Neil D’Silva’s overnight horror success story

I first met author Neil D’Silva on Facebook through mutual friends in 2015. He was a teacher and we bonded over our mutual love for horror and writing. Back then, he was writing his first novel, Maya’s New Husband, which he went on to self-publish. The book was an overnight success and Neil has not looked back since. He has over a dozen books to his name and is the president of the India chapter of the Horror Writers Association

With unique stories that incorporate Indian mythology and folklore, Neil is changing the horror scene in India. A  TEDxTCET speaker, he was also on the jury for the Bram Stoker Awards® .  His viral podcast episode on The Ranveer Show with Ranveer Allahbadia, (popularly known as BeerBiceps), to his amusement, gave him the tag of a paranormal expert!

His latest book, Sapna’s Bad Connection, was released in September this year. 

In a recent interview, Neil told me about his decision to quit his teaching job to be a horror writer, his foray into children’s horror, his battle with obesity, and his upcoming horror nonfiction to be released next year.

Here are edited  excerpts of our conversation. 

India Currents: As an established author in the horror genre, what questions do you get asked often? What are people curious about?

Neil D’Silva: The question I mostly get asked are – Why did I choose horror? Did I have any paranormal experiences? What’s my writing process? Sometimes there are interviews that go into uncharted territories, and I really enjoy them. And since you know me so well, I’m hoping this interview will take me there as well. 

IC: Hopefully. I remember when you conceptualized Sapna’s Bad Connection in 2015, I loved the concept. Tell us something about the book and why it is so special.

ND: Sapna’s Bad Connection was special to me because it was the second story that came to me after Maya’s New Husband. Both the stories hit me from nowhere, with the same profundity. But after conversations I had with people around me, including you, I realized that I am not sure of the approach I should take. 

There were two issues. One was that it dealt with mental health issues, which is tricky in itself. The other thing was that I was using horror as my vehicle to tell the tale. But, when you’re taking a topic as delicate as mental health, and adding horror to it, things can go very wrong. Since 2015, it took me six drafts to get it right; but I am finally happy with the end result. I am happy that my story did not fly out when I first thought of it. Maybe I did not have the maturity to write this back then. 

IC: You were a teacher before you quit your job to become a stay-at-home father to focus on writing. That was a huge risk, but you pursued your passion and did so successfully. What would you like to tell people, not just writers, about pursuing their passion?

ND: Sometimes I do reflect on it, you know. I do ask myself as to why I took that big step when I had such a nice, cushy career. But in 2015, when I made that decision, I didn’t look at it as a risk. People all around me were telling me that this is risky, why are you doing this, you have two kids who will grow up soon. But in my mind, I was very sure that this would work for me. Today, maybe, I wouldn’t do that. I’m eight years older now –  I’m not going to switch my career again.

But that’s who I am. I don’t look at these things as a risk. And that’s what I want to tell people. If you are passionate about something, then the risks don’t matter. 

IC:  How did you deal with the fear of failure?

ND: That came later. When I took the leap of faith, I did not think of it as a risk. But today, when I think back, I do get a little unnerved. Overall, I would say I am happier. It’s no secret that writing isn’t a lucrative career. But I look at the things that writing gives me: the satisfaction of creating something, touching some people’s lives, giving them their entertainment, and my spiritual growth. So, in that sense, I am a richer person now and if I had not done this, I would have been a bigger failure. 

IC: You also battled obesity. How did your journey back to being fit impact your life and writing?

ND: Back in 2019-2020, I found myself blocked from writing. I blamed it on the pandemic lockdown and the general state of things around me. But introspection led me to realize that the problem was with me. At 86 kgs and a BMI of 30.95, I was classified as obese. I began running with the goal of regaining my physical fitness. I fell in love with exercising and became a regular on the running grounds and gyms. Until then, I had never run even 100 meters at a stretch. Today I am at my fittest best with a BMI of 22.12. With my body being fit, my mind works well, and I can find the rhythm within me.

IC: From Maya’s New Husband, which is so dark and hard-hitting, you went to Playthings, which is a children’s horror story. Tell us about that transition.

An author signing a book while children look on
Children surround Neil D’Silva for a signed copy of his novel at the Kukdukoo Fest for children, Gurgaon, November 2023 (Photo courtesy: Neil D’Silva)

ND: I’m so glad you asked me this question. Playthings has been a wonderful experience. Maya’s New Husband has its own loyal following of readers, but they’re not children. They are not going to mob me at a mall.  That happened with Playthings when I was at a mall for an event. The talk was on the ground floor and the book-signing on the third floor in the bookstore. As I was going up the escalator, a whole host of children followed me. I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin!

Initially, I had my doubts about Playthings, but my agent, Suhail Mathur, convinced me to write it. And I have loved every moment of it. Writing for both the audiences are very different processes. With something like Maya’s New Husband, I don’t want to give my readers any kind of relief. I want to stretch the limits of what horror is. But with Playthings, it had to be fun and quirky. Scary, yes, but at the end of the day, something children would love. 

IC: What’s next for you in the Indian mythological horror genre?

ND: Well, this could be an announcement of sorts. I have a book, titled The Terrifying Truth with HarperCollins coming out next year, which is a nonfiction that I am working on along with (paranormal investigator) Jay Alani . I also want to write a lot of books next year. I want to return to my folklore/mythology-based horror genre; neither Sapna’s Bad Connection nor Playthings belong to that genre.  I want to self-publish some of these because I want the books to reach people quickly. Traditional publishing, while great, takes time and sometimes, as an author, you’ve moved on from the book by the time it hits the stands. I want to do something quickly. Write it, give it out, let people enjoy it. 

IC: Before we sign off, do share something about your viral interview with Beer Biceps. 

ND: Ranveer’s team contacted me on Instagram. I was told that it would be a horror podcast by Ranveer Allahbadia, also known as #BeerBiceps. I had seen him pop up on my reels, but I didn’t know that he was such a big deal. Since it was a horror podcast,  and he was in Mumbai, I was game. I found out that he had interviewed some really big names. When I went to his house, Ranveer took me to the balcony and told me that he was starting something new with this horror podcast. I was the first guest in this series and if it worked, they would invite others. Once the cameras rolled, it was just a freewheeling chat with no script or preset questions. 

When the show went live, my Instagram exploded almost instantaneously. Within an hour, we had thousands of views on YouTube. Since he had tagged me as a paranormal expert, lots of people contacted me with questions like, “Mere ghar main bhoot hai, usko kaise bhagayenge?” (There’s a ghost in my house, how do I get rid of it?). I was a jhaadphoonk baba for a while!  But it was a great experience overall.  

Aindrila Roy is a stay-at-home mom with her fingers in many pies. She writes, reads, makes jewelry, sings, dances and is a huge Paleontology nerd. Her book, I See You, was self-published on Amazon. She...