Juhi Ray pursued a career in the medical world. Her literary aspirations dwindled. Every year, her top three New Year’s resolutions would include “write more regularly“. Yet, besides publishing in her college magazines, she never took her love of writing very far.
And then something happened –something that may have been a misfortune. Life handed her the proverbial lemon. She decided to make a lemon soufflé. Her decision to quit an unsatisfying job gave her abundant creative space and time to pursue her passion ardently. So here she is with her debut book The Final Puzzle.
TBE: Can you share with us something about your book The Final Puzzle that isn’t in the blurb?
Juhi Ray: It features a warrior princess who falls in love with Mahesh Das.
TBE: Stories about the Akbar and his witty minister, Birbal, have been doing the rounds for many years, why do you want to write on this subject even as already there are many books available on these stories?
Juhi Ray: Although the novel has included a few Akbar-Birbal stories, the goal was to challenge historians about the veracity of certain events in 1586. There is reason to believe that the history books are wrong with respect the Raja Birbal’s final days, and I have listed these in this novel.
TBE: Does historical fiction need to be grounded in fact? If so, what room is there for the imagination?
Juhi Ray: As far as possible, readers would appreciate a story that takes them back in time to the events that materialized in that story. A writer has to be responsible when coming up with an alternative explanation or version to describe what happened. Imagination may help connect dots already visible.
TBE: You’ve mixed fictional characters with these historical legends in your story. Who’s your favorite fictional character in the book and why?
Juhi Ray: Radha is my favorite fictional character. She is skilled, smart and demonstrates what true love is without expecting anything in return.
TBE: What aspects (religious and social) about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novel The Final Puzzle?
Juhi Ray: That the average man is willing to overlook bad behaviour among religious leaders even when obvious. This is true even today.
A true believer in God should value humanity above the desire to harm another human on the basis of religion. Before we judge others, it is important to know their circumstances and the social norms that existed then.
TBE: During your journey from the idea of this book to the publication, what was the most difficult thing you faced? Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Juhi Ray: The most important lesson was to figure out the ending before writing my first draft. I learned this only by the time I wrote my fifth draft.
Not being able to find uninterrupted time to go back to the 16th century.
TBE: How’s your journey from the medical world to a historical fiction writer?
Juhi Ray: It was purely by accident. I had told my daughter an Akbar Birbal tale (not included in The Final Puzzle) and as she fell asleep, wondered about how smart Birbal was. A long time ago, I had read that he was killed by his enemies. And I asked the question- what if?
TBE: According to you what is the most essential aspect about historical fiction? The characters, the settings, or the history itself?
Juhi Ray: The lesson that we can learn from the events described is more important than any of the above. The more relatable the characters are, the greater impact their message will have.
TBE: Do you have a particular approach to research and writing about history?
Juhi Ray: I read many nonfiction books when doing my research. I make a calendar with the major events and ages of the characters
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Juhi Ray: My next novella is about the story behind a lesser known building in India.