With degrees in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon, USA, and Business Administration from INSEAD, France, Neel Mullick is the Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company. Riding on the success of his first book Dark Blossoms, we thenotoriousreader team, were curious to know more about this upcoming new author and his exceptional way of storytelling.
When did you first realize that you have a knack for writing?
I fell into writing rather serendipitously at a time when there was somewhat of a void of empathy in my life. My imagination ran amok and started creating characters that were different from me yet were facing similar ordeals. I found myself consumed by the need to empathize with them, crawl under their skins, and describe the world through their eyes. But I wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining for readers. So I needed a double dose of empathy if you will – both for my characters and for readers. And this helped fill that void in my personal life too.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Oooh, delicious question! It would have to be chilli chocolate. Having sampled it the world over, I know that when done right it can be dichotomously delightful – while the chilli keeps things exciting, the chocolate leaves one satisfied. I hope to have created a similar experience for readers of Dark Blossom – inviting and immersing them as well as guessing and turning the pages. And a denouement that leaves them shocked yet satisfied.
How long it took to write your first book?
A good story takes place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. While the former helped me be sincere to my characters, the latter lets readers immerse themselves viscerally in the story. While the former helps in getting to the first draft, it takes brutal honesty with respect to understanding the latter that got me to the final version. The first draft took me about three months but the more grueling editing took the better part of one and a half years. In retrospect, this turned out to be better for the book because it took me that long to see it as readers would.
What’s that about which you love to write the most?
I care and feel about many things but I find myself most concerned with the inverse correlation that seems to exist between society’s progress and the empathy with which it interacts with the universe around it. In simpler words, I care most about relationships – not only between people but also the one between people and the universe around them. And that’s what I aspire to write about more, in an entertaining and riveting way.
Mental health is the main theme in your book Dark Blossom. What made you chose such an intense topic for your first book?
While readers seem to be either enjoying it as a suspenseful psychological thriller or connecting with it through a lens of mental health, to me it remains a story of love in spite of loss and one of empathy in the face of adversity. I’m happy that readers seem to be enjoying this dichotomy – because I believe the more we understand and express the dualities that exist within us, the more enriched we become. That in fact was my purpose in writing the book and perhaps in choosing a title like Dark Blossom.
In fact, I have also incentivized such reflection by creating an experiential contest for readers. All they have to do is sign up at www.WinTrip2NY.com, read the book, and answer one simple question based on the book. They could stand to win business and economy class tickets to New York, or anywhere else in the world!
How far of a journey do you think India have to make in terms of Mental Health awareness?
India being as deep as it is diverse, it is difficult to make generalizations. It is my understanding that each one of us is unique in almost every way, including in our pain and suffering. And coming to terms with these is not exactly made easy by a society that doesn’t accept or understand these concepts very well. So, be it anger or depression, we need to teach our kids that they are just as natural as laughter and joy. Hence, it’s okay to feel them and we must try to express them calmly and in an environment devoid of judgment. That, I believe is the most important journey we have to make as a society, if we are to become psychologically more evolved.
How has the experience and feedback been so far for Dark Blossom?
From Ruskin Bond calling it “unputdownable” and Rajdeep Sardesai “haunting and visceral”, the feedback has been very gratifying. The flip side of these early endorsements has been that I feel the pressure to live up to these expectations. However, there are two aspects that have been even more gratifying. First, is the positive feedback from readers who took a leap of faith in picking up my book and have since taken the time to send me personal messages telling me how much the book has helped them. And the other is the sales, less because of what it means for the success of the book, but more because half my royalties are going to IIMPACT, an NGO that is devoted to the primary education of girls from the most impoverished sections of our country.
What are the different NGOs that you are associated with? What made you chose these causes to contribute to?
I am currently working with four 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. Even though I care about education of kids because they are our future and the emancipation of women because I believe all of us are born equal, the fact that I work with these NGOs is largely a coincidence.
Do you plan to write in the same genres in your future projects or are you open to exploring new ideas?
I have just started researching and outlining my second novel. It’s going to be a psychological thriller, narrated from the perspective of Abigail, a young nanny who has just started working at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year old Stewart fighting for his dear life in the pool and Abigail soon discovering it might have been his older sister who had pushed him in before covering her tracks.
I’m still finding my genre, voice, and style as an author, so I aspire to improve considerably in the current direction before branching out into others.
Neel Mullick mentors women entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially-aware leaders with the Steering for Greatness Foundation (Nigeria), supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers at Emprendedoras del Hogar (Peru), and is helping IIMPACT (India) break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities.
He lives on three continents, spending his time between New York, Brussels, and New Delhi, has survived ten days (and nights!) at an airport, and a free fall five-hundred metres from the sky.
Concerned with the inverse correlation that seems to exist between society’s progress and the empathy with which it interacts with the universe around it, he firmly believes the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities.