Author Interview: Savita Kalhan

Savita Kalhan is author of the incredibly creepy novel, The Long Weekend. Welcome Savita and thanks for joining us today!

 Hi Savita, please introduce yourself and tell us about your book The Long Weekend.
Hi Vicki, thank you for inviting me! I’m Savita, apart from being a mum, reading too late into the night, and generally trying to cram far too much into a 24 hour day, I’m also the author of The Long Weekend – the book that’s been scaring everyone half to death! The book is about two boys who are abducted after school – it’s a thriller where the monster is very real and the fear is palpable.
 The Long Weekend is a fantastic thriller. What inspired you to write it and are you a fan of thrillers yourself? 
The inspiration for The Long Weekend came from a flyer that went round local schools warning that a car had been seen loitering outside a few schools and that the driver had tried to snatch children. I was horrified when I saw that. Most kids are pretty aware of stranger-danger, but kids can be easily misled and tricked if they’re distracted. It only takes a moment of not thinking straight. A scenario came to my mind where an abduction could happen with frightening ease.
Yes, I love thrillers! The best ones are so completely absorbing, gripping, full of suspense, and where you deeply care for the fate of the protagonists.
There are some very dark themes and issues touched upon in your novel and unlike many other YA novels, from a boy’s point of view. Was it a conscious decision to make your main characters male and something which was important to you?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, no. When the story arrived in my head, so did the two main characters of the book. It’s true that so many YA books are focussed on girls that it does make me wonder whether most publishers think that as its girls and young women who are doing most of the reading then YA books should generally have female protagonists. Personally, I think YA readers, like all readers, love a good story told well, and all the YA bloggers have loved The Long Weekend.
I thought you captured Sam’s voice perfectly. How did you mange to do that? 
I love Sam! I don’t know why or how it happened, but when I sat down to write the story, Sam’s voice was right there in my head. That hadn’t happened before, and as soon as I started writing, his voice flowed and the story poured out. Strangely, the ending of the story was written several months after the rest of the book yet Sam’s voice still remained clear in my head. I have a very sociable 13 year old son, so I do get to spend a lot of time around kids, and perhaps that helped.
I imagine you did quite a lot of research when writing The Long Weekend, can you tell us a bit about that.
Actually, unlike other books I’ve written, I didn’t do any research at all for The Long Weekend. I just sat down every day and wrote. I do, however, know many survivors of child abuse and they have shared their stories with me.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy reading? If you were to recommend us one book-which would it be?
I haven’t lost my childhood habit of reading practically any genre! So I still love thrillers, modern classics, world literature, fantasy, contemporary novels, teen and YA fiction…
I loved I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti, recently republished as YA novel. Last year’s favourite reads included Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick and Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Gillian Phillips’s Firebrand is excellent, as is Before I Die by Jenny Downham.
Amongst my all-time favourite books are – A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, and…
You see, once you get me started, I can’t stop! I find it impossible to recommend just one book.
Can you tell us about your path to becoming a published author? Was it something you always wanted to do? Why Young Adult/Teen fiction?

The path that led me here has been a long, crazy, meandering one! When I was young I wanted to be a teacher, a librarian or a bookshop owner. I never really thought that I could ever be a proper writer! I graduated with a Joint Honours in Politics and Philosophy, but then decided I wanted to turn my hobby in Batik design into a full-time occupation. I had exhibitions, and taught Batik in schools and ran workshops for Art teachers. Then I went to live abroad for several years and taught English. That’s when I started writing. I embarked upon writing an epic fantasy trilogy for teens! After my son was born, I came back to live in the UK and finished the trilogy while he was still young. As soon as he started school, my writing changed and became much more gritty and real, and contemporary. I still wasn’t sure of my writing and I was full of self-doubt – even after finishing The Long Weekend I sat on it for a few months before plucking up the courage to try and find an agent!

I followed the advice in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and sent of three sample chapters, a synopsis and a cover letter. That’s when the waiting began – something, I’ve realised, that is part of the writer’s life, so the sooner you get used to it the better!

My agent, Anne Dewe, is wonderful and it was she who found me my publishers – Andersen Press. My editor, Liz Maude, loved the book, and scheduled it for publication within a year (it can take anything from a year to a year and a half for a book to go from manuscript to bookshop!)

I think I fell into writing for young adults and teens almost by accident. It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. I wrote a lot, and as I wrote I think I gradually uncovered my voice…
Do you have any tips for any aspiring writers out there?
Read, read read! Write, write, write! They’re the two most important things an aspiring writer can do! Have your work critiqued. If a particular style doesn’t work for you, then try a different style until you find your voice. Get an agent, become internet savvy, and meet as many other writers, published and unpublished, as you can. Join a group like SCBWI (society of children’s book writers and illustrators). And lastly, don’t give up!
Finally, what’s next for Savita Kalhan? 
Well, I’ve just finished writing a new thriller and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it might get a green light…

Good Luck Savita…we look forward to more from you in the future! 

You can read my review of The Long Weekend here

Book Review: The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

Sam knows that he and his friend Lloyd made a colossal mistake when they accepted the ride home. They have ended up in a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere with man who means to harm them. But Sam doesn’t know how to get them out. They were trapped, then separated. Now they are alone. Will either of them get out alive? This gripping and hypnotic thriller will have you reading late into the night. (from
The Long Weekend looks, and sounds, like a dark gripping thriller…and that is exactly what I got. Right from the start Savita Kalhan had me glued to the pages and didn’t let me go until I’d finished the last page.
Eleven-year-old Sam is the new boy at school. He’s been the new boy quite a few times before and finds it difficult to fit in with the cliques and gangs already formed. This time though he’s made friends with popular Lloyd through their joint love of football. Lloyd is very different to Sam, with his wealthy parents and apparent luxurious lifestyle. So when the pair make arrangements to get together after school, he’s not surprised when Lloyds Dad turns up to collect them in a flash car, kitted out with all the latest gadgets.  However, Lloyd thinks its Sam’s parents’ picking them up, and in the excitement neither one thinks to check before jumping in the back. Things soon take a sinister turn however when they find themselves locked in an old mansion and realisation dawns.  And so starts a long and very scary weekend, and someone is keen to make sure they never escape…
What was so absolutely perfect about this book was Sam and his voice through which the story is told. Although it’s in third person, it’s completely from Sam’s point of view and Savita Kalhan captures in him a voice so remarkably strong, unique and believable it blew me away. Using a lot of short sentences and jumpy thought processes, the tension throughout the book builds from Sam’s narration and is consistent from beginning to end, there’s not one dull passage in this book. I particularly liked how Sam grew throughout the book, changing into almost a different person by the end, which given his traumatic experiences, is an incredibly clever tact. To begin with he’s naïve, nervous, anxious, a little bitter and slightly envious of enigmatic Lloyd. By the end he’s a hero, Lloyds support system, a problem solver and the naivety has all gone.
The Long Weekend is incredibly creepy and tense, and being a short read I raced though in just one sitting. There was no chance I’d be able to put it down, the pacing and atmosphere made sure I had to know how it ended. I’m not easily scared, but was left with shivers down my spine at times in the book.  Some disturbing and terrifying issues are brought up, but Kalhan never forgets her audience and doesn’t go in for graphic details. I actually think this would be a good book to either read with a class of pupils 11+ or parents to read alongside their kids as there are lots of important discussion points. If anything, this book will serve as a lesson never to go off with strangers and will surely hook even reluctant readers. 

The Long Weekend is everything it appears to be, a dark, creepy story that is so gripping it’s impossible to put down. If you like being scared and enjoy sinister psychological thrillers then this is a book for you! Even if you’re not sure it’s your thing, I dare you to stop reading once you start.  

Published by Anderson Press October 2008

Thanks to the author for providing a signed copy for review.