Friday, 3 June 2011

Roller-Coaster Reads - Savita Kalhan


The first thing I ever wrote was an epic fantasy trilogy, set in a world that I created. There were battles on a grand scale, there were monsters of darkness, creatures of light, characters who were good but flawed, characters who were evil but understandably so, and there were three ordinary teenagers who were plucked from the mundanities of village life and hurled into the maelstrom of an adult world caught on the brink of war.
It was not contemporary realistic ‘edgy’ fiction, but there was definitely an edge to my epic fantasy trilogy, lots of edges.
I lived in the Middle East when I wrote it. I was teaching English there and my life and the world around me was pretty safe, very cosseted, very much home or compound based with little interaction with the world outside my front door. I returned to London in the late nineties and when I finally picked up my pen again a very different type of writing emerged. The only constant was that it was now firmly rooted in the in the present and much more immediate, so immediate it was practically on my doorstep. It almost felt as though I had stepped through a portal and emerged in a world where life was no longer at arm’s length, it was right there in your face. My writing became contemporary and real.

I was reading British newspapers again and worst amongst them was the ‘Local Fright’. What struck me was the terrible crimes that were still being committed to kids. Then a flyer went round the local schools warning parents and kids to be aware – the driver of a large flashy car had tried to snatch kids after school.
That was when the monsters I had been writing about became real, more real and terrifying than any monster in a horror story.
There were not many books for teens and young adults that even began to approach the subject matter of my book, The Long Weekend. But I wrote the book with the voice of my main character, Sam, without giving that much thought, without really considering the possibility that child abduction and child abuse was too hot a topic for publishers to be interested in – or take a risk with. By the time I had finished writing it, I knew it was very close to the edge, but I was also keenly aware of the fact that it was a teen book. And although I did not shy away from the horror of the abduction and what follows, I saw no need to be graphic. People have said to me that the fact that certain scenes are left to the imagination have made the book far more terrifying.
The Long Weekend is at heart a roller-coaster thriller that hurtles you so close to the edge that you feel you might almost tip over it. It is a book that teens, young adults and adults have picked up and not been able to put down. They’ve told me it’s an absorbing, scary, but ultimately satisfying read. It’s opened up debates in schools and homes about the whole topic of child abuse, and, as one reviewer said, “it’s better than any school talk on stranger-danger”.
So whether it’s fantasy writing, or contemporary modern fiction, there is an undeniable edge to my work, and the only thing that pulls me back from going over that edge is the fact that I don’t think my readers would ever forgive me for dragging them over the precipice with me!

Readers - What was the last roller-coaster book you read that sent you hurtling towards the edge?
Writers – How close to the edge does your work go and what, if anything, holds you back?


  1. Fascinating to hear how you came to write The Long Weekend, Savita. It's interesting what you say about leaving some things to the reader's imagination – allowing space for the reader to insert their own fears and imagine the worst! This also follows on from what Sara talked about last week, when she asked if anything should be off-limits for writers of 'edgy fiction'. By avoiding sensational, graphic description (and not taking your readers over the edge) you are actually creating a piece of work that has greater impact and resonance. Take 'em to the edge, but don't go pushing anyone over!

  2. Maybe send a flyer round the secondary schools? It certainly is more memorable to kids to read something than hear talks. I am just starting your book, Savita, so hope to have a few sleepless night!

  3. Thanks, Dave! And here's to taking our readers to the edge, but not pushing them over!
    Eleanor, hi! Hope you're enjoying our new 'Edge Authors' blog. Thanks for getting my book and apologies for any sleepless nights!

  4. Hoping I can finally post this. Good post Savita, I like taking my readers to the edge - but I've always hated fairground rides!

  5. Wow, how scary that The Long Weekend was inspired by real life events! I completely agree that not witnessing some events made it hugely terrifying in the book.