It is perhaps fitting that L.M. Valiram’s debut novel is narrated by Time, for time is a major factor in her journey to becoming an author.
Though an avid reader and writer since childhood, Valiram never parlayed her love for the written word into a career.
In fact, her full name – Lavina Melwani Valiram – will alert you to her presence in the regional fashion and luxury retail scene: her husband runs the Valiram Group, where she serves as director of the labels Charles & Keith, Pedro, and Flow Malaysia. She is also the mother of two sons, aged 18 and 19.
In 2007, Valiram received a painful reminder about time, when her mother passed away.
“It was a reminder of my mortality. It made me think to myself, what’s my bucket list?”
The question brought her back to her longtime love: writing.
“Over the years, many people have told me I should publish my writing. But I’ve always been quite private about it. Finally, I decided to just jump right in,” says Valiram at a recent interview.
Drawing on the books that she herself loved to read – her favourite authors range from Sylvia Plath to Stephen King – she wanted to write a book with beautiful language and imagery, but also a gripping story.
Her passion for great fiction compelled her to hone her craft as much as possible before she began writing. The book itself was written in 18 months, but it took Valiram four years of attending writing courses, and copious amounts of notes and drafts before she felt ready.
Reluctant to let her book be altered by commercial considerations, she decided to self-publish.
A number of revised manuscripts later, Part Star Part Dust was born. The book’s title, Valiram says, was inspired by the idea of every one of us being made up of both positives and negatives.
“It took me three manuscripts to realise you had to write for readers, not for yourself,” she says. “But taking the time and effort to improve myself really made this book everything I wanted it to be.”
The story of Part Star Part Dust has its beginnings in a question that came to Valiram: what would it be like if Time narrated a story?
“I found this question very intriguing. Could Time tell us a story of three ordinary people? And why not make the ordinary, extraordinary?”
The book tells the parallel stories of three different people – Radha, Mira, and Gaurav – whose destinies become irrevocably linked through an ill-fated flight to Delhi which ends in a crash.
At first, they seem to have little to do with each other: Radha was abandoned as a baby on the streets of Mumbai; Mira was supposed to marry a man she had never met at the age of 16; and Gaurav struggles to choose between love and money. Eventually, however, the three characters’ lives are revealed to be intertwined in unexpected ways.
The novel’s pivotal event has its roots in Valiram’s own anxieties. One of her biggest fears, she says, is dying in a plane crash. As a way of engaging with that fear, she decided to place her characters in midst of one.
‘Fiction is so important’
The novel reaches into Valiram’s own life experiences in other ways too. While currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, she was born in Mumbai and raised in Hong Kong. Her annual trips back to India while growing up infused in her a strong affinity for the country. The book, alternating between Delhi and Mumbai, reflects this connection.
“Writing a story that takes place in India feels more authentic to me. The raw sides of humanity that I see when I’m back there stays with me, and keeps coming back to me when I write,” she says.
Counting authors like Rohinton Mistry, Aravind Adiga, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni as her inspirations, Valiram says while her story is set in India, it is rooted in feelings that anyone can relate to.
“The human struggle is the same across the board. Everyone wants to be happy,” she says.
With her first book now on the shelves, Valiram isn’t wasting any time. She already has ideas for at least two more novels.
“Fiction is so important! It is a way to travel without leaving your home, it takes you to places you can’t get on a flight to reach,” she says.