“For a long time I’d wanted to write a story about an itinerant tramp and his trade” – a Q&A with Trade Secrets contributor Pravasan Pillay
Pravasan Pillay has published two chapbooks of poetry, Glumlazi (2009) and 30 Poems (2015), as well as a collection of co-written comedic short stories, Shaggy (2013). Pillay’s short story collection, Crooks, is forthcoming. He is the editor of the micro press Tearoom Books. Pravasan recently chatted to Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award, about his interest in pulp fiction, trickster folklore and why Chatsworth is the only place he’s interested in writing about.
You mentioned that your story, ‘The Tramp’, is ‘pulp’ fiction. What appeals to you about writing pulp fiction?
Since my teens, I have always had a big interest in the pulpier side of comic books, novels, and movies – which is another way to say that I gravitated towards what some may classify as ‘lowbrow’ culture. Pulp, for me, is genre fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a kind of cheap, formulaic, disposable form, whether the content is horror, mystery, romance, crime or supernatural. It’s meant to be fun and entertaining.
In your story, two young boys, Farhim and Vinesh, meet a titular ‘tramp’ who initially attracts the boys’ attention by offering to sell them slingshots, but it soon becomes clear that he has something far more shocking for sale. Was it difficult for you to place these boys in harm’s way? Or are they a device to move the story along?
No, it wasn’t difficult at all to put the boys in harm’s way. If anything it was kind of enjoyable. And I think it was enjoyable precisely because I see them as – in your words – devices to move the story along. It’s a stranger comes to town plot, and the boys are merely pieces I’m moving about in service of that plot.
Are your characters straight from the imagination, or are they composites of various personalities?
I don’t usually write with the intention of referencing people I know in real life – if it does happen it’s unconscious. The characters in this particular story are sort of archetypes – there’s the cocky one, the level-headed one, and the mysterious one. But as a writer you try to soften the bluntness of archetypes by giving the characters their own personalities. There are also a couple of surprise characters who show up midway through the story. The boys are just regular kids – it’s the tramp who is the strange one.
Considering this element of fantasy which creeps in, was it fun to write?
It was really fun to write. I had already worked out the beats of the story so it was just a matter of putting it down on paper. I hammered it out one morning in a couple of hours. It’s always a good feeling when the writing flows like that.
Did the inspiration also come easy?
I’m not sure whether I can pinpoint the exact inspiration for the story. I know that, for a long time, I’d wanted to write a story about an itinerant tramp and his trade. I ended up connecting that idea with the conceit of writing the story in the form of pulp fiction – and also throwing in passing references to certain fairy tales and trickster folklore.
What is your interest in fairy tales and folklore?
The majority of published fiction I have written has been a type of social realism and I have also written a lot of humour. I think the references to fairy tales are very slight. It’s not something I am particularly into. I do appreciate folklore though, which probably stems from my interest in folk music, stuff like the Child Ballads.
Tell us a little more about the Durban setting. Are you originally from the area?
The story is set in Chatsworth, which is a populous working-class Indian township in Durban. I grew up and have lived the majority of my life in Chatsworth. I don’t currently live there but it is still the only place I am interested in writing about. I suppose that’s because it’s the place I know best.
What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?
I don’t have anything new to say here, but I will reiterate what many other writers have said: Write your first draft very quickly and then put it aside for a couple of months. You need that period away from the story to view it with more neutral, detached editorial eyes.
- Trade Secrets edited by Joanne Hichens
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