Anita Nair is a bestselling and critically acclaimed author of both adult and children’s fiction. In 2012, she wrote her first crime novel featuring Inspector Gowda and the second crime novel featuring the same inspector was published in 2016. The third installation of the Inspector Gowda series will be published soon. She also writes poetry and has published a collection called Malabar Mind. Her books have been translated into over thirty one languages around the world.

In a freewheeling chat with, Anita Nair talked about how her collection of poetry came to be, creating fiction for adults and children, why a transvestite person is at the heart of her crime thriller series, and more. Excerpts from the conversation:

What kind of events are more likely to bring out the poet in you?
I began as a poet. When I started writing, it was with poetry. For the longest time I was a closet writer, a closet poet. Eventually what came out was the prose part of it – somehow writing poetry meant laying bare my vulnerabilities for the whole world to see. It took me a long time to find the resilience to put my poetry out there.

Anything that moves me – very intensely and very violently – it could be intense happiness, intense sorrow, intense anger, and it is in this degree of intensity that the poet in me emerges. Whereas, when I’m writing my novels or stuff like that, I’m a more deliberate person – someone who has thought everything through. When I write poetry, it is because I need to find some form of calm within.

It took you nearly a decade to put together the poems in Malabar Mind. How did this collection come into being?
I had all this poetry written down but I seldom published them or showed them to anybody. I was doing an event with the Malayalam poet TP Rajeevan for Calicut University where he read his poetry. I told him how wonderful it was, and he asked me if I write poetry, and I said I do but I do not publish it. He then asked me if he could read them. I agreed.

Then, sometime later, he wrote to me saying that he and his friends were starting a small publishing house and asked me if I would give them my poetry. I said yes, they could publish it. That is how Malabar Mind came into being – it really was a token of friendship more than anything else. The book came out and it did very well. It went into a second reprint almost immediately. Unfortunately, this publishing house soon closed down.

Then as it happens, the University of Ahmedabad decided to include Malabar Mind in their BA syllabus. This is when HarperCollins stepped in and brought out a reissued edition, which contained all the poems from the original.

You have written fiction for both adults and children. What is the common creative process between the two? In what ways is writing in these two genres different?
In terms of how I think up the story and how I proceed with it – all of that is the same. The foundation that I lay before I begin writing the book is also pretty much the same. However, thereafter the writing changes. I have realised that when I write for children, there is a lightness in my spirit. I go back to my childhood, or what my childhood represented to me, what it meant to me and I’m able to draw stories from that – both the good and the bad.

When I write for children, there are ample opportunities for me to find humour even in the most ridiculous of things – this somehow does not work in adult fiction. What makes a child laugh is very different from what makes adults laugh. I really enjoy this part where I can write ridiculous things and yet it feels so right.

When I write adult fiction there’s so much more happening in these stories – I have to constantly watch my steps. I have to make sure that I don’t make any silly mistakes in terms of fact-checking and other such things. Adult fiction demands that I pay attention to factual details, tackle complex emotions – emotions that are vast and grey. I am two different people when I’m writing the two genres. The foundation is the same, the writing process is the same but the mental states are very different.

What or who was your inspiration for Inspector Borei Gowda? What made you write crime thrillers and how did Inspector Gowda turn into a series?
The first four novels I wrote were literary, including my short fiction. I had reached a point where I felt the needed to get out of that space. I was also a little weary of that world – I wanted something where I could have an objective connection with the book itself rather than go into this deep place inside my head where I retreat into when I’m writing literary fiction.

This was a time when I had just published Lessons in Forgetting. The book had been published in a few European languages and I was doing a book tour across the continent. After a while I realised that everybody was asking me the same questions, only in different languages. I remember telling my son, who was fairly young then, that I was so tired of it all. We were in Rome then, sitting in a cafe, and we saw this transvestite person walking by. It was suggested to me that I write about a transvestite person next.

Somehow the idea was lodged in my head. From thereon, I had this entire image of a man dressing up as a woman and, in parallel, I also had an image of an inspector riding a bike. The next question was – How do I get these two characters to meet? Until then I had been writing about small-town Tamil Nadu and rural Kerala, I realised that these new characters did not belong there. But things eventually fell into place – I live in Bengaluru and I decided that the story had to happen in this city.

I did not set out to write a crime novel…it just happened. In fact, I had never read a crime novel until then. I have watched a lot of crime movies and TV series, but never crime novels! I had put in a lot of effort into building this character, you know. I also had to research the police force. It was a huge investment of my time and mind-space. When I was getting to the end of my first book, I thought, I can’t let go of him so soon! By then he had become such an integral part of me that I could not just stop – I wanted to keep his story going and that’s how the series was born.

Between fiction and poetry, as a writer, which medium do you feel closer to?
Oh, I really couldn’t choose! You see, I am not someone who can write poetry every day. For me, poetry happens in spurts. But fiction – I work with it every day, in some form or the other. Fiction is a major part of my creative existence and poetry is a major part of my creativity.

Who is your poetic inspiration and what kind of poetry do you enjoy as a reader?
As a reader, I like a lot of contemporary poetry. I do have a few favourite classical poetry and poets but I enjoy contemporary poetry more. Poets like Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg, I read them so often. I also try to read poetry in whatever Indian languages I can understand – so that will be Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil.

What are you working on at the moment? Has your creative process changed over the years?
I’m working on the third Inspector Gowda novel at present. A children’s book is also underway. My creative process has pretty much remained the same – I think this is that one part of you that ideally should not age. If you start getting jaded then your writing is going to show that as well. I think it’s imperative for any writer to keep a freshness of thought and perception no matter where they are in their career.