RamG Vallath, author of Oops the Mighty Gurgle, in conversation with Tanu Shree Singh, teacher, writer and devourer of books.
TSS: The mighty gurgle completely bowled me over. And Angry Birds? Who would have thought! How did you think of it? Was it a bedtime story you made up? Or playing the game on the sly in the office?
RGV: I have two children who are both bordering on the wacky!! The greatest pleasure in life for me is to see them laughing. After initial trial and error, I realised telling totally random and spontaneously wacky stories as the best way of getting them to ROFL.
The idea of writing a novel came to me when I was in pretty bad shape physically, suffering from an autoimmune disorder. I had to quit working and go for a long-term treatment to the US. I was trying to figure out ways of keeping myself occupied when I realised that writing a novel could be the best thing to do.
The first attempt was a far more serious and dark book. But after I went through the treatment, stuffed to the gills with a few litres of chemo and some exotic rabbit and rat extracts, the whole outlook changed!! I decided to write a completely wacky book.
As for the plot, I never had a mental picture of more than couple of paragraphs ahead at any point in time. Each twist and turn and conversation and character came completely spontaneously. So the idea of ‘angry birds’ came after I had introduced Oops.
TSS: It seemed like a rollercoaster adventure although very much in control. My son read the opening captain’s log, and after struggling for a few moments suddenly his eyes lit up and he read the entire ‘translation’ to me. Needless to say, a lot ROFL happened. Do you think there might be some eyebrows (especially the greying variety) raised at the prolific use of Gurglese?
RGV: I did have a few weaker moments when I thought of being politically correct and censoring poor Oops. But then I left this to wiser persons like my editors.
My internal compass was what I would be comfortable with my children (fourteen and eleven) reading and discussing. 🙂 And I am sort of hoping the ‘others’ don’t get the ‘translation’ at all!!
TSS: What age groups do you think the book will appeal to? In fact, do you believe it is limited to a certain age group? I am thirty-seven and immensely enjoyed it.
RGV: I did have some moments of uncertainty regarding the age group I was targeting. The story really is aimed at anyone with a wacky bent of mind, who does not take himself or herself too seriously and is able to see humour in the absurd. The only constraint possibly is that those who appreciate English language will find it a lot funnier, since the humour is in part through the situations, and in part through the use of language.
I was (and still am) scared that the use of two protagonists who are fourteen might put off an adult audience. That would be a shame, since they might appreciate the use the language fully.
TSS: All the characters are unique with quirky names. Did the names come easy? Is there a favourite, apart from Oops, that is?
RGV: My favourite name is Fotosyntheis. (apart from Oops). The names came quite easily. The only name I changed later was Porcules (the original was Groot).
TSS: Maybe Groot will come in some time later! Would there be a sequel?
RGV : I certainly want to write a sequel. I hope I get crazier and wackier so that the next book is even more absurdly funny.
TSS: Amen to that! How long did you take to write the book? Would you call yourself fairly disciplined when it comes to sitting down and writing every day?
RGV: It took me about sixty days to complete the book. Then I did quite a few iterations on it.
In the beginning, I was being hampered by the difficulty in typing (an effect of the auto immune disorder) so I bought a voice to text conversion software and started using it. This substantially increased the speed. I was quite disciplined, since I was eager to really complete the book. But there would be days in which I never got the right inspiration and I couldn’t even complete one page.
As my treatment took effect, I was able to start typing. This is better for coming up with more inspiration, since you are not listening to your own voice droning on!!
TSS: Most authors say they have a certain way of approaching writing, either building characters or a plot and then working on it. How did you go about it?
RGV: As I said earlier, I couldn’t see beyond the next one or two paragraphs while I was writing. So it is safe to say that the plot just kept developing as I went along. Possibly because I used to take off my specs (short sight) while writing!!
Once each character appeared in the book—notice I said appear, since these were not really planned—I would then think of their values, their character, their behaviour patterns etc and their actions would continuously reinforce these.
It is safe to say that all five of the main protagonists—Chuck, Kia, Oops, Floppy and Critter—all have personalities, which reflect facets of my personality.
TSS: Why Oops? Why not Ouch or anything else?
RGV: Oops is more positive than Ouch. Also, it happens to be my favourite word when I drastically muck up things. By the way, Oops is the son of Aha, who is the son of Ouch. So Ouch does lurk in the background.
TSS: There are quite a few aspiring writers out there. Any tips or suggestions to them?
RGV: If you are a new author, it is tough to get a publisher. But remember two things.
1. There is immense pleasure in creating just for the sake of creating. So please go ahead and write.
2. Once you have written, move heaven and earth to get it published—like everything else in life, here also perseverance pays. If all else fail, you should at least self-publish. But remember to be patient.
And most important of all, have a spouse who supports you all the way.