Longlisted author Bikram Sharma talks about the inspirations behind his debut novel, the books he tends to revisit and what’s next when it comes to his writing.
The idea came to me in 2017. At the time, I was renting a flat in Bangalore close to where I had grown up, and whenever I passed my childhood home I would recall how I used to worry my parents by climbing over the boundary wall’s barbed wire to explore the neighbouring tobacco factory. This image of a boy leaping from a wall is what sparked The Colony of Shadows. There were other sources of inspiration - such as the crumbling buildings in the colony where my grandfather lived, or my uncle who lost his vision but none of his cheeky charm - but it all began with the leap, and the sense of escape it offered. It took me three years and ten drafts to complete the book.
I’ve always loved stray dogs. Part of my daily routine when I was writing The Colony of Shadows involved feeding four stray dogs on my street. These dogs were beautiful, intelligent, and had their own distinct personalities. They also bore the scars of human cruelty. They never let me or my wife pet them, but they did come to recognise us and wag their tails when we approached. They had such big hearts. It was impossible not to write about them. They were the inspiration behind Poppy.
No one kind. The books that stay with me tend to have memorable characters and are so gripping that I stay up late trying to read them in one sitting. Such books don’t necessarily belong to one genre. Recent examples include Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Sundial by Catriona Ward, and Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan.
This is a difficult question to answer as my taste in books is constantly changing, and those that I admired a few years ago may no longer hold the same spell on me. Let me instead share three books that have had a powerful influence on my novel: Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto.
I enjoy writing short stories and recently had one I'm very proud of published in issue 54 of The Bombay Literary Magazine. I plan to put together a collection which explores Indian masculinity and vulnerability. But for now I’m working on my next novel which is set in Hyderabad in a sleepy office on the brink of disaster, and follows two co-workers who have little in common apart from their loneliness.
After the untimely death of his parents, nine-year-old Varun struggles to adjust to his new life in Bangalore with his perceptive aunt and bedridden grandmother.
When he climbs through a hole in the wall of their back garden, he discovers a mysterious colony that lies abandoned and in ruins. It's strangely familiar, and the more he explores it, the more it resembles his old home in Delhi. But the comfort of familiarity is deceptive, for something dangerous lurks in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike – and wreak havoc.