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Amrita Tripathi

Writer/ Journalist/ Time Traveller

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Blog posts February 2016

This week...(Edited)

February 29, 2016

Will see some of you at The Coalition Festival in Delhi over the weekend. 

There's so much going on in general and so much that bears questioning about the way the media operates, I think we're set for a fabulous discussion, featuring some of our leading editors:

From:

http://thecoalition.in/#schedule

 

2:30pm - 3:30pm

The Front Page 
The editors of India’s most influential front pages discuss the compulsions and interests that they must deal with to make the best daily news product. 
Sonia Singh | Raj Kamal Jha | Meenal Baghel 
Moderator: Amrita Tripathi

 

 

 

Post your comments here, if you have any q's you'd like raised... or via twitter!

 

A bientot! 

 

 

 

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New Books...

February 18, 2016

Hi all,

In the midst of these fractious, disturbing and scary times, a quick note about the book launch tomorrow, celebrating the life of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Reading Bee Rowlatt's book tracing some of her footsteps, it's amazing to note how even the most significant and momentous thinkers can get gypped of the credit they deserve if they're women. (Plus ca change...)

'In Search of Mary' is ultimately super-charged, interesting and raises verrrry interesting q's... It may even direct some of us back to Ms Wollstonecraft herself. (Did not know much about her, or even that her daughter was that Mary Shelley). Wollstonecraft's life was pretty epic, ultimately heart-breaking... but the talk itself tomorrow? Should be interesting.

Come have a quick chat if you're around.

 

 

 

(From BloomsburyIndia on Twitter)

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(Not just) A Beautiful Mind

February 16, 2016

I was introduced to Ravi Thornton on Twitter by my friend Jaideep Unudurti, the Hyderabad-based writer and graphic novelist. Ravi has collaborated with different illustrators to create a phenomenal, powerful work called HOAX - Psychosis Blues, a graphic novel that goes with a musical called HOAX - My Lonely Heart. She uses material -- poetry, diaries, conversations -- of and with her brother Rob, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and eventually committed suicide.

As Ravi works with her team in the UK to create awareness about the condition, we have spoken about the need to lift the stigma, the need for access to treatment here in India, where mental health issues and illnesses, especially psychosis, are still very much a cause for stigma or hushed whispers... even though so many of us have relatives or friends who suffer, often in silence.

Who can help, who is qualified to treat, who can they/we reach out to in a country which is ridiculously under-served when it comes to mental health professionals? All important questions that I hope we can start to address. Till then, perhaps we can start -- or continue -- the conversation, hold off on the judgement and biases, and perhaps we can all look to see where we may play a role. Feel free to share your comments on here or on Twitter (@amritat)

Meanwhile, please do take a look at this powerful work. It will challenge your preconceptions and is nothing like anything I've seen. The full article and some excerpts from the graphic novel are over here, on Scroll.

- AT

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This graphic novel on schizophrenia is a rare and artistic biography

Ravi Thornton uses the form to tell the intensely personal story of her brother.
 
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A sister tells the powerful, personal story of a young man diagnosed with schizophrenia, using his own poetry and diaries to chronicle his distressing journey and eventual suicide. HOAX Psychosis Blues is highly creative, an ode to a brother, and a brave attempt to shine a light on a condition that has traditionally been talked about in hushed tones.
 

The UK-based Ravi Thornton talks about the graphic novel HOAX Psychosis Blues and the stage musicalHOAX My Lonely Heart. A newly combined tour of the UK is being planned in 2017, along with discussions on mental health, a tour that she would love to bring to India, given half a chance. Excerpts from the interview:

To start with perhaps the most difficult question, how did you come up with the idea for a graphic novel based on your brother’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, his attempts to grapple with it, and his ultimate suicide?
I don’t really know how far back to go… I was chatting with theatre director Benji Reid around the idea of doing a play based on one of my brother’s poems titled HOAX. That chat led to the musical script, which explores the six months prior to my brother’s diagnosis.

But the questions being asked about what happened after he was diagnosed made me want to explore and communicate that aspect of his life as well. I was thinking about how to do that – how to process and communicate a decade of complex psychosis – and I felt that a graphic novel would be the ideal medium.

I was already familiar with the medium, through my first published graphic novel, and had established a wide network of illustrators. I knew that their vast array of styles could be used to capture the vast array of thoughts, moods, facts and fictions of my brother’s schizophrenic mind.

Also, because graphic novels have so little text compared to prose, you can deal very sensitively and lightly with subjects that are very painful and deep. The lightness of touch of the words, partnered with the impact of the illustrations, or vice versa.

And particularly because graphic novels give the reader space on a page, space for them to do their own grappling, with whatever it is that they’re relating to.

We get asked a lot about the book and its availability. In fact, from Ziggy’s wish, it only comes with the musical, as we feel it’s important to experience HOAX as a whole. But we would consider a publisher taking the graphic novel on under the right circumstances.

In the author’s note you mention that he wrote hundreds of poems, that you would sit and help him with them as well... in a “lighthearted way”, despite the obviously heavy context. And that you both planned to make “illustrated literary art”. Can you share anything about these conversations?
I remember distinctly, we were both sitting on the floor of the living room in my mother’s house in the summer. Rob was writing poetry and I was drawing stylised cats for a short story I’d written. We were chatting away to him. And there was definitely a feel of magic in the air. It always felt magical when we had conversations with such creative common ground.

Schizophrenia can make it hard for people to communicate and hard for you to communicate with them – whether that’s an inability to speak, or a roaring torrent of rage. I think when we had these moments discussing these shared dreams, the components of which were so beautiful, with such beautiful language, such lovely curlicues of pen on paper… it felt beautiful. A common goal. A common dream.

This work is a beautiful tribute to your brother, but also has an eerie effect on the reader. You have mentioned that people feel that it unlocks something in them, allowing them to share some of their stories, their emotions. Could you expand on this?

... For more, please go to the Scroll article here.

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Q&A with India's Top Publishers (Longer version)

February 5, 2016

As promised -- and quite belatedly -- here are the longer versions of the interviews with Karthika, Diya and Chiki -- which appeared last month in Scroll. 

Emphasis throughout, my own.

 

I. Q&A With Karthika V.K., Publisher and Chief Editor of HarperCollins India

On good writing, the need for marketing and what it takes to be a good publisher 

(Disclaimer:  Karthika is my editor — The Sibius Knot was published by HarperCollins India in 2015)

 

1. How does it feel to win a Best Publisher Award (eg Publishing Next)? What does it take as a publisher to be the best?  

It has been a hugely satisfying year. We've published some outstanding books by some of the finest writers in India today, even if we say so ourselves. And this has been proven out by the reviews, awards and  year-end lists. That this has happened across categories makes it even more satisfying.  Politics, biography, poetry, fiction, science, travel, humour, history, translation, sport, lifestyle, spirituality, cinema, romance, erotica--the list was eclectic and driven by the taste and acumen of a team of editors who I truly believe are among the very best in the business.

As to what makes a publishing house the 'best', if I had to find one word, it would be 'content'. Finally, what matters is not what you say about your books and how well you can talk them up, it's about what readers perceive as discerning content  that plugs into current needs and trends and has the potential to stand the test of time.

The other key word would be talent. Editorial, design, production, sales and marketing, accounts and operations, everyone needs to pull together and offer full commitment to make things work because, at the end of the day, we are a service industry that is focused on providing the best we can to our authors, our readers, and to the book trade we are part of.

2. How important are prizes and awards for publishers, as well as for writers and designers and illustrators?

Very important. They help focus attention on the best work that comes out of the industry and drive sales to some extent. Perhaps more importantly, they give us a sense of what readers are looking for and help us shape future lists. And then there is the sheer satisfaction of being recognised by the community of writers, critics, translators, people whose opinion we value.

3. Is there enough room in the Indian market for all kinds of books? To take off from a conversation we’ve had in the past — what of the dwindling market for literary fiction, vis a vis the bustling sales of the best-sellers? What are your thoughts on this phenomenon and how important will it be for publishers to continue to balance out their lists? 

It has been dispiriting, watching sales slide of literary fiction, which to my mind is that part of the list that takes genuine risks, finds new voices, publishes work that challenges existing notions about life and literature -- in short, the kind of books that should be in the front of shelves, not tucked away at the back.

The good news is that narrative non-fiction has gone up rapidly in the reading stakes. And there is a new spirit of ambition and enterprise that has begun to inform this genre, with the result that some of the best and most incisive writing is located here.

4. Good writing vs good marketing — which side of the equation is the sweet spot? And what is your experience in terms of submissions…Are more and more writers, even the reclusive ones, now painfully aware of the need for self-promotion and marketing plans?

It isn't so much a matter of one or the other, or one vs the other. The combination of great product and great marketing is what one strives for. But the real sweet spot is word-of-mouth, which isn't easy to manufacture, however much you may spend on the marketing campaign or however many influencers you may attract to your cause.

There is no doubt that writers are now part of the marketing process in a way they weren't earlier. There are just too many books out there and too little space, and we need to go all out if we are to make people sit up and take notice of a new title. Also, publishers work with limited budgets and resources and for sustained promotions to succeed, we have to work closely with authors. So yes, I am afraid the reclusive writer is somewhat obsolete, and a very few exceptions exist to prove the rule!

5. What's up next in 2016?

A strong mix of fiction and non-fiction, literary and commercial, new and familiar, p-books and e-books.

I'll mention just a few titles that are going out to stores for a January release, the flag-off for what promises to be another exciting year: The Z Factor  by Subhash Chandra, Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair, Strangers to Ourselves by  Shashi Deshpande, All Quiet in Vikaspuri by Sarnath Banerjee, Olive Witch by Abeer Hoque and Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur.

 

II. Chiki Sarkar, Founder-Publisher Juggernaut 

On Digital Publishing, why she hates the word ‘disrupt’ and what’s in store for 2016


1. Tell us a little bit about your plans with Juggernaut and what it means to seriously look at digital publishing as a viable model? What are some of the reactions you've gotten since its launch

Our announcement of the company and our catalogue announcement were both big — we trended on both announcements, which gives me hope for publishing. It's nice to see folks get excited about books and publishing. 

Authors are loving this — especially celebrities and debut writers.

Telecom, payment wallets and online retail, online news sites have all shown interest in engaging with us in very exciting ways. 

A whole bunch of independent children's publishers want us to be their platform partner and I think we could do fun stuff with other publishers in the long run. 

What it's shown me as a book publisher is that the digital can open up interesting conversations and partnerships I simply won't be able to have just doing physical (publishing). 

As for the model — we launch the app in February-March and we will have to wait and see! 

2. How important is it to ‘disrupt’ the Indian publishing industry?

I hate the word disrupt. It feels slightly arrogant. But here are the questions I am asking and that I want to answer in the next ten years of my life:

How can I get more people buying books in a country where the average sales are 3000 and where book retail isn't thriving, and  the distribution model is very faulty (6 months repayment).

How can I learn more about who buys my books — a question more possible to answer now than it's ever been for anyone.

Lastly, how can I become a far more author centered publisher — easier and simpler contracts,  quicker royalty payments etc. 

These are the questions I want to answer at Juggernaut. 

3. One frequently hears that there aren’t enough people reading in India, or even that there are more literary festivals than readers. Do you agree, disagree or think that’s only part of the problem? (Ie Distribution, access, price are all also issues?)

I do think not enough people are reading and I am not sure I have a cohesive argument about why this is the case. But again (there are) key issues — subjects for books, outreach, lack of effective communication, lack of leisure culture in India, where most things are seen as instrumental. What's interesting is that when a book is a hit it sells at numbers higher than ever. 

4. Presuming a good story as a given, what is the single most important piece of advice you have for writers or aspiring writers?

Tell a good story — and it's hard. Plot and character. Plot and character. There are a handful of books where this won't apply but to everyone else — they have to be the pillars of their work. Write it as good as you can. Be as harsh as you can with yourself. 

5. What are you looking forward to in 2016, both in terms of your own catalogue and other big releases? 

Most of our releases in Juggernaut, of course! But I can't wait for Aman Sethi, Hussain Haqqani, Twinkle Khanna and some of our crime. Abheek Barua and Praveen Swami's stuff is just riveting.

Among others:  

There are bunch of books I bought at Penguin that will be published next year that I think will be extraordinary — Siddharth Mukherjee's book on the gene, which I think is better than Emperor of Maladies. And Vinay Sitapati’s biography of Narasimha Rao may be one of the most important publications of the year — he has had unprecedented access to Rao's archives and diaries and this maybe the first really serious biography of a contemporary Indian PM.
I am also really looking forward to reading Kanishk Tharoor's debut collection. I hear it's terrific. 

 

III.  Diya Kar Hazra, Publisher, Pan Macmillan India

On the changes in the industry, a crowded market and why there will never be enough people reading in India (but there are still plenty)
 

1. Tell us a little bit about your plans for Pan Macmillan India. What’s been the biggest challenge so far and biggest lesson learned since taking over as Editor?

We decided to build our local publishing five years ago, which is also when we began distributing Pan Macmillan’s international lists here. It wasn’t an easy journey, with shelf space shrinking and the industry changing more rapidly than it ever has. But we’ve laid a strong foundation and have every intention of expanding both our local list as well as our distribution.

There are more publishing houses in India now than there was five years ago. The market is crowded, with conglomerates and independents, giants and start-ups. But this challenge is an enormous opportunity for a mid-sized publisher like us, because we can focus on our books and authors and really nurture our lists (Picador, Pan and Macmillan). 

We’re a small, passionate team that works very closely together—it’s one of the most collegial teams I’ve worked with—which makes all the difference. There’s lots to be done but we intend to publish every book better than the last. We have plenty of room to grow, and we plan to do that by focusing strategically, on core areas, and on quality over quantity. New talent has always excited me, so we’re looking forward to adding to our existing list of prize-winning authors and established names with outstanding discoveries.

2. How important is it to change the game in the Indian publishing Industry?

Publishing will always be about giving life to books and it will always be about people. That will never change. It is crucial, therefore, in this challenging climate and crowded environment, to reinvent oneself, find new ways of doing things.

3. One frequently hears that there aren’t enough people reading in India, or even that there are more literary festivals than readers. Do you agree, disagree or think that’s only part of the problem? (Ie Distribution, access, price are all also issues?)

Oh there’ll never be enough people reading—publishers will always feel that—and I wish our literacy rate was better, but I think there are plenty of people reading in India. And our reading is far more varied now. There are also more people reading online content on their smartphones. So the challenge is to seduce a growing reading public to books, when readers are less confined to books than ever before. The best literary festivals are about writers and their work, and it’s about ideas. In a world where books are competing with a range of other platforms/distractions--social media, gaming--anything that encourages reading is reason to celebrate.

4. Good writing vs good marketing — are both as important or does one increasingly outweigh the other? 

Proper publicity and marketing are crucial to publishing, now more than ever before, and we have to constantly innovate. Both equally important—good marketing can sell a bad book but good writing is in it for the long haul.

4 b. And as a corollary, what is the most important advice you would have for writers or aspiring writers?

Forget about the market and what’s No. 1 on the bestseller charts. Write the book you need to write, then find the publisher whose response to your work makes you want to write your next/more.

5. What are you looking forward to in 2016, both in terms of your own catalogue and other big releases? 

It’s a Jeffrey Archer year for us with the next two in The Clifton Chronicles. We publish his Cometh the Hour, which is set partly in India, next month, with the Gateway of India on the cover. Squash star Maria Toorpakai’s memoir A Different Kind of Daughter is a sensational story; Don DeLillo’s Zero K in May, The Muse by Jessie Burton and The Wonder by Emma Donaghue. The two I’m most excited about are Khalid Akhtar’s award-winning Love in Chakiwara, one of the greatest Urdu novels, translated for the first time by Bilal Tanweer. It’s an extraordinary satire set in 50s Karachi, a modern classic. And Maha Khan Phillips’s thriller—an absolute page-turner set in Mohenjodaro and modern-day Karachi and London.

Among other big releases/those from other publishers, I’m looking forward to reading Kanishk Tharoor’s Swimmer among the Stars, Rana Ayyub’s The Gujarat Files, Ram Guha’s Democrats and Dissenters, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel in stories, an anthology of graphic non-fiction edited by Orijit Sen, William Dalrymple’s take on the Kohinoor and Anjan Sundaram's Bad News, one of the most powerful books you'll read this year.

 

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As always, do feel free to tweet or leave your feedback right here. The Scroll piece is hyperlinked below.

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