‘Horror Is All About Pulling Out Our Suppressed Phobias And Making Us Face Them’

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With 12 books, Neil D’Silva is a known name in the Indian art world. His unique stories have hit home for a broad scope of readers, evoking acclaim from different quarters.

He has been named one of the Top 7 Indian horror writers to be perused by UK’s DESIblitz magazine. Considered one of the trailblazers of contemporary Indian loathsomeness writing, he has been covered by a few driving distributions. He is welcome to talk at noticeable lit fests around the country and is the President of the India Chapter of Horror Writers Association.

His latest The Spirits Talk to Me, coauthored by paranormal specialist Sarbajeet Mohanty, relates ten of the most disrupting genuine examinations that Parapsychology And Investigations Research Society (PAIRS) directed in frequented areas of India.

The Spirits Talk to Me is represented by The Book Bakers literary agency and is distributed by Hachette India. The book has just made a great deal of buzz in India’s paranormal circles and globally, with a few industry specialists signal-boosting the venture among their adherents. Somaya Palecanda for  The Balcony Stories spoke to Neil, and below are the excerpts.

As an acclaimed horror writer with a large reader base in fiction, what were your initial thoughts when conceptualizing this book?

Though writing horror fiction is where my primary interest lies, I occasionally dabble in nonfiction. The best reward of writing nonfiction is learning through research. In this case, I had the great opportunity to meet a paranormal researcher as acclaimed as Sarbajeet Mohanty and his team. The idea to write this book was hatched when I visited a paranormal meetup organized by Sarbajeet’s group in Bandra, Mumbai. My literary agent, Suhail Mathur of The Book Bakers, accompanied me. Impressed by the meet, we approached Sarbajeet and proposed that we’d like to write a book of his experiences. And that’s how the book happened.

My initial thoughts were to be as true to the vision and mission of Sarbajeet’s organization, PAIRS, as possible. They have a unique take on the paranormal, and I needed to reflect that. I also did not want just to write a book that documented paranormal investigations. I wanted to delve into the emotions of the people involved. I wanted to explore what effects alleged hauntings could have on people who live in the vicinity. That has been a major focus of the book in all its stories.

Was the approach to this book any different from your previous books?

Yes. Being nonfiction, writing this book was quite different from my previous outings with fiction stories. I was chronicling the stories of PAIRS, one of India’s largest paranormal societies, and thus I needed to stay true to their way of functioning. It required me to do a lot of research and interview members of the organization. Even after the material was gathered from the various sources, I had to cross-reference it and learn the technicalities.

Overall, it was an enriching experience. For a horror writer like me who deals primarily with fiction, writing a nonfiction book was an eye-opener. I got up close and personal with people who deal with ghosts and spirits day in and day out. Trust me when I say that the book’s stories are infinitely spookier because these are things that have really happened. There is no escapism here; every word of these stories has truly come to pass.

Has this experience changed anything concerning your approach to Horror Stories?

Writing nonfiction and going through the research it entails has certainly given me a better understanding of the genre. When you see real-life paranormal investigators in action, you see how they tackle things that defy explanation (and thus, the source of human fear). Horror is all about pulling out our suppressed phobias and making us face them and thus making us bolder. When you write such incidents from the perspective of people who are doing it as a means of livelihood, it gives you a feeling that’s akin to being enlightened.

Did you have any engaging experiences while working with Sarbajeet and his team?

Yes, there was one that goes beyond all explanation. Sarbajeet would send me his narrations on audio clips, and I’d hear them in my darkened and locked writing room, immersing myself fully in the scene. Then I would write my first draft of the story. So, I happened to send the draft of one of the stories to Sarbajeet, and he immediately called me up. He was shocked at how I had mentioned specific details in the story which weren’t in the narration. I had mentioned the color and made of the vehicle they had traveled in, and, more sinisterly, I had written in great detail about how one of the victims of murder had been killed. Sarbajeet hadn’t told me those details, but I had written them in the precise manner they had occurred!

That was a freaky episode. I could not explain to Sarbajeet how it happened, but I could see it in my mind’s eye. Had I psychically traveled to the scene he had described in his narration? I will never know. It still gives me goosebumps that that completely inexplicable thing had happened.

How have been the responses so far from your regular readers?

The early reviews have all been overwhelmingly positive. People tell us how they have gotten a new perspective on the paranormal world and how they have understood that horror is not just about the gimmicks and jump scares that are often what our horror stories are about. Many people have approached PAIRS to join their paranormal team after reading the book, which is the most significant mark of the book’s success.

How has this experience affected your beliefs?

I lay outstanding stock in empirical formulae and visible proofs from a science background (postgraduate in Organic Chemistry). Writing two nonfiction books with two different paranormal investigators has confirmed my belief that there’s a much larger world out there that’s beyond what we can see. What we know is but a minuscule fraction of what we don’t. In Chemistry, you know that the number of compounds we have discovered is just a tiny fraction of the universe’s total number of combinations. It’s the same with the paranormal world. Working on these books has reinstated that belief in me.

Could we see this becoming a series?

We definitely have plans to carry this forward as a series. Sarbajeet and his team at PAIRS have visited more than 150 places, and they have a ton of experiences. There are many more interesting tales from where these ten in The Spirits Talk to Me have come. Given a chance, and if our readers are interested, we’d love to tell more of these real-life stories.

Did you have any ideas for new horror stories based on some of your experiences here?

My mind is a freakish buzzing beehive that’s constantly looking for ideas! Of course, I had a barrage of new opinions while writing these stories. (Something would be wrong with me if that didn’t happen!) Sarbajeet and I might be collaborating on some of these shortly.

Are there any new stories in the works?

Always! I am a restless and relentless writing soul. I have already moved on to my other books. I have Ghost Whispers (Rupa Publications) again with Sarbajeet Mohanty which is currently being edited. I have two fiction titles being pitched right now by my agency, The Book Bakers, and an offer on another.

What is your favorite horror story?

Among short stories, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It makes me break out in goose-pimples every time I read it. Among novels, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Stephen King’s most significant works—Pet Sematary and The Shining.

Who is your favorite Horror Writer?

Edgar Allan Poe has had the greatest influence on me, like countless others who write horror. Specifically, his story, The Tell-tale Heart, put me on this journey of writing horror.

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