I loved the dry, drolly humor of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Gerald Durrell, Bill Bryson, Mark Twain. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome is a favorite book. I also loved the writing of Helen Fielding, specifically the Bridget Jones books and Jilly Cooper. My other favorites swing to the other extreme with Stephen King, Henry James, Edgar Allen Poe, Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, J. R. R. Tolkien, etc. And I also enjoyed the writing by Anuradha Roy, N.K. Jemisin, Leigh Bardugo, Kiran Desai, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I read a lot of science fiction, so from Asimov to Clarke, to Cixin Liu, to Ted Chiang. I cannot pinpoint exactly how they’ve shaped my approach to storytelling, but I think with science fiction and horror I’ve learnt to give myself permission to imagine the unimaginable and to have the conviction to put things down that seem unbelievable. But to have the power, through how I write it, to make it believable. Through humor writing, I’ve learnt to not take my stories too seriously and to have fun while writing them. Both approaches have served me well.

All Those Who Wander by Kiran Manral Book Cover
All Those Who Wander by Kiran Manral Book Cover