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Writer Q&A with Damini Kane!

Damini Kane is a Masters student at the University of Sussex. Her short story, ‘Violence Washed Away’, is published in Issue 5 of our creative writing journal, The Purple Breakfast Review themed on ‘Sound and Silence’. She recently published her debut novel, The Sunlight Plane, earlier in 2018.

Today, Damini answers a few questions for us about her inspirations, and publishing processes. She also offers her own advice to other aspiring writers!

  1. Let’s start with introducing yourself and your work to The Student Wordsmith readers!

Introductions, introductions…Hi! I’m Damini Kane. I’m from India, though I’m doing my Masters in Migration Studies from the University of Sussex. During this time, I’ve had the honour of being featured in the Purple Breakfast Review’s 5th issue, and I’ve attended a wonderful writer’s workshop with Dr. Sophie-Louise Hyde. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and I’ve taken a particular interest in fiction. I especially love novels. I’ve just published my first, The Sunlight Plane. It’s about two young boys growing up in a wealthy neighbourhood in Mumbai, and how their friendship navigates them through child abuse and bullying. I’m currently working on a series of fantasy novels as well.

  1. When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?

As a child, I always played pretend games with elaborate imaginary worlds, and by the time I was ten, I’d decided I wanted to be a novelist (though I didn’t admit this to myself for years). What really pushed me towards the novel as a form was my love for writers like Jacqueline Wilson, who I grew up reading, and later Markus Zusak and J.K Rowling. I believe that, all my life, I wanted to be someone different, someone interesting, a swashbuckling fantasy hero on the adventure of her life. Writing, in a way, allowed me to be that person through the eyes of my characters.

  1. What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

There are so many! But very recently, I came across the Shades of Magic series by V.E Schwab. It’s a trilogy and I devoured all three books in about 48 hours. I was quite surprised when I realised that nobody I knew had heard of her. She’s quite a well-published author. Nonetheless, The Shades of Magic books really deserve more attention. If you enjoy the lovely combination of action, fantasy, and romance, it’s the ideal series. The story is about four parallel Londons–Red London, White London, Grey London, and Black London, and the rare and powerful magicians who can travel between them. What I loved about it was that apart from being brilliant, they were also racially diverse and feminist, with healthy LGBT representation. We need more of that in the action/fantasy genre.

  1. What inspired you to write The Sunlight Plane?

The title, actually. So when I was in my undergrad, I got into this habit of reading the news on my mobile devices to and from my way to class. I came across this one BBC article about Solar Impulse 2, a real life solar-powered plane that was, at the time, circumnavigating the earth. That was when I coined the phrase ‘The Sunlight Plane’ and thought, “Well, that sounds like the title to a novel. Now what should the novel be about…?” It took quite a lot of brainstorming to finalise on the idea. In my novel, the plane is a metaphor for the very human act of trying. 

  1. Did publishing your first book change your writing process and your approach to writing future novels?

The one thing I noticed as I wrote and edited each draft of the book was the emergence of a recognisable style. I’ve understood some aspects of my voice as a writer, and that has helped me while writing the draft of my fantasy novel series. I know what I want my books to sound like, I know what I want them to feel like. I’m quite fond of metaphor and imagery, I love finding interesting ways of describing things…recognising this about myself has changed the way I think about my stories as I write them. I’m constantly asking myself questions like, “What sticks out to me most in this scene? What intrigues me the most about this situation? What do I think needs more emphasis, more description? What do I want my readers to pay attention to?” I’m sure my voice will change and evolve as I continue to write, but even finding out that I have a voice…that’s so exciting.

  1. How many unpublished and half-finished books have you written before your first published novel, The Sunlight Plane?

SO MANY. I would have ten or eleven single-lined notebooks with handwritten “novels” (though they couldn’t have been more than two or three thousand words at the most, and that’s a generous estimate). They were all half-finished and terrible, just schoolgirl ramblings. The change came when I was fifteen. That was when I wrote my first complete novel. It was about 50,000 words long. I decided not to publish it because was pretty awful too, and I didn’t want it to be my debut. That was the same reason I abandoned the second complete novel I wrote, at 140,000 words. But I’ve recently gone back to that novel, which was also an action/fantasy, and picked it apart for spare characters. I’m quite fond of the characters in that book, and I plan to reuse them in my future fantasy fiction series.

  1. What kind of research do you do (if any), and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

The kind of research I do depends on what the story is about. For The Sunlight Plane, I was intimately familiar with the setting and environment of the book, so I spent my energy reading up about things like abuse, bullying, school systems, and music. (I once randomly spoke to a musician sitting across from me in the bus. I’m usually a pretty shy person, so we were both equally surprised that this conversation happened.) But for the series I’m working on now, I’m doing a lot of in-depth research on everything. I find myself reading about history, religion, food, fashion, and war. I’ve spoken to martial arts experts and archeologists as well. It’s a very exciting new process, but it’s also overwhelming at times, because I know it requires a lot of research before it’s anywhere close to presentable.

  1. What was your hardest scene to write in The Sunlight Plane?

I think the last few chapters were pretty hard. I found them technically challenging and emotionally exhausting. I ended up changing the ending to the book several times before finally letting it go.

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

 “Even your favourite writers fail sometimes. It’s okay if you do too.”

  1. And finally, any advice for the aspiring writers out there?

There’s a lot I wish I knew about writing when I was younger, but if you keep practicing, you learn the technical stuff eventually. I think the one thing I’d want an aspiring writer to remember is: don’t take yourself too seriously. Be proud of your work, of course, because it is yours and it is a part of your soul. But don’t worry about being the best or the greatest or the literary genius of the era. It’s quite exhausting and it doesn’t actually help. Apart from putting yourself under a ton of unnecessary pressure, that sort of thinking just makes it harder to accept critique. Be proud of what you do, even as you remember that learning is a long process, and the pleasure of writing is a product of all the mistakes you make along the way.

The Sunlight Plane is available to order here.