F-Page – Nayanika Mahtani

Nayanika Mahtani


Born21 February 1969
Place of BirthNew Delhi
City of residenceLondon
Books authored

  1. Ambushed


Nayanika spent her childhood following her parents across many incredible parts of India, with the longest stop being in Kolkata. Though she harboured dreams of becoming an actor in musical theatre, she followed the proverbial left side of her brain to do an MBA at IIM Bengaluru, and became an investment banker. A decade later, she followed her heart to live in Africa. Since then, she’s been following the right side of her brain and is a copywriter by day and a storyteller by night. She now lives in London with her husband, two daughters and their goldfish named Sushi and Fishfinger – who spend their days following each other. Mostly.

Fantastic Five – Five of my favourite books

The Corfu Trilogy – Gerald Durrell This trilogy takes me on an incredible journey each time I revisit it. A wildly humorous narrative of why Durrell’s eccentric family migrated to Corfu, vividly interspersed with a fascinating account of sunny Corfu’s locals – a melange of humans, birds, animals, insects and plants!

The Room on the Roof – Ruskin Bond A coming-of-age quest to belong, told with heartfelt honesty.  My late father once told me that he was the inspiration for the (‘up-to-no-good’!) character ‘Suri’ (his namesake) in The Room on the Roof, being as he was, Ruskin’s neighbour in Dehra, when they were both ‘up to no good’ adolescents. Given my father’s penchant for pulling my leg, I don’t know if ‘Suri’ was based on him, but I choose to believe it as true, given that my uncles and aunts vouch for it – and because it fits with my love for a good story.

Just William – Richmal Crompton Crompton, through William’s eyes, brilliantly finds the magical / suspicious / mysterious in the mundane and celebrates the kick-off-your-shoes joys of childhood.

Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren Ah, Pippi’s outrageous imagination, her whimsical, anti-establishment -as a matter of principle- nature.   The nonchalance with which she questions the adult world. Pure delight!

The Unforgotten Coat  – Frank Cottrell Boyce A beautiful story of two refugee Mongolian children who arrive in Liverpool – and of how our lives can be enriched by the most unlikely encounters. Loved the presentation of the book with its notebook style and stunningly atmospheric Polaroid photographs.


Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing?

My earliest memory of an attempt at writing is an (autobiographical) account of the time I ran away from my kindergarten in Monghyr to the adjoining club, with my best friend – and how we had an adventure involving a long roll of toilet paper, a swimming pool and being shouted at by many big, bad adults. I think it was illustrated as well.

I’ve loved writing and story telling ever since I can remember, but never had the chance to formally learn the art. I did attend some fabulous writing workshops while I was working on Ambushed, which afforded me valuable insights and direction.

Where do the ideas for your books come from?

I think I’m an observer in life Tweet
– my mind has a field day picking up weird and wonderful details and filing them away. Tweet

Even when I’m having a seemingly normal conversation, sometimes my mind has left the room – winging its way somewhere, but on the surface, I’m still there – smiling and nodding.

What does your typical writing day look like?

For the last decade I’ve been working as a freelance copywriter (in a land far, far away from investment banking!), so my own writing happens in any spare time I can find. Usually early in the morning or then late at night, or sometimes it’s when the idea just won’t wait.

What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author?

Perhaps it is my tendency to retreat into some loopy, faraway worldTweet

– I have no idea where the time goes when I’m writing.

What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author should do?

I am a novice myself, but for what it’s worth

Keep the wonder alive, try new, pointless things Tweet

Pretend even the most dull bits of life hold an adventure waiting to happen – and the stories will follow…

Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?

I have spectacularly dubious hearing, so I often replace the soundtrack of what people are really saying with other more amusing stuff!

Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing process? If yes, can you tell us about them?

I am rubbish with technology – so Google Search and Word are as good as it gets for me, as far as help with the writing process goes.

Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer?

There must be umpteen ways I should be aware of; though digital media has definitely helped me reach out to a wider audience.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others? (include websites, blogs or Twitter profiles, etc).

I don’t think I can pin it down to a list.

I draw inspiration from life, in all its possibilities, in lives unlived and lived, and those that could have been lived differently perhaps.Tweet

Can you tell about what you are currently writing and other works in the pipeline?

I have just finished writing a film script in a totally different genre. I am also working on a second children’s book.

What triggered you to take up writing as a profession / career?

When we moved to Africa, I took a break in my banking career. At my cousin’s suggestion, I auditioned for writing content for Sesame Street and got selected. Then copywriting followed. There was always an urge to tell my daughters stories of my childhood adventures in India, especially as they were, by then, growing up in London. And two years back, the seed for Ambushed was planted, when I came across an article on tiger poaching  in the National Geographic. The article was accompanied by the photograph of a wild tiger and a jailed tribal poacher, both of whom seemed hopelessly trapped – and the image refused to leave my head. Until I wrote the story.

Can you tell us about the research involved for “Ambushed”?

To start with I researched Moghiya poachers and the international illegal wildlife mafia online. Then last April, our family visited Ranthambhore as I wanted to experience first hand what Tara, the book’s protagonist, would  feel on seeing a wild tiger.

I’ve been to many tiger reserves over the years but only ever seen tiger tracks and tails. On this trip, we encountered 8 tigers in 3 days. This included a tigress who had just given birth to 3 cubs – who have also found their way into Ambushed.  It was as if the tigers had allowed me into their world to help tell their story – and the only way I knew to honour that, was to donate royalties from Ambushed to a school set up by Tiger Watch, for the children of (ex) Moghiya poachers, to give them a window to alternate livelihoods.

We also had the chance to meet with Dr Dharmendra Khandal, a conservation biologist who has made saving tigers his life’s work – and whose interview in the National Geographic had set me off on this journey. He allowed me to pilfer shamelessly from his amazing experiences at Tiger Watch. We also met with rehabilitated poachers and their families at Dhonk, a craft collective run by Dharm’s equally committed wife Divya. It was a truly humbling experience.

To what extent do writers have a social obligation to address social evils?

I don’t think I wrote Ambushed with any conscious obligation in mind. But I do believe, that no matter what our vocation – we ought to make the time to give a voice/chance to those who don’t have one. I think what one gets in return is far, far more than what one can offer.

Find me at

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nayanikamahtani

Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=41214095

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ambushed/458600887624629

Other: https://www.scbwi.org/members/nayanika-mahtani/

PlusMinus’n’More: Thank you Nayanika, for being our guest on F-pages and sharing with us your experiences as a writer.

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