Rehana Munir ran a bookshop in Bombay in the mid 2000s, a few years after graduating with top honours in English literature from St. Xavier’s College. An independent writer on culture and lifestyle, she has a weekly humour column in HT Brunch, and a cinema column in Arts Illustrated magazine. She is also an occasional copywriter. Rehana lives in Bombay among food-obsessed family and friends. She is a local expert on migraines, 1990s nostalgia and Old Monk. We wrote about her debut novel Paper Moon here and had a little chat over her book and writings.
What is the most satisfying part of writing ‘Paper Moon’ for you?
The sense of having translated an actual experience into a work of fiction. Of crafting Fiza’s coming-of-age story out of my memories, but more importantly, my imagination.
What does it feel like when you finally finish writing a book?
An overpowering urge to share it with the world! At least that was how it was with my debut novel.
How much of yourself is in the characters you write about?
From personality traits to philosophical leanings, I think I’m reflected in bits in several characters. But more than them being literary stand-ins for me, I think I’m in dialogue with them.
Did you read all the books and authors who find a mention in ‘Paper Moon’?
One of the pleasures of writing the book was to squeeze in my favourite authors and their works. But there are way too many references, and not all of them appeal to me. They were names that suited the narrative.
How much research and travel did Paper Moon take?
A lot of time travel, since the book takes place in the early 2000s. I did visit some of the haunts that the book mentions, but mostly to check up on a name or a detail. A few of the pillars of the book still hold up my life in Bombay. As for the bits in London and Edinburgh, they too were etched in my mind but needed some research for reasons of accuracy.
How does it feel to have gone from a reader to bookstore owner to an award-winning author?
Very fortunate. (Though, unlike Fiza in the book, I ran a bookshop but did not own it. It belonged to a friend of my father’s.) There’s so much to learn. As a bookseller, I largely interacted with book distributors. As a writer, I’m learning about the publishing industry. Paper Moon seems like such a quaint world in the era of digital marketing.
Who is your first reader?
My two sisters, Kausar and Mariam.
Did you have a “When I become a writer, I will…” list?
Not really, but one thing comes to mind, now that you’ve asked the question: Not to write prescriptive lists for other writers.
Is there going to be a second part to ‘Paper Moon’?
I have been asked this question on a few occasions, which is very encouraging. It’s certainly an exciting idea, a sequel. Or maybe even a prequel.
What is the best criticism that you received for ‘Paper Moon’?
One reader likened my book to a jazz progression. I found that analogy to be very satisfying, especially since the book borrows its name from a jazz song.
Do you feel pressure that your next book must be better than ‘Paper Moon’, especially after all the love that it’s been receiving?
I’m currently savouring the appreciation from readers. If anything, it’s encouraging me while I work on my next.
What are you reading currently?
Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan. I read it a couple of months ago but I’m already drawn back to it. It’s a deeply thoughtful exploration of a city’s troubled history, through a personal lens. Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is next on my list. I love the energy and optimism in her writing.