Guest Post: Writing the "Other" in Dogs of India by Polly McGee
Today on the blog I welcome debut novelist, Polly McGee, whose novel, Dogs of India is available in bookstores now.
One of the things that intrigued me most was that Polly had included the perspectives of animals in her book (which I thought was quite novel) and she's here today to speak a little about that.
Polly classes herself as one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, drinker, explorer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, worked with hundreds of start-ups to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages.
Gender studies and women’s rights locally and globally feature strongly in her academic work, as does the expression of identity through story and narrative.
She is a passionate believer in philanthropy and the power of giving, and strongly advocates a collective community approach to wealth and skills distribution.
Polly is a bowerbird for technology and innovation and a founder of entrepreneur support organisation Start-up Tasmania. She loves crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and has been known to crowdsurf like no one is watching.
She emphatically believes that the answer to most of life’s question can be solved with meditation, barrel aged Negronis and patting retired greyhounds, in no particular order.
Dogs of India is available for purchase at the following links:
Aside from actually writing a novel, I had two big challenges as a writer in Dogs of India: one was writing a place that was intrinsically foreign to me, and the other was writing the voice of the voiceless.
India is a country that has fascinated Western writers and artists for centuries. In reading a lot of Indian-English fiction, and fiction by Anglo writers about India, there was a well established path that was worn in the page before my story came along of how this tension was commonly negotiated.
Writing about someone else’s culture is a fine balance, the lens of the writer is so subjective, so layered with experience and beliefs, so applied topically. I was determined in writing a story about India, that I didn’t rewrite the story of India in some patronising colonisation of a country that had already had its fair share of western intervention both colonial and commercial. All I could do was bring an awareness to the scenes, to the characters and descriptions, and try to describe what I saw with the eye and emotion of what Buddhism would call the observer – not ascribing value or judgment, just describing what was, what is, in context.
Perhaps I cheated by having a western character in the mix, but this was consciously neutralised in terms of having a privileged or prioritised voice by using an omniscient narrator and multiple points of view to tell the story. Lola, the Australian character, acted in the narrative as a signpost of how naive and immature the Australian culture is in the face of ancient civilisations and belief systems.
The other piece to be unravelled as a writer in creating Dogs of India was how not to give the dogs or monkeys a human voice. I didn’t want to animate them, to give them dialogue, as in this instance, I couldn’t presume to know what that voice was. This was really hard, as to give them the gravitas needed as major characters, and critical characters to the spine of the story, they had to progress their own narrative arc complete with emotions, drama and pace, without the luxury of words or backstories.
The animals ended up being driven somewhat by action. Paksheet, Rocky and Yanki are often moving to different places in the narrative, they are agents of dynamic change in scenes, and their actions then create the character, their value and essence and move the story along. One advantage animals have is they can physically take the reader to different vantage points, and show them a different view of the world, which in turn, helps us understand our own world view.
About the Book
Dogs, monkeys, corruption and sexual politics: Dogs of India draws on the complex, chaotic and colourful tradition of Indian storytelling in a spicy literary blend of Animal Farm vs. Holy Cow via Bollywood.
Revenge. A dish best served cold. Or if you’re Sydney native Lola Wedd, with a broken heart and a life in chaos, a dish served up by heading to India to marry a total stranger as part of an international visa scam.
Lola naïvely thought she would ‘find herself’ in India. Instead she is enmeshed in a drama worthy of Bollywood, starring an abandoned Pariah dog, a dead civil servant, a vengeful actor, a suicidal housewife, a boutique hotel owner, a blushing chauffeur, an absent groom, an ambitious girl journalist and a megalomaniac monkey.
As Lola begins to understand the consequences of her choices, she ignites a series of events that lead to a Diwali Festival more explosive than anyone in New Delhi could have imagined.
If you would like further information on Polly and her book, please visit the following links: