Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari
Set in contemporary India and written in second person, the novel tells the story of thirteen-year-old Lena who shares a special bond with her talented older brother, but struggles to grow up in his shadow. When he goes missing on an overnight train while returning from a summer camp, Lena’s world turns upside down. Her parents fall apart and the police don’t help, so Lena vows to find her brother herself. Her quest is fraught with treachery, apathy and danger and it reveals a side to her brother she never knew. She risks her life to find him, but will she succeed in bringing him back?
About the Author
Dev grew up in a sleepy hamlet near Mumbai where she read obsessively, daydreamed endlessly and wrote furtively. Her journey to graduating from the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa took a long-winded route that spanned two decades and two continents. It involved her getting an Engineering degree in India and an MBA from Oxford and working in the Digital Technology industry for sixteen years. It also saw her moving house sixteen times!
She now lives in London with her husband and two daughters and, although she still reads obsessively and daydreams endlessly, she’s finally found the courage to write more openly. She won the Commonword Diversity YA novel prize in 2018. In 2020, she was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House competition and the WriteMentor Children’s Novel award, and was also commended for the FAB Prize.
Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari, introduced by Freya Norley
Bring Back Kay-Kay is a beautifully crafted story, and immediately caught my attention being written in second person. Dev's foray into this pays off very well, as we are on the edge of our seats from the opening line. Dev's protagonist, Lena, is a touchingly relatable and complex teenage character. While she dearly loves her older brother, and this drives her to find him when no one else will, Dev does not shy away from the rawness of being in a sibling's shadow. The setting is gorgeous, the plot twists aplenty, and the tension is an electric undercurrent right from the beginning.
Part adventure, part mystery, and part a heartfelt coming-of-age story, I am very excited to see this book out in the world. It is certainly one of a kind.
What was your inspiration for this story?
The story is inspired by my experiences growing up in India and the beautiful bond of love between my two daughters. Through the MA workshops which allowed me to experiment with different forms and voices, I discovered the second person narrative and found it the most apt to tell my story. In particular, I learned how to use second person to convey the depth of a sibling relationship and heighten the mystery in my story.
What was your most memorable moment on the MA?
It is impossible to choose just one. For me, the MA was like a treasure-chest brimming with precious jewels of different shapes and sizes and colours such as the times I spent with my classmates and tutors talking about writerly things, listening to inspirational talks, walking the grounds of Corsham Court and even the early morning/late night commute between London and Corsham.
What is the most important thing you learned on the MA?
There is so much that I learned on the MA that I will be eternally grateful for. But the most important thing probably is self-belief. For someone who has struggled with her self-worth all her life, the MA gave me the confidence to truly see myself as a writer.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
For me, it is finding those moments of grace, when I feel the words pouring out of me onto the page as if of their own accord. These rare moments are like a gift from the gods – where everything comes together perfectly, just as it should be. Often when I look back at my work created during these moments, I can hardly believe what I managed to do. However, I also know that if these moments are the pinnacle of my experience of writing, their existence is only made possible by the mountain of effort and persistence they stand on.
What do you like doing when you’re not writing?
To be honest, even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. For me all of my life experiences are my writing experiences, whether it is spending time with my family and friends, travelling around the world, visiting museums and theatres, watching films and reading – whatever it is that I do, it is lived by my writer self.
What is your top piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Instead of advice, I’d feel more comfortable sharing what works for me. It is the very process of putting one foot in front of another, feeling out of breath when going uphill, speeding down the slope, losing your balance around the bends. And as you keep going you get glimpses of a dazzling Turner sky or lush Amazonian forest or a sprawling maximum city like Mumbai. The trick in writing, as it is in life, is to keep going forward step by step by step.
What was your favourite book as a child?
As someone who grew up in a small town in India in the 80s, popular books were hard to come by. So, I read anything and everything that I could lay my hands on, including books in Marathi that my teacher mum brought from her school, translations of Russian fairytales from the government community centre and plain old reference encyclopaedias from my school library. But some of my most memorable reads were from the old, used book vendors where I would find hidden gems like the Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur Jr.
What place in fiction do you most want to visit?
Every one of them. I am much too curious and fickle to pick just one!