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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

Exclusive: Interview with Dark Blossom author, Neel Mullick

Conversations about mental health issues and its awareness are no longer a taboo and Neel’s writing takes you on a mysterious journey where Sam and Cynthia meet.

books Updated: May 15, 2019 09:15 IST
Saumya Sharma
Saumya Sharma
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Interview with Dark Blossom author, Neel Mullick
Interview with Dark Blossom author, Neel Mullick(,

Neel Mullick’s Dark Blossom is a story you feel speaking to a dark and probably hidden part of you that shows itself under the strangest circumstances. The characters Neel chooses explore aspects of mental health and the story in itself is an awakening of sorts for many. It explores the psyche of a human being including all the levels at which it can go to; all it needs is a mere trigger.

Conversations about mental health issues and its awareness are no longer a taboo and Neel’s writing takes you on a mysterious journey where Sam and Cynthia meet. This one moment the reader might feel that it is all so predictable until it isn’t. Dark Blossom is an interesting read for the one looking for something different yet relatable. ‘Cause it’s not just your own experiences that make you, it is everything that’s happening around you as well.

In an exclusive interview, the author talks about the riveting thriller and what becomes of the titular characters when and if the mystery comes to light. Read on for the complete interview:

Dark Blossom is a rather heavy subject for a debut novel - with its plot and the mystery around the subplots. What inspired you to start your literary career with a story like this? How different was it to be the voice of the female protagonist instead of choosing the direct route?

To be honest, I didn’t choose to write the story of Dark Blossom. The story chose to be written by me. The characters started taking shape in my mind at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life and while the incidents are fictitious, the grief of the characters is but an exaggerated version what I was feeling in my own life. It was when the characters’ voices got too loud that I had little choice but to start writing. I wasn’t sure I was writing a book but I was confident that all I needed to do was to crawl under their skins and describe the world the way they were seeing it. But my innate self wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining for anyone reading it.

Given I had taken on three characters, none of whom were me, I had to do enough research to do justice to them. And in order to narrate from the perspective of not only a woman but one who is a psychologist from a culture different from my own, I had to both dig deep as well reach outside my comfort zone. I think not having prior benchmarks definitely helped and the journey was not only extremely gratifying but also helped fill that void of empathy in my own life.

The theme is also an overview of sorts on the 7 stages of grief, in my opinion. Was that a deliberate attempt or a general flow of the story?

Once the characters, their struggles, and their goals were in place, I knew I needed to understand bereavement to be able to treat it deeply yet sensitively, in detail yet with the intent to entertain. While Sam’s struggle with it was the natural progression of the story, pacing the stages he had to go through in time with the rest of the plot needed to be meticulously deliberate.

Are any of the characters in the story inspired by real-life ones? Could you throw some light on the characters?

I think there are bits and pieces of me in my characters and their experiences but the novel is not autobiographical by any stretch of the imagination. Cynthia, the narrator is an American psychologist, and she finds herself alone with her patient, Sam and her daughter, Lily in the same sinking boat. Moreover, they all seem to be rowing away from one another. While trying to heal from a debilitating divorce, Cynthia is helping Sam who is struggling with the worst kind of loss there is. But she is also trying to mend her relationship with her daughter who is not only fighting her own demons but also holding on to a secret that has the power to capsize their boat.

The references to Gaudi and why he was a popular name you chose for the story?

That’s a great segue from your previous question since the references to Gaudi are but a reflection of personal experiences and my love for his work. As someone who prefers being outdoors in nature, I was not only pleasantly surprised but also mesmerised to see the work of Gaudi in the city of Barcelona. More than his unique style, what impressed me more was to see his evolution as an engineer and an artist manifested in his work. I started writing Dark Blossom a year or so after my trip to Barcelona and I found that his work had left an indelible impression on me. It was natural therefore that it became a metaphorical backdrop to almost all the layers of the story of Sam, Cynthia, and Lily.

How did you choose the title of the book and why?

Again, to be honest, the title chose me. I was about midway through writing the first draft and I used to fall asleep when I couldn’t write any more but my subconscious continued churning the plot. One night when I woke with a start, on my couch, the title was the first thing that hit me and I was convinced it was the right one. I find myself fascinated by the duality of our psyche – how we would all like the world to see the multiplicity within us yet have a hair trigger when it comes to jumping to conclusions about others and putting them in buckets. And since that’s the duality I wanted people to question not only in the denouement but also the entire story, the title seemed to capture that adequately.

Please tell us more about your efforts towards working with women entrepreneurs, empowering them and all the work you’re doing with IIMPACT towards educating the girl child.

I am currently working with four women-led NGOs in as many continents. I mentor women entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (UK), am involved in raising a generation of digital and socially-aware leaders with the Steering for Greatness Foundation (Nigeria), support improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers at Emprendedoras del Hogar (Peru), and am helping IIMPACT (India) break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. I do this because I believe that there is no greater gratification than one that comes from seeing others, especially those that might not be as privileged, attaining their dreams. I have decided to donate half the royalties from Dark Blossom to IIMPACT because I care immensely about the education of kids and the emancipation of women and IIMPACT is devoted exclusively to the primary education of girls from the most impoverished sections of India. What I like most about IIMPACT is their focus in channelling funds towards their mission and clear delivery model relying on local community-based learning centres.

Is there a follow up to Dark Blossom coming sometime soon or a brand-new story?

Even though I get how the climax has spurred requests for a sequel, I’d like Dark Blossom’s contribution to posterity be a cue to reflect on how we judge the motives of those around us and the hopeful realization that the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities.

So my follow up will have to be a different story. It’s also going to be narrated from the perspective of a young woman, Abigail, who has just started her first job as a nanny at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year-old Stewart fighting for his life in the pool. And Abigail soon discovers that June, the boy’s older sister may have been the one who pushed him in.

What are the three best books you’ve read so far and what are your key takeaways from them?

The first would have to be A Technique for Producing Ideas by William Bernbach. I keep it by my bedside and find myself turning to it when I’m struggling to be creative. In about twenty minutes, it demystifies the process of creativity and not only reassures me but also nudges me to go back to the basic process of generating new ideas.

Another book that I find myself recommending to everyone is Embracing your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset by Hal Stone. I think it’s a must read for all adults as they go through the journey of pursuing their own dreams while balancing the pressure of expectations of those closest to us, including ourselves.

Finally, a work of fiction that I now enjoy in a new light is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Not because I subscribe to all her views but because the book is an interesting case study in writing good fiction. It’s definitely heavy reading but it achieves an intricate balance between depth of characters, strong ideologies, tight plotting, and immersive storytelling.

Your message for a young writer and reader who hasn’t yet blossomed into a believer of their own talent. Any tips you could share that will work as inspiration for the young mind.

What a wonderful question! Thanks for asking it. I think the key learning for me has been the realization that good storytelling happens at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. While the former allows one to dive deeply and uniquely into a subject, the latter ensures that it has an impact on readers. And they both take oodles of honesty, albeit of different sorts. The former requires honest introspection to know who we really are and what we have to say. While this might be obvious it’s not easy and the second part of this process is even more difficult. It requires leaving our ego aside, especially in the face of critical feedback.

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