Raghuvir Nair, aka Viru, isn’t what you would call an average ghost. He can’t (or simply doesn’t want to) pass through walls or sneak up on people for fun. In fact, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in spooking anybody. Most importantly, his residence of choice is not an abandoned mansion with creaky floorboards and loose chandeliers with a thundercloud stationed above the roof. The fact is, he’s perfectly happy haunting the microcircuit of an old, second-hand laptop. What’s more, he’s even firm friends with the laptop’s owner, Madhu, who finds out that a ghost haunting your PC is actually quite a good thing.
But things are about to change. Madhu’s thirteenth birthday is just around the corner, and her mother wants to buy her a brand new laptop. The news understandably sends poor Madhu into fits of despair. How can she save her best friend from being deleted without disclosing her secret?
Meanwhile, Madhu’s little sister Kumuda is convinced that their mother’s new friend from work is involved in some funny business. The ten-year-old sleuth is determined to find out what exactly he’s up to, but she isn’t satisfied with having just one mystery on her hands. There’s also the matter of her sister’s strange obsession with her battered, hand-me-down laptop …
Payal Dhar’s latest book, There’s a Ghost in My PC, promises to be gigabytes of fun for both children and young adults or just about anyone looking for a ghost story with a difference.
The author spoke to us about her new release, her favourite books from her childhood, future projects and much more—
Stories behind stories are always exciting. How did you decide to put computers and ghosts together? And how long did it take you to finish the book?
Payal: Some years ago, I was asked to contribute to a ghost stories anthology for Puffin. Since I’d never written about the supernatural stuff—and computers and tech was my comfort zone—somehow it ended up being a tale about a haunted computer! I really liked the story and always wondered what happened next, so when Himanjali asked if I had any ideas up my sleeve, I figured it was time to write the book. The events in There’s a Ghost in My PC happen two years after the short story. Overall, it took a couple of years to finish the book, but the actual writing and coming-together of the plot probably took about six months or so.
As a child who were you more like – Madhu or Kumuda?
Payal: Hm… a bit like both, I think. I always had my nose in a book like Kumuda, but I was nowhere as adventurous and audacious like her. And like Madhu, I found friends in unusual places, and made lots of terrible decisions and survived! Oh, and like both, I always had an overly wild imagination…
This is the first time you’ve written a book that’s completely set in the real world. Did you find yourself itching to add fantastic elements, parallel worlds and outlandish characters?
Payal: Oh yes, yes—it was a very different experience writing this one—and I toyed with ideas to make the aunt an alien or the computer a portal to a parallel world where ghosts live and such things. I also had to think hard about how I wanted to end the book and resolve the issues—but I wont say much more or I’ll give away the story.
Describe a day in the life of Payal Dhar.
Payal: Right, I wake up at 6 am and go for a 5-km run. Then I come home and have my breakfast, and by 9, I’m at my desk, writing my 2,000 words for the day…. Well, all right, all right, I’m lying! On good days I manage to drag myself out of bed by 9; on bad days, well, let’s not go there. I work part-time at Geo magazine and spend two days a week at their office. Otherwise, I spend daytime answering mail and dealing with deadlines (freelance writing work). The evenings are for reading and relaxation, and the ‘real’ work, i.e., writing, usually gets done late in the night. Unless I’ve got my teeth into an unfolding novel (or in the middle of a really good computer game), when I’m pretty much writing (or playing!) all the time.
Most Indian writers tend to shy away from speculative fiction. What drew you to this genre?
Payal: Well, I never really thought of that. In some ways I guess we do have a huge tradition of fantasy given our love for mythology, but yes, there’s fairly little of ‘contemporary’ fantasy writing. What made me take to the genre was the realisation that I didn’t have to stick to the real world—that I could make up things. Since I’ve always sort of had my head in the clouds, it seemed more attractive to write spec fic than about the ‘real’ world. I have to say that I think I got lucky—the time I started thinking seriously about fiction, and about fantasy in particular, was just after I started reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This was around 2005, and the world was then basking in the unfolding magic of a certain J.K. Rowling. So both readers and publishers were receptive to the genre.
What did you read as a child? Who were your favourite authors?
Payal: There wasn’t much available to read when I was a child apart from Enid Blyton and the classics. I lapped up Blyton, though I was disturbed by her politics without really understanding what made me uncomfortable. I spend a couple of years in Secunderabad when I was about 7 or 8, where I had access to some excellent libraries where I was first introduced to a lot of other reading, like the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Dana Girls/Bobbsey Twins books, the Three Investigators, lots of comics and more. But even then, Blyton was our staple. I’ve also always loved a good whodunit, so Agatha Christie was another favourite. I still read a lot of children’s and young adults’ books.
Lord of the Rings or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If you had to pick one …?
Payal: Oh definitely Hitchhiker’s. I’m probably committing fantasy sacrilege here, but I found Lord of the Rings terribly boring and never read it. It’s perhaps the only book about which I can say, “I saw the movie, and that’ll do!”
There’s no way we can avoid this question. What’s next?
Payal: Well, I have a half-finished novel that’s a sequel to my Shadow in Eternity series; another fantasy standalone novel about two children who stumble into a subterranean world from a runaway lift; and a mental note to start serious work on the second part of my other novel, Satin. I’m not sure which one will see light of day first!