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Author celebrates Deepavali with debut novel

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Anittha Thanabalan's The Lights That Find Us highlights the difficulty of healing

For newly- minted author Anittha Thanabalan, this year's Deepavali glowed brighter than usual. She celebrated the day with her recently launched novel, The Lights That Find Us.

While the festive occasion is always a merrymaking affair with her friends and family, she decided to give her first novel, also set during Deepavali, a dramatic spin.

Her book is inspired by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, one of her all-time favourite books.

But instead of an elderly miser visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, a Singaporean teenager, Shreya, is forced to deal with a deed she committed two Deepavalis ago that tore her family apart.

Not wanting to spoil the story and reveal the mistake Shreya made, Thanabalan, 30, said the book follows the same format as A Christmas Carol, where the lead character goes back to the past and the present and is then taken into the future.

"That whole process is meant to emphasise the difficulty of healing and how much help we may need to overcome a difficult situation," said Thanabalan, a freelance writer and English tutor. "The idea is that healing is not easy; that it is messy and it is enormously uncomfortable, but ultimately, it is achievable."

The healing process that Shreya went through after committing a mistake is comparable with Thanabalan's experiences when she went through a "difficult period" last year.

She said: "There were some friends I was close to, but it had to come to an end - and you often don't see these things coming."

Though she and Shreya went through different experiences, the healing process she wrote for Shreya was relatable, said Thanabalan, who is already working on her next book, about a cult.

"My hope is that readers would see that there are very few mistakes that are truly insurmountable.

"It gets better and I think it is a point that is important for young adults to grasp," she said.

The Lights That Find Us is selling for $18.90 at all major bookstores and Epigram online.

For Thanabalan, a yearly Deepavali tradition that is particularly special to her is the making of murukku. Her late grandfather, who had a background in carpentry and mechanics, decades ago built a murukku-maker that the family still uses.

Every Deepavali, she starts the day by taking an oil bath, having an Indian breakfast of idli and thosai with her family and visiting her grandmother's house. In the evening, her family hosts relatives and friends for dinner.

Thanabalan, who has a degree in psychology from the Singapore Institute of Management, took just under two months to write the book.

When she found out her book was shortlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, she could not believe it.

"I didn't expect it because I wrote it in such a short period of time," she said.