Ask an author what inspires their work, and the answer will most likely be their surroundings, experiences, and memories. But Zuni Chopra, all of 15, found inspiration for her debut novel from a house she had never seen. “My book, The House That Spoke, is about a girl Zoon who lives in a magical house in Kashmir. She can talk to the things in the house – like the books, fireplace, etc.,” explains Chopra. “One day Zoon finds out that her mother is going to sell the house. And in her efforts to stop the sale, she starts uncovering a deeper history in the house. How she protects the house is the rest of the story.”
She reveals that “the house that inspired the story is in London”. She says, “It is my friend who told me about this fairy-tale type house in London that she was in love with. And since the house she told me about was in London, the story was by default set in London. In fact, I have a whole draft of the book set in London.” However, she explains that since she hadn’t ever seen the house in London, she moved the novel’s setting to Kashmir instead, a place she has been frequenting since childhood.
Chopra, the daughter of filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra (known for films such as PK), says that he has inspired her and her sibling Agni in many ways. “He teaches both of us to strive for excellence rather brilliance, because brilliance, he says, depends on others but only you can tell for yourself as to when you have achieved excellence.’”
This wisdom nugget is a family hand-me-down. “My dad has passed down this saying from his dad, they say, ‘when you grow up you can be a shoe maker, but be the best one on the lane,” she says.
A storyteller since childhood, she says she looks up to her dad for inspiration, but Chopra is very non-intrusive when it comes to her books. “My dad, of course, helps me with the plot ad the characters, but he doesn’t give me advice unless I ask for it,” says Zuni, who has published two books on poetry.
“I’ve been into storytelling my whole life. Even when I was six, I was into literature and reading. And I love all things magical, whimsical, and impossible. I love all the Harry Potter books, Roald Dahl, and Alice in Wonderland, of course. One of my most prized book is Grimm’s original fairy tales with the most beautiful illustrations. It’s just the idea of storytelling that draws me,” she says.
The author also explains that through the novel, she wanted to show readers that Kashmir is more than the turmoil it has been marred by. She adds, “The one thing that I want people to take away from this book is that Kashmir is just a place. Humans have destroyed it and made it suffer but it is still a beautiful place where a happy magical story on a beautiful house could be based.”
So was the experience of penning her first novel? Chopra says that the journey has been nothing short of fulfilling. “The biggest joy was when painter Masood Hussain complimented my book after reading it. He said to me: ‘It captured the true soul of Kashmir. It was like experiencing all the seasons of Kashmir in my own home.’ Then I was like ‘I can go and peacefully die now’,” she says. “Also, when my family and I went to the Penguin Authors’ Party, it was the first party I had gotten them into. I was like: ‘Oh yeah, that was me – the coolest thing ever’.”