Did you love Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland? Johanna Lindsey and Victoria Holt? At Random House, the girls at editorial decided to give in to their fantasies and commission some desi historical romances— we call them the purdah-jhadoka romances inhouse — with nawabs and zamindars and nautch girls. These were the books that we’d been longing to read when we were growing up!
We decided to call our series Kama Kahani and asked four rookie novelists to try their hand at writing one, each in a different setting: ‘Jodhaa-Akbar’ Rajasthan, Parineeta-era Bengal, White Mughal Lucknow and Ranjit Singh’s Punjab. Some of our authors were horrified to be asked, others had been secretly dreaming of writing one for years — none of them anticipated how much fun and challenging it could be to write the perfect love story. Here’s their advice for all aspiring writers.
Dream a little dream: you need the germ of an idea, something that will kick start the adventure.
Sit in a garden. Sit on a balcony. Look at the sea. Watch ships cross on the horizon. Imagine all the missed encounters occurring every second of every day. Imagine a girl leaning on the railing of a ferry. Imagine a boy in a fishing boat. The girl is wealthy, gorgeous, a little bored. The boy is poor, but unbowed: proud. There is no reason for them to meet. They live in different worlds. They are incompatible. They are, for each other, impossible. Now imagine the gale that blows the fishing boat into the ferry’s path. Imagine the moment when the girl sees the fishing boat, when she sees the boy thrown into the waves. What happens next? If romance novels have a formula, this is the formula: something unlikely leads to something impossible. Something sublimely impossible. A delicious instant when we stop being cynics and celebrate the connection between two hearts, two souls. — Alessandra Shabhaz (Ghazal in the Moonlight)
Do your homework: who’d have thought that you needed a library to write a love story? Our authors waded through books, surfed the internet, saw period films, interviewed their grandmas, all in the name of love.
I found out that Ranjit Singh, ruler of the Punjab from 1801 to 1839, had been the only person to unite the state culturally, politically and religiously. This one-eyed man employed some of the most sophisticated battle strategies the country has ever seen. His was a kingdom that celebrated poets and artists, gave birth to heroes, and where chivalry and gallantry were everyday occurrences. Most importantly, I found out, he organized the Amazons, a group of strong young Kashmiri women who were as beautiful as they were deadly in combat. They travelled with him to battle, fighting alongside his soldiers in the day and entertaining the Maharaja at night. After reading about this extraordinary troupe of women, I knew I had the seeds of a story. — Kiran Kohl (Passion in the Punjab)
Create great characters — especially a hero you and your readers will fall in love with. At the heart of a great romance novel is a hero, not the heroine. Admit it, would Pride and Prejudice be the same without arrogant Mr Darcy?
Make sure your characters have flaws. I wanted to make my hero sensitive yet exciting and bold, good looking but hot headed. The heroine had to be attractive and unaware of her charms, independent but in need of the hero’s assistance, witty and willing to speak her mind. The idea was to give them flaws that could be rectified later—for example, the brooding hero who would transform into a cheerful man once he falls in love. I wanted to create that perfect fantasy of a man which was easy in my case—I have been dreaming about him since I turned seventeen. Think Brad Pitt meets Saif Ali Khan. — Sanyogita Rathore (Mistress to the Yuvraj)
Let go of your inhibitions: Every one of our authors felt this was the key to writing a great love story – to have fun and yes to really, really get into the love scenes.
Be unrestrained: Now is the time to let go of all your reservations. The plot may be what keeps the reader moving forward but in a romance novel, it is the passion that keeps the reader immersed. If you are shy (or like, me—too prudish and uptight), you will have a hard time writing a torrid love scene and risk losing your audience. In fact, if you truly let go, you may be surprised to find the closet romantic in you. I don’t know if I was more horrified or secretly pleased when my editor said, “You’re quite good at the amorous bits, you know.” — Jasmine Saigal (The Zamindar’s Forbidden Love)
Our Kama Kahani writers pick their all time favourite love stories. What’s yours? Post your favourites on our blog or email them back to us and we’ll let you know which books came out tops on the next blog.
Sanyogita Rathore: Pride and Prejudice. This has to be the world’s greatest love story and I think all popular romance writers borrow from Pride and Prejudice. The proud and handsome hero, the witty, attractive and independent heroine, their battles against each other before the happily ever after. It’s perfect.
Kiran Kohl: My favourite love story is Dil Se – she is a strong, elusive woman determined to stay in touch with her beliefs and he spends the entire movie striving to understand her. Beautiful.
Alessandra Shahbaz: My favorite romances are Lorna Doone, Scaramouche, and Wuthering Heights. I like the swashbuckling and torment. I particularly adore the ferocity of Heathcliff and Cathy’s bond, a bond that is stronger than death
Jasmine Saigal: First Love is the love story I return to again and again. This is a bittersweet novella by Turgenev about a teenage boy who falls in love with his beautiful, slightly older, neighbor only to discover that she’s in love too — but with his father. I particularly like the descriptions of the narrator suffering through first love, almost as if it were an illness, and the haunting end.
And our recommendations from RHI:
Milee: Love Story – That opening line
Chiki: Currently The Age of Innocence– like the best love stories, its exquisite and tormented
Rachel: Harold and Maude – I know this is a movie but it’s my favourite love story. A beautiful romance telling that love has nothing to do with age
Neyata: Gone with the Wind –I read it when I was in school; it has stayed with me ever since
Sohini: My Beautiful Laundrette: Love in the time of Thatcher
The Kama Kahani series out in September