Felix Cat


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Issue 1756 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Imperial author speaks to Felix

Author of the Wattpad novel Serpent's Veil speaks to Books editor Hari Kumarakuruparan about writing as a student.

Serpents Veil


in Issue 1756

What made you want to start writing? 

When I would read books and watch films, I would always ask questions and come up with ideas on how I could change the story – e.g. What if so-and-so event went differently? What if there was a new character who took the plot in a different direction? What happened before this story started? What will happen after it ends? At some point, I decided to put these ideas on paper and I ended up writing a bunch of fanfiction. One which I wrote based on Lord of the Rings is now 80,000 words and counting – I was really obsessed lmao. After a while, I tried to write my own contemporary stories, but they weren’t very good. I realized my strength was in writing fantasy, so I decided to stick with that for the long run.  

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? 

It depends on the genre, but for historical fantasy you have to do a lot of research about the time period and the society you are writing about. You don’t have to research everything before you start writing, but it’s good to look at a map, look at the main cultures, and possibly the structure of the society (e.g. monarchy, democracy, oligarchy, etc.). If you’re doing a completely original setting, then you need to spend time building the world before you write.  

  Wikipedia is probably the best resource for information about history, and is the first one I looked at when researching for The Serpent’s Veil (TSV) – the novel I’m currently writing. I spent about a week researching and compiling information before actually putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard lol). It’s good to write everything down – I use Evernote to keep track of my research. Sometimes you get lost in a rabbit hole with research though – once I found myself knee deep in some obscure article about Saudi Arabian agriculture because one of the characters was eating a fruit and I wanted to make sure it was a fruit you could find in that region at precise time. It’s important not to let research override the actual writing, and usually readers don’t take notice of such tiny details (which is sad). 

What inspired the book, where do you get constant inspiration to make sure the quality is sustained? 

The source of my idea for TSV was from a book called The Wrath and the Dawn, a (young adult) YA fantasy by Renée Ahdieh. It retells the story of Scheherezade and Shahryar (the story is more commonly known as 1001 Arabian Nights). I did some research about Scheherezade, and found out that her character was based on a real Queen named Al-Khayzuran. Originally, I was going to write a story similar to 1001 Arabian Nights, but the history surrounding Al-Khayzuran intrigued me and I decided to write a book that told her story with some semblance of accuracy (and of course a little magic thrown in because why not).  

  I get constant inspiration mainly by reading other books in my genre – so mainly YA/historical/high fantasy. When you read successfully published books you get an idea about what sells, and also how to improve your writing. I don’t mean by copying other authors’ technique but more by understanding what constitutes good dialogue, sentence structure, plot pacing, character arcs etc. Reading also gives me new ideas for plot points.  

What sort of books do you read?  

I read a bit of everything, but mostly fantasy and contemporary novels. I like anything that has an adventure or quest type plot, and plenty of swords. Romance is nice to have, but not necessary. Right now I’m reading The Witcher: Blood of Elves, by Andrzej Sapkowski, and I am loving it immensely.  

  I also make a point to read famous novels in different languages translated to English. You get a lot of insight into the culture (literary and general) of other countries when you read their most renowned books. One author in particular whose work I always read and enjoy is Han Kang, who won the Booker Prize for her novel The Vegetarian. I even managed to get through the colossus that is Anna Karenina, only to learn that Russian literature isn’t really my cup of tea.  

When you see your book attracting more and more attention, how do you feel?  

I feel really happy and validated when people leave comments on my work, either praising it, or trying to predict what’s going to happen. At the same time, when I receive criticism (especially about cultural/historical aspects), I know what to avoid and what to include instead, which is really helpful. In that sense, I do cater to my readers, but I don’t feel any pressure to change the plot or anything extreme like that; it’s more about cultural sensitivities and making sure I don’t offend anyone.  

Tips for an imperial writer?   

I’m pretty bad at following my own advice, but I would say schedule a regular time and duration to write (e.g. Thursday 6pm for 45 minutes). You shouldn’t write when you ‘have time’, but rather make the time for it like it’s a lecture or a tutorial that you have to attend. This kind of takes the fun out of it, but if you want to make significant progress and you’re really passionate, it’s the best way. Writer’s block is a real issue for me (once I didn’t write for 6 whole months), and sometimes the only solution is to force yourself to spit something out, even if its complete shit. If something is there, at least it can be edited! Also consider joining the Writers Society – they have really useful weekly workshops and write ins.  

Where can we find your work and describe serpents veil for those who haven’t read it. 

The Serpent’s Veil is set in the Arabian Peninsula during the 8th century, and follows the story of Khayzuran, whose world is turned upside down when she’s kidnapped and sold to a travelling caravan belonging to the Caliph (‘King’). The story is filled with deception, royalty, intrigue, and war, catering heavily to fans of The Wrath and The Dawn, Prince of Persia, and Aladdin. You can find it here at https://www.wattpad.com/story/102922607-whispers-in-the-sand-wattys2017. 

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