Kathie: Hi Mahtab, it’s such a pleasure to welcome you to MG Book Village today! I’m really looking forward to learning more about your upcoming MG novel, VALLEY OF THE RATS which will be released by DCB on September 18th. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?
Mahtab: Thank you for inviting me to the MG Book Village, Kathie! It’s such a pleasure to share thoughts and ideas with an awesome community, invested in bringing books and readers together!
Synopsis: Book nerd Krish hates the outdoors, and camping. But especially germs. When Krish and his father, Kabir, take a camping trip to Ladakh, he convinces himself that they will bond, despite their differences.
When they’re lost in a bamboo forest, teeming with black rats, and germs, Krish is at an all-time low. His GF (gut feel) and a couple of rats lead them to a hidden village, Imdur, unmarked on any map.
Krish and his father are allowed to stay, only if they follow rules. But Krish soon realizes the village has an odd custom of worshipping rats. They also have a secret. And so does his dad. Turns out, Krish has a secret too.
When all the secrets explode into the open, Krish and Kabir are in grave danger. Can Krish overcome his fears and phobias to take the chance offered to him? Or are he and his dad doomed to spend the rest of their lives among rats?
Here’s the book trailer:
Kathie: This story is much creepier than your previous books. Where did the inspiration for the story come from, and what was it like for you to write something in this genre?
Mahtab: I’m a huge advocate of channeling your emotions, fears, hopes, dreams into your stories. You have a deeper connection with your audience when you can translate these emotions into words, and make them feel the way you do.
The inspiration for this story came from a National Geographic documentary I saw on YouTube about the Karni Mata temple in Rajasthan. Here rats are revered instead of reviled.
Being a city girl, now living in a rural community, I’m often scared of the most harmless critters. Even as a child, growing up in Mumbai, I was deathly afraid of lizards (gecko in this part of the world), rats (large ones) and flying cockroaches (which were plentiful.)
All of this came together in a kind of “idea soup” which became the story for Valley of the Rats.
Fun anecdote: I live in a semi-rural residential community outside of Vancouver. Sometimes the “outdoors” tends to slip indoors! While doing the final edits for Valley of the Rats, I woke up one morning to find a tiny mouse (think Despereaux + Ratatouille) on the stairs to my office. Despite writing about rats for quite a few months now, I shrieked for help and woke my husband at five-thirty am to get it back outdoors. Reality is so far from imaginative endeavours. The fact that I hate rats and am so afraid of them helped me get into Krish’s head to describe his fears.
Kathie: I love that you explore the impact of Krish and his dad’s disrespect for the community that’s providing for them. What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
Mahtab: I’m so happy you asked about that underlying theme in the story!
After I watched the documentary, and given my own fears about rats, I started thinking about how animals (people, too!) are viewed differently, depending on where you are in the world. Gross-factor aside, rats are extremely intelligent creatures—able to adapt and survive in the harshest conditions, while cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast!
I knew then I had to write a story about a community of people who are judged on their customs and traditions by outsiders who tell them what is right and wrong. At the back of my mind was the recent tragedy of the Residential Schools in Canada and how the indigenous people suffered because they were told what was best for them and their children by outsiders.
As technology makes travel to the remotest corners of the world possible, countless communities are now being visited and changed by outside influences. Not always for the better.
First off, I hope readers will enjoy the action, the adventure, and the fantastical/mysterious elements of the story. The goal of a novel is to entertain, and I hope I’ve achieved that in Valley of the Rats.
Secondly, I hope readers will understand that you need to respect cultures and communities that are different from your own. They have their own way of life and do not need, or want, to be judged. They may not welcome the change you propose so, tread carefully and follow their requests even if they are not to your liking. After all, you are a guest in their home.
People, instinctively, fear those who do not look or behave like themselves or share the same beliefs. There is suspicion and disdain among the privileged for those who are different. I explored this theme with Krish and Tashi. Krish, who comes from the city, looks down on the Imdura, believing them to be ignorant and dirty. Eventually, he realizes that Tashi is a much better person than he is, in every way. He comes to understand her way of life, accept her differences, and they become best friends. She is the catalyst that changes his life for the better and it is because he kept an open mind and was willing to make the effort to change.
After reading this novel, I hope readers will ignore the knee-jerk reaction to the obvious and look beyond the surface to appreciate the heart of the story. I sincerely hope this story will encourage empathy toward the Other.
Kathie: Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers about the research you did for the book, or something interesting you learned in the process you didn’t know before?
Mahtab: The village of Imdur and all its inhabitants are pure fiction. Though this story is set in Ladakh, which is part of the foothills of the Himalayan Range (and very cold!), I imagined a micro-climate which supports the growth of a bamboo forest.
This idea was inspired by a PBS documentary about Mautam or Bamboo Death—a true event which occurs in Mizoram every 48 years. Here’s the link in case anyone wants to check it out. There is a longer, one hour documentary as well on YouTube, but this link gives the gist of it.
I also researched how communities lived and survived in Nepal and in the northern regions of India. I used the bits which were interesting. For example, the headdress of Imma, the shaman of Imdur) was inspired by this research.
I also researched how people around the world use bamboo. I found out that it’s used not just for building houses or furniture but even as cooking vessels. This is such a clean and green solution, I had to use it in the book.
Kathie: What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Mahtab: Definitely the research. Even when I came across an interesting article which wasn’t relevant to the story I was writing, I filed it away for future use. Everything is valuable and I’ve got thousands of bookmarks under the “Ideas” folder on my browser!
First drafts are the hardest and I used to have a tough time starting every morning. Of late, I tend to plot out my story and it’s easier to write the first draft. I know where I’m going and enjoy diversions sparked by the act of sinking deep into the story.
I also enjoy the revision process because it means there are words on paper and now I can tweak and massage them into an actual story. The draft stage was when I told the story to myself, and revision is when I have my audience firmly in mind.
Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?
Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Mahtab. Your book is coming out at the perfect time to appeal to readers who like stories with a dark mystery behind them.
Mahtab: Thank you for your support, enthusiasm, and for this wonderful community of MG writers and readers, Kathie!
MAHTAB NARSIMHAN is an award-winning author with numerous critically acclaimed books, nominated for several awards, including The Third Eye which won the Silver Birch Fiction Award. She is inspired by the desire to make sense of the world through stories and is deeply committed to representing diversity in her books. Please visit www.mahtabnarsimhan.com for more information.