Menu

Amrita Tripathi

Writer/ Journalist/ Time Traveller

header photo

Blog posts : "Books"

Re-upping: My second novel The Sibius Knot

July 20, 2017

Introducing...Reader Reviews for The Sibius Knot

Sathya Saran reviews The Sibius Knot by Amrita Tripathi on Amazon

An excerpt from an Amazon review by the wonderful Sathya Saran
Read The Sibius Knot now!

Read, submit your review and give us a shout -- happy to feature your review next! 

 

Go Back

Interview with Sabyn Javeri, Author of 'Nobody Killed Her'

May 5, 2017

Here's a look at an excerpt of an interview with writer Sabyn Javeri... for Harper Broadcast.

 

 

More of our interviews are up here.

Do let me know what you think! 

Look for HarperBroadcast on Youtube/harperbroadcast. You'll find me on FB or Twitter and of course we have good old email.

Go Back

Melloncollie and the Infinite Sadness..

March 13, 2017

I've taken a little time off to grieve. And will take some more -- as much as I need, I guess -- especially when it comes to 'public-facing' stuff IRL... Though virtually and in day-to-day life, I've been slowly re-surfacing. It's been tough to just say it... I lost a parent. It's been tough to exit the denial stage, the anger, the 'bargaining' (if we had X would he have Y or Z?)... It's going to be tougher in phases, going forward too, I'm sure. (Could we have done X or Y or Z? Should I have etc etc)

While the one universal truth is that we all must die, and many of you have shared very touching and moving moments/ memories/ remembrances of losing a parent or loved one, it's clearly also one of those intensely private moments of course, so I'm wary of what I write and a little watchful (or more so than usual). 

I may look at doing a piece on grief and mourning.

I may not.

I may write a piece on last rites and pandits who get pissed off that girls aren't boys. Or maybe I won't. Right now, I'm not setting any rules for myself. Except to show up...

  • Step 1 to not being an asshole, imo has been to Show Up. (When People Need You.)
  • Step 2: Don't Lose Your Humanity.
  • I guess I know I have the You're Free to be an Asshole card up my sleeve for a limited period of time but am not sure I'll play it. But you never know. Watch this space!
  • The one I'm struggling with is of course to be kind/ gentle/ let things be. And the banality of all that happens. How things just continue just the same for other people. This is life, after all. And we all know the clock it's a-ticking but we just act like we got all the time in the world.
     
  • Meanwhile: the passion project continues over on The Health Collective. Here's one of our latest posts.

Why have I decided to write in bullet points? Beats me!
But bless all of you for sharing your stories and for reading the first person accounts and expert views on there.

And be well.

--AT

 

Go Back

The Sibius Knot...Meet the Characters

June 27, 2016

The Sibius Knot -- an invention of my characters' (I mean, mine) -- is a book that is really rooted in the city of Delhi, starting off in the '90s or so.

A group of friends essentially get lost, as they come of age, they lose the plot, friendships unravel, and lives spiral out of control... till they start realising what's going on. Globe-trotting between Delhi and New York and back again, this ultimately is a story about love found and lost -- familial love, sibling love, love love and the strong love we feel for our friends, even when we don't know what the hell they're up to.

I hope you enjoy meeting the characters below... And hit me up when / if you do get a chance to follow them into their maze!

 

Go Back

The Paths Taken...Tried and Trodden

June 20, 2016

I'm really having too much fun with these... but the series (and search!) continues...

Here's to finding our own paths -- whether they're tried and tested or spanking new!

Go Back

The Sibius Knot... Awaits

May 31, 2016

Go Back

Reading from The Sibius Knot

May 21, 2016

Photo Credit: Mary Therese Kurkalang

Thanks to the Prose at Toddy series, Mridula Koshy, Anushree Majumdar, friends at The Toddy Shop, and the wonderful writers in the line-up: Amitabha Bagchi, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and Parvati Sharma, this was actually not entirely terrifying.

 

Go Back

The fun's just begun... if you're writing a book

May 12, 2016

Writing this was a hoot! (Well, that's the version I'm sticking with, not the sobbing in a corner while contemplating sales and print runs...wait, what?!)

You can find this on The News Minute right here and do send in your comments @amritat / @thenewsminute or share your stories. (Thanks for those who've already commented saying they share the pain!) 

 

Publishing
 
Story of a book, cover and sinker if you aren’t brave: What you have to do to get published
You would require more than just good writing.
Amrita Tripathi| Monday, April 11, 2016 - 13:22

 

 

Step 1: Write

You think of a story and decide to write it. Or a story grips you so hard that you don’t know how you’re sleep-walking through the rest of your life, but sleep-walk you must, because this is the story that has to be told. You write it or it writes you. It can be a mystical experience at the best of times, a frustrating one at the worst, but it’s fulfilling, all told.

Which is probably why so many of do it. Folks with the glimmer of an idea, those who want to tell you about the universe, reporters who feel that 2,000 words in print or 20 minutes on television never really did justice to the people they met. Some of us are honouring the flame that’s burning us up inside out. The prestige that comes with it is a nice little bonus.

And then thud, you crash into the real world.

Step 2: Wait out the rejection

Someone will tell you the story is fascinating, but perhaps too intense, so not for them. Someone else says there may be a sliver of a market, but only if you re-write the ending. Or the beginning. And re-name your characters while you’re at it.

Word to the wise? Hold on to all the positive comments you get, even from your boyfriend or grandmother, because they will be the only buffer protecting you and your naked self-esteem in the storm to come.

(Pro tip: Clutch to your heart famous authors’ rejection stories. JK Rowling is a current favourite on social media.)

If you’re lucky enough to have an editor or agent or prospective publisher, or all three, you’ll be ready and privileged to have a book come out, after this series of back and forths.

You will inevitably get sucked into a maelstrom of publicity and marketing. You might downward spiral into self-pity once this round is done, but that’s still about six months away, when you optimistically decide to check on sales.

(Pro tip: For your sanity, try not to check on sales. Or where your book is available, or why it’s not.)

Step 3: Get people to your book launch

You’re lucky if you merit a book launch party, so call everyone you know, at least once. If you’re savvier, email them, message them on FB, put it up on Twitter and invite the world, to ensure that at least half your social circle and professional circle makes it. If you’re a Somebody, they will.

The book launch party is no longer quite as de rigeur these days. Publishers are weighing the costs and benefits, and maybe they’re sick of seeing that one set of free-loading journalists who never write about books anyway… or they’re done with the elderly gentleman no one seems to know, who makes it to each book launch (and may even ask you to sign someone else’s book).

A quick note about why most everyone outside of Delhi hates would-be writers in Delhi. Access. A lot of this schmoozing and networking and bonding is yielding a disproportionate number of publishing contracts. If you meet the same handful of publishers and catch their attention, you’re likely to land yourself a few emails of interest and possibly that elusive contract. But if that’s your big game plan, the joke really is on you, because the amount you make has far less 000’s than you’d imagine. Whether it’s Amish Tripathi or Ramachandra Guha you’ve read about in the news, let’s set the record straight. Your first cheque isn’t likely to cover whatever fancy vacation you had planned.

Step 4: Spread the Word

Once the book goes to print, your real job begins. You’d better get the word out. Gone are the days when a handful of Indian writers did their thing, confident in the gravitational pull their names exerted. We all knew and read Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie…We were reading Amitav Ghosh and feeling worthy. We knew and loved Ruskin Bond, got to know Arundhati Roy, and so it went.

Then we started to hear about a writer who created the IIT book genre, Chetan Bhagat.

Practically overnight, the dam burst. Bhagat was quickly followed by an improbable series of management types-turned writers, flooding the market, combining their swash-buckling style with slick video trailers and talk of Bollywood interest.

Then came the rom-com titles. Writers who were getting no interest from traditional publishers found Srishti Press and created legions of followers.

Ravinder Singh, who wrote ‘I Too Had a Love Story’, is regularly tweeted by readers who tell him (and those of us who follow him on Twitter) how much they love him or hard they’ve cried. Young writer Nikita Singh meanwhile has eight books to her credit, already. Eight!

Who wouldn’t envy the lakhs of readers they’re said to have? Many of us masochists who are writing because we “have to” are struggling even to sell out 4,000 copies at a go! Oh yeah, that’s the other heart-breaker. With literary fiction, your print run can be even as low as 2,500 copies in this day and age, in this country with a population of 1.2 billion. Print runs by and large remain fairly modest, 2,500 or 5,000 books, with publishers hedging their bets. You know you're big time when 10,000 books and up is the first print run. 

Step 5: Keep up the social (media) bombardment

What the commercial, ‘pulp fiction’ or mass market writers know is that selling any product takes investment and some major marketing, and they’re willing to go the whole hog. They start out with power point presentations and target audiences and slick marketing pitches, from what I understand.

It’s this attitude of treating a book as any other commodity that drives purists up the wall. But there’s no question as to who is powering sales at publishing houses. Lit fiction titles are the prestige list. (Almost like a consolation prize!)

If you’re not doing any of this and you’re not buying ad space, how do you get the word out about your book? You have to rely on reviews in a dying piece of real estate — magazines and newspapers. So you hustle. You make the rounds of those parties, looking for that dying breed known as a Book Editor. You ask whoever you can, neighbour, auntie or cousin at a newspaper or magazine. You do all the social media you can manage, ever more shamelessly, till you pretty much end with a Buy me! plea. Meanwhile, the over-worked publicist at your publishing house is trying to think of ways to pitch your book and align with a news peg.

(Pro tip: If she’s not, you’d better be doing the same!)

Then there’s the matter of the small incestuous social circle. Often the reviewer will either know a writer they’re reviewing, or have grown up with their little brother or be related to their mother’s cat or …there might be an intense rivalry we know nothing about. I don’t know why we don’t do disclaimers. (There was this brouhaha recently about a glowing review Amit Chaudhuri did in The Guardian for his former student and colleague Anjali Joseph.)

But social media has up-ended the traditional game. Reader reviews on Amazon or Twitter feedback with the right hash tag can go a long way. The flip side is that it can also lead to attacks like the troll army on journalist Barkha Dutt’s This Unquiet Land, and their campaign to get her a 1 star average review.

At the end of the day, readers really are the best judge. But as writers, we increasingly have to do what it takes to get your attention. We will ask our friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and random strangers waiting at street lights to review us on Amazon.

A few stars and a comment, is that too much to ask for?

Amrita Tripathi is a freelance journalist who writes contemporary fiction. She is the author of ‘Broken News’ and ‘The Sibius Knot’, two novels she’s not done entreating you to buy.

 

 

Go Back

What We Learn From Stories

March 28, 2016

I hugely enjoyed writing this piece for The Hindu's weekend reading section. Let me know what you think! (The longer, unedited version also follows... Bah, not for us, word count limitations!)

BOOK SCAN

The stories that keep shaping us

COMMENT (1)   ·   PRINT   ·   T  T  
 
 
“There’s nothing grimmer than fairy tales for life lessons.” Picture shows a Harry Potter fan in Sydney.
Getty Images
“There’s nothing grimmer than fairy tales for life lessons.” Picture shows a Harry Potter fan in Sydney.
 

When everything is polemic, perspective is best restored by rereading old favourites

What is it we learn about the world through books, even magical tales and alternative realities? The benefits of reading the driest non-fiction are usually taken as a given, but what about stories and storybooks, as a generation of us grew up calling them?

How else do we learn our humanity? Can you be a sentient being without having the distilled wisdom of thousands of stories in your bloodstream? Does humanity have a chance without its writers and poets? Uncensored, that is.

Back to basics

My brother is part of the generation that really started reading with Harry Potter, so if pushed, I would casually imply I used to read Rowling in solidarity, as a shared interest. You know, very What is it kids are reading these days? Never mind that the pretence was totally shattered by the time The Prisoner of Azkaban came out.

Doing a news story on the Potter phenomenon back in the day, I spoke to a sociologist who told me about the importance of fairy tales in a community, as a means to talk to children about the darker side of life… such as the actuality of death. There’s nothing grimmer than fairy tales for that sort of life lesson. The Potter series also faces very tough realities head-on, including the death of our young hero’s parents. Rowling deals masterfully with bullying and racism, highlighting the courage required to stand up to both. Anyone who’s felt like a misfit, anyone who’s ever been picked on (even if not by the most evil of dark lords) could identify.

Of course, Rowling’s series is also a magnificent ode to love and friendship. But I increasingly wonder whether that is humanity’s biggest strength, or if will prove to be our biggest delusion. Can love conquer all? If you look around, it seems increasingly unlikely.

Speaking from a world of privilege, the English-speaking urban class is caught in a maelstrom of vitriol. Everything is polemic. The conversations, such as they are, all too easily degenerate into violence. We don’t want to listen to anyone who doesn’t mimic our exact points of view, and Twitter has become the echo chamber of echo chambers, convincing us that we — not them — are the majority.

Luckily hashtags aren’t the real world and presumably people will eventually find their sense of self, and push back against the goons who are taking matters into their own hands. All those self-appointed guardians of the pure and holy who are resorting to violence will eventually have to be dealt with, not just by organs of the state machinery, but also in the realm of ideas. That’s where the real battles are — Left versus Right, my nationalism versus your patriotism.

And just as people are being urged to go back and read our Constitution, I would say, go even further back. Remember that magical place of epics and myths? Stories your grandmother would tell you about defenceless animals outwitting bullying predators? Birds versus marauding tigers? The clever fox versus the greedy lion? Mythology? Comic books? I dare anyone to read the Amar Chitra Katha on Luv and Kush and not feel the terrible injustice of Sita’s fate as decreed by her husband.

Gender bias and social justice in a comic book, imagine? Of course, in this present day and age of extreme politicisation and jingoism, we might be asking for trouble by continuing that particular conversation. But until you talk about the very things that disturb you — whether it’s the death of a loved one or countless deaths due to starvation, the targeting of people presumed guilty until proven innocent or the politics of your hitherto closest friend — until we can talk about difficult issues, there’s no real point in pretending to have a conversation.

It’s possible, if we only remembered how, to think and discuss the most meaningful things, without taking ourselves too seriously.

Three life lessons from stories, then. Empathy, courage and imagination. All powerful tools, perhaps the most essential ones to navigate life — even in these perilous times, when so many of us have not an iota of interest in listening to divergent points of view. There couldn’t be a more critical time. Read so you can reach within, so you can remember what it is to listen to another point of view, not just blindly ‘like’ or ‘RT’ into the void.

...

Read more over at The Hindu 

The unedited version is below.

-------- WITH NO THOUGHT TO WORD COUNT LIMITS AND LIMITATIONS ---------

 

LIFE LESSONS: IN DEFENCE OF READING

What is it we learn about the world through books, even magical tales and alternate realities? The 

benefits of reading the driest non-fiction are usually taken as a given, but what about stories and 

story-books, as a generation of us grew up calling them? 

How else do we learn our humanity? Can you be a sentient being without having the distilled 

wisdom of thousands of stories in your bloodstream? Does humanity have a chance without its 

writers and poets? Uncensored, that is.

***

My younger brother is a member of the generation that really started reading with Harry Potter, so 

if pushed, I would probably casually imply I used to read Ms Rowling in solidarity, as a shared 

interest. You know, very What is it kids are reading these days? Never mind that that pretence was 

totally shattered by the time Prisoner of Azkaban came out, if not even earlier.

Doing a news story on the Potter phenomenon back in the day, I spoke to a sociologist, who told 

me about the importance of fairy tales in a community, as a means to talk to children about the 

darker side of life…like the actuality of death. There’s nothing grimmer than fairy tales for that sort 

of life lesson (if you’ll forgive the pun). The Potter series also faces very tough realities head-on, 

including the death of our young hero’s parents. Rowling deals masterfully with bullying and 

racism, highlighting the courage required to stand up to both. Anyone who’s felt like a misfit, 

anyone who’s ever been picked on (even if not by the most evil of dark lords) could identify.

Of course Rowling’s series is also a magnificent ode to love and friendship, which warms the 

cockles of one’s heart. But I increasingly wonder whether that is humanity’s biggest strength or will 

it prove to be our biggest delusion. Can love conquer all? If you look around, it seems increasingly 

unlikely. 

Speaking from a world of privilege, the English-speaking urban middle class is embroiled in a 

maelstrom of vitriol. Everything is polemic. The conversations, such as they are, are all too easily 

degenerating into violence. We don’t want to listen to anyone who doesn’t mimic our exact points 

of view, and Twitter has become the echo chamber of echo chambers, convincing us that we — 

not them — are the majority. 

Luckily hash tags aren’t the real world and presumably people will eventually find their sense of 

self, and push back against the goons who are taking matters into their own hands. Self-appointed 

guardians of the pure and holy who are resorting to violence will eventually have to be dealt with, 

not just by organs of the state machinery, but also in the realm of ideas. That’s where the real 

battles are — Left vs Right, my nationalism vs your patriotism. 

And just as people are being urged to go back and read our Constitution, to read what the founding 

leaders had to say, I would say go even further. Remember that magical place of epics and folk 

tales? Childhood stories your grandmother would tell you about defenceless animals outwitting 

bullying predators? Birds vs marauding tigers? The clever fox vs the greedy lion? Mythology? 

Comic books? I dare anyone to read the Amar Chitra Katha on Luv and Kush and not feel the 

terrible injustice of Sita’s fate as decreed by her husband. Gender bias and social justice, imagine? 

In a comic book! 

Of course, in this age of extreme politicisation and jingoism, we might be asking for trouble by 

continuing that particular conversation… but until you talk about the very things that disturb you — 

whether it’s the death of a loved one, or countless deaths due to starvation, whether it’s the 

targeting of people presumed guilty until proven innocent, or the politics of your hitherto closest 

friend — until we can talk about difficult issues, there’s no real point in pretending to have a 

conversation. 

And yet it is possible to think and discuss the most meaningful things, without taking ourselves too seriously. If only we remembered how.

 

*** 

Three life lessons from stories, then. Empathy, courage and imagination. All powerful tools, 

perhaps the most essential ones to navigate life. Even in these perilous times, when so many of us 

have not an iota of interest in listening to divergent points of view. 

There couldn’t be a more critical time. Read so you can reach within, so you can remember what it 

is to listen to another point of view, not just blindly ‘like’ or ‘RT’ into the void. 

When you’re done? Read some more. 

 

*** 

Be yourself but be open to new things. 

Madeleine L’Engle taught me so much with ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, perhaps without me even realising 

it as a child. What a revelation that these slightly weird siblings Charles Wallace and Meg, with 

their issues in and out of school, could redeem themselves and be heroes, despite not being 

remotely mainstream or cool. They face their own demons and some fairly hairy intergalactic 

beasties in acts of tremendous courage. (Mrs Who, Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Which were fascinating in 

and of themselves.) 

What about courage to say you’re wrong? And how about the lesson that we’re all flawed? Even if 

you were busy tackling Pride and Prejudice to satisfy your crush on Mr Darcy, while identifying with 

Elizabeth Bennett, what a blow to the system to have to examine your own prejudices and biases 

— wait, what, we all have them? And pride? Interesting concept!

I might never forgive Jo and Laurie for not getting together, but in Little Women, you learn 

something profound too, about sacrifice and relationships, and about going beyond the superficial. 

Do you remember Amy and her obsession with her nose? Sister, please! I’m pretty sure she’d be 

right at home in our selfie taking, constantly instagramming world. Jo’s character is probably the 

most fleshed out and the most inspiring, from a young girl’s point of view. Beauty and brains? 

Check. An adventurous spirit? Check, check. Slightly annoying that she used to keep getting 

rapped for her independent streak, but again, bring her to the 21st century and aspects still 

resonate.  

 

You may not know any druids — I fear they are in short supply — but who doesn’t love them? 

From Gandalf to Getafix, I was always quietly reassured that there were wise old souls in the 

landscape who could set things right. Not just wisdom-filled about the mysteries of the universe, 

either, they have a sense of humour and are more than willing to get their hands dirty, when 

required. Of course now, I realise there should have been way more women in these roles too… 

but it’s never too late to start. 

 

That’s the beauty of imagination. And yes, role models are important. If you can see it, you can be 

it. Stories define the outer limits of our imagination and show us that there need be no hard and 

fast boundaries. That we can be whoever we choose to be, the limits of our dreams are defined by 

our own imagination, even if our lives become mundane affairs. That’s a place of refuge like no 

other. 

 

And what about your everyman hero? From The Lord of the Rings, there’s an empowering 

emphasis on regular folk who were underestimated at every step of the way. Who really thought a 

little hobbit would even make it to and through Mordor, let alone end up destroying the evil ring? 

He might have lost that last battle, of course, without his arch-enemy Gollum, but in that too lies a 

lesson (vocalised by Gandalf to Frodo earlier on, to never be too eager to impart death or 

judgement). 

As an adult, Frodo’s best friend Sam strikes me as even more of a hero, though I used to find him 

a bit of a bore, earlier. But where would this quest be without that steadfast friendship? Without 

that fellowship?

 

For those of us fatalistic in our bones, there’s also the gift of knowing that even if you’re 

guaranteed an apocalyptic ending — like in my beloved Norse mythology — it doesn’t stop you 

from being yourself, expressing yourself, making mountains of mischief if that’s what keeps you 

going (here’s looking at you, Loki). Live your life to the max. The big picture might be grim — and 

isn’t that a fact, planeteers, we are heading into environmental doomsday mode — but you fight 

the good fight, speak your mind and keep on going. 

 

Even if you know the sky will eventually fall on your heads, like that one indomitable Gaulish 

village. There’s an admirable courage in that.

 

Amrita Tripathi is a freelance journalist who writes contemporary fiction. She is the author of ‘The 

Sibius Knot’ and ‘Broken News’.

Go Back

Catching up...

March 24, 2016

Happy Holi, all! Hope you had a fun, safe, colourful day...whether you played or no! What's not to love about a long weekend, eh?

Catching up on here, with a little house-keeping and such-like. Also here's part of an interview with a wonderful debut writer, Arjun Nath, a recovered addict, who takes us on quite a journey with 'White Magic'.

As always, let me know what you think... and if you do get a chance, highly recommend you read this book!

 

MEET THE WRITER

First person: Untold stories from the author of a brutally honest book on recovering from drugs

‘There’s always been this thing that will comfort you, which is the drug, which is not there anymore’.

Go Back

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)

Go Back

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.

 

***

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

Go Back

On publishers and making India Read

January 11, 2016

India’s publishers are determined to make you read more books in 2016

There’s plenty of change coming, predict three leading publishers, who are convinced they can rebuild – or grow from scratch – the reading habit in the country.
 
15.1K
Total Views
 
Here’s how the year in publishing is looking to Karthika VK, publisher and chief editor, HarperCollins India; Diya Kar Hazra, Publisher, Pan Macmillan India, and Chiki Sarkar, founder-publisher, Juggernaut. Excerpts from three conversations.

On whether there’s room for all kinds of books any more:

Karthika: It has been dispiriting, watching sales of literary fiction slide, 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.

Sarkar: 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.

Kar Hazra: Oh there’ll never be enough people reading – publishers will always feel that way – 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.

On the the challenges in 2016:

Sarkar: 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, online retail, and 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).

Kar Hazra: 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.

Read more at: 
http://scroll.in/article/801588/indias-publishers-are-determined-to-make-you-read-more-books-in-2016

The unedited transcripts coming up... 

 

Go Back

This and That... to kick off the year

January 5, 2016

How's everyone settling into the new year? New rhythm? I still haven't found my stride yet, veering between productivity and major procrastination. I suppose that is the human condition!

So for the moment, am just keeping my promise about book reccos. These were (respectively) the last book I read in 2015 and the first of the sparkly new year!

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Well, I certainly came to this one late -- it was published in the early 1940s! What a miss. Such a phenomenal, powerful tale, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if you think that things have changed a whole lot since the '40s, and you're blithely uninterested in the human experience, or coming of age. This is a transformative book about the human spirit, the will to survive and the quest for a better life. I had no references for Brooklyn from way back when, but yes, it's true, things sure have changed. And yet, urban poverty, the grind for survival, that's something that echoes... and people can empathise if not identify with, an epoch and a continent away.

A huge thanks to Ananya and Ratna for lending me their well-thumbed copy. 

 

 

 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

One wonders sometimes about fate and such things. With a surname like the author's perhaps this was inevitably a book (or at least a title!) that was preordained. The story is a marvellous one, transporting the reader to 19th century England and Japan -- I did have to keep flipping pages to keep track of the dates of different chapters (so thank goodness I was reading a physical book, not a Kindle version this time). 

The characters are superbly interesting and the story itself -- of clairvoyance and a police investigation, of racism and an immigrant experience, of loneliness and the hum-drum we so quickly let ourselves get sucked into -- was captivating. I wasn't entirely convinced by one plot point towards the end, but the ending itself perhaps was... inevitable. Let me know if this one catches your fancy. 

A big thanks to Pallavi for discerning that I was the reader for this one, and lending it to me.

 

 

Having lost track of what I'm meant to be reading next, I will leave you with this, which appeared in Scroll on the last day of the last year. 

Do let me know what you think, and here's wishing you a fabulous adventure-filled new year. Don't forget to stop by with your comments on what you're reading, or what you're waiting for.  

 

Three novels and an investigation to remember the year for

Reputed authors returned and didn’t disappoint; nor did a study of a murder and a trial.
 
24.1K
Total Views
 
 
It’s hard to shortlist the best books of any given year, but in the interests of a curated, well-rounded list of wonderful Indian books published in English, here’s a closer look at what I enjoyed reading this past year. It’s a very subjective list, as any readers’ list is bound to be.

Indian publishing being what is, and our jobs being what they are in the media, I have also had the great good fortune of meeting all the writers on this list. Their work more than speaks for itself, and I am delighted to recount that the reading relationships also survived the real-life encounters intact. (It isn’t always the case, but that’s another story!)

She Will Build Him a City, Raj Kamal Jha
One of my favourite books this year. Many things about this book took my breath away, but what has really stayed with me is the story of a fundamental, powerful love – the mother towards her taciturn daughter, who has suffered beyond anything she can imagine. The giants that the daughter imagines being as a child – those giants aren’t just a comfort to the mother, but balm to the reader’s soul. I still find them comforting!

All of this is against the backdrop of a violent plot, which shines a mirror on a darker, more twisted urban reality than one we usually want to contemplate, morning news aside. The Metro plays a pivotal role in a story which tracks the changing face of a city that seems to be crumbling around us, its fabric rent by all kinds of brutalities. I may never take a Metro ride in quite the same way again… I plan to closely observe the brooding, quieter passengers, so consider this fair warning! The power of the story apart, there is so much beating heart in this one.
...
More on Scroll here

Go Back

On Reading, Reading Lists and Books...

December 21, 2015

It's almost time to say goodbye to the old scruffy, dog-eared year but...not quite! Make the most of what's left, I hope we will... (Yes I'm still waiting to watch Star Wars).

Meanwhile, I had fun writing this for The Hindu's weekend edition. As always, let me know your thoughts. (Btw the books I mention evangelising are: All the Light We Cannot See, She Will Build Him A City, as well as We Are Completely Besides Ourselves. More in the previous blog.)

Et voila, the link: https://t.co/XZCTG96oMg and pasted below for your reading convenience.

 

Winding down the year, time for the ‘Best of…2015’

 
 
 
 

Argue over them all you want, but reading recommendations and prize shortlists are important ways to discover new and interesting books

Lists are among those categories you either love or hate. One could say the same about books in this day and age, I suppose, but I refuse to believe that any but the most obdurate believe that they hate books — it’s like saying you hate stories, or adventure, that you hate wonder, or imagination.

This is the age of ubiquitous listicles and Facebook quizzes and Twitter polls, though, so I don’t blame you if you feel that a ‘Best of’ list may have a lost a bit of its charm. There’s just too much surround sound sometimes.

Reading shortlisted books

While I have to admit to a sneaky fascination for book lists, it’s not across-the-board admiration. Every year when the Booker Prize shortlist comes out, I dive for cover. That is the one that always makes me feel poorly read and in need of a longer attention span. I used to have the best of intentions to read the winning or shortlisted books, in the month or quarter of their announcement, or at least to read the winning title by the time the next year’s Booker shortlist was out.

Over the years that has dwindled to a feeble light of resistance and nowadays I am so far past paying lip service that I try to justify my lack of momentum. I just put these titles on my own imaginary shortlist of ‘Highly Rated and Likely-to-be-Wonderful’ books to read. I mean, if I were to name that list anything, that’s what I would call it.

It has meant that undoubtedly fine writers like Hilary Mantel are on my ‘To Read’ list (now renamed as aforementioned) and I have no option but to hang my head in shame. Missing out on the Nobel Prize for Literature awardee list over the years, I must add, does not make me feel as bad, because it seems as though more than half the reading public is on that same blank page as me.

The good news is there is a healthy list of good writers to get to, I daresay. The bad news is it might take a while to get to them. But there are always the fortuitous trips to bookstores where you redeem yourself. Based on the recommendation at Delhi’s Midland, I did read ‘To Rise Again at A Decent Hour’ by Joshua Ferris, around when it was shortlisted for the Booker.

Stumbling upon books 

I used to have a friend obsessed with the New York Times bestsellers’ list, whereas I would be loftier about the whole enterprise of “discovering books”, counting on word of mouth, bookshop owners’ recommendations, and general osmosis, not to mention the treasure trove I would be sent by publishers, as a books editor. Now, the thing is, if I had followed my friend’s lead, I would probably have discovered my beloved David Mitchell way before I did… and yet, I like the entire experience of stumbling upon wonderful books altogether too much to change my habits. It is not an algorithm, but it will do.

The other aspect is that it is actually nice to have a list of books to get to. The sheer joy of having one’s own shortlist of unread masterpieces (anything Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, for example) gives me major emotional security. I feel that really is a veritable security blanket, much like a financial investment that you are not going to touch. I have a stockpile that will see me through anything.

As far as choosing what to read goes, there is something fascinating about other people’s lists — people you know, people you admire from afar, people you interact with on Twitter — it’s such a nice reflection on so many things. Whether it’s a ‘Best of’ list for the year or for all time, it is actually hard to put an outer limit on these things. I was equally paralysed by the attempt to list out 5 favourite books as 15, all of which were doing the rounds on Facebook over the past few years.

A year and a lifetime

The Guardian has a two-part Best Books of 2015, based on famous writers’ picks, that is quite compelling. But I’ve always found it painfully restrictive to limit books to the year of their publication — surely a ‘Best books of 2015’ can include best books read that year? The shelf life of a book is considerably longer than just the 12 months after its publication date, isn’t it?

Only one of the books that I have been delightedly evangelising this year was published in 2015.

Perhaps it’s best to get specific. Thanks to Twitter, I recently saw a list of the best Madeleine L’Engle books. I would love to see that extended to other authors — I’m thoroughly distracted now by chancing upon a ‘Best of Haruki Murakami’ list. Imagine a ‘Best of Amitav Ghosh’, perhaps? Though, you can be sure that diehard fans of any writer will never agree. I mean, there is a list of ‘10 Essential Neil Gaiman Works’ online, but I’m not sure how you would rank his work without a nod to how subjective the whole enterprise is.

Maybe it is best to create your own list, taking inspiration from what is out there. As a reader, it’s a fascinating journey and one that can’t but leave you entertained, even moved, if you follow your own ‘Best of’ lists. The potential is limitless.

(Amrita Tripathi is the author of ‘Broken News’ and ‘The Sibius Knot’ and resides at www.amritatripathi.com)

Go Back

Books, Books, Books

December 16, 2015

Let's talk a bit about books that delighted and enthralled this year? The type of books and stories we read are (hopefully!) as diverse as the day is long, depending on our moods, attention spans and 'mindspace' at any given time...so no judgement here! 

I actually do keep a list of books I read --  I don't know why I started this habit years ago, but it makes me happy to more or less track my journey through the year(s). My favourites, starting with the most recent read...

 

 Slade House by David Mitchell  

Beyond fabulous, as with all that I've read of him (Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, that also goes on this list!), I read it with goosebumps and chills intact. Our wonderful friend makes an entry and at long last, Atemporals will rue the day...I don't want to say anymore, since spoilers ruin everything.  

This sort of story isn't for everyone, I imagine, but a) what is, at the end of the day? and b) it adds to the readers' pleasure to be in a group that excludes someone or the other, I'm sure...look no further than us legions of Murakami fans. 

(Note: So I read the Kindle edition, and just discovered the hardback was actually priced better here in India -- what a drag! My collection is worse for the wear, but that'll teach me to *not* check!)

 

 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Anything I write about this book will sound like garbage compared to its lyrical bedazzlement. The story sort of sneaks up on you, captivating from the get go, and before you know it, your soul has been moved. If that's not great writing, I don't know what is!

I really can't believe I'm at a loss for words, because this is the books I've been evangelizing like there's no tomorrow - set in World War II, what seems to be an unlikely mix of characters will break (and probably re-form) your heart.

 

 

The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins

A great read, from earlier this year. Hawkins writes the perfect pacey, taut story that packs the proverbial punch (that sounds quite grisly, given the subject matter, so apologies...) Quite the ride.

I also thoroughly enjoyed, was moved by, and highly recommend: Being Mortal (Atul Gawande), She Will Build Him a City (Raj Kamal Jha), Flood of Fire (Amitav Ghosh), and a host of books I read belatedly, including Death in Mumbai (Meenal Baghel) and Aarushi (Avirook Sen), which both track gruesome murders and tell the stories the mainstream media was unable to, as well as Indian Summer (Alex von Tunzelmann), which I should've read years ago!

Any of your picks match this list? Let me know what you picked out this year and what you're looking forward to next? So many books, so little time! 

Go Back

Of the Year that Has Been...

December 15, 2015

Before we fast forward to the year that will be, and that delightful sense of anticipation, that wonderful pristine feeling that lasts all of 5 days, if you're lucky not to mess things up... before we get to the shiny, new year...A quick look back at the year that was.

I say quick, because we will inevitably take our time at some point to contemplate the year gone by... the chance occurrences, the heady moments, the quieter in-between times where we had nowhere to be, no one to see. I hope we all get to reminisce fondly and think of the path taken, the path not taken and try to forget all the regrets in between...Hopefully we've all grown into the people we want to be, or gotten closer to that prototype this year -- though who am I kidding, it's such a work in progress! Two steps forward and five behind, practically. The ageing process is by default a revelatory one, and not for us now in our mid-30s the softer excuses of youth, of not knowing better. 

Having said that, I wouldn't trade the memories, the lessons learned, the bruises to the heart, mind, ego, for the world, for how else do we grow? I will save the wishes for the new year and before I get completely sentimental and sappy, a quick snapshot of the year gone by! Thanks to the readers and festivals far and wide! 

 

 
 

 

 

 

Go Back

Go Set A Watchman

July 19, 2015

This weekend was a much-needed time-out (like most weekends). This one also offered the opportunity to slip back into childhood, buffered by the safety net of adulthood. I mean, you can disappear into a book these days, but more often than not these days, you find the exit too. Gently, we slip in and out of realities. Ah, aging! 

I will admit I approached Go Set A Watchman with some trepidation, given all the brouhaha and spoilers doing the rounds, including the chilling NYT review. Atticus a bigot? Pas possible.

But there was no question -- I was always going to read this book. Like millions upon millions of you, To Kill A Mockingbird was a life-long journey. Like millions, I felt it was an intensely personal one. (Clearly, despite all our desire to be unique, it was collective.) And clearly Ms Lee had/ has always had the gift. I didn't know till after reading Watchman that Lee had written this in 1957, (pre-dating Mockingbird) and that in fact, it was an earlier version of the cult classic. But I doubt that Lee would've guessed that she would end up writing a literary touchstone. How bizarre that sitting all the way half the world away, I could be sucked into a story about segregation, racism and the deep South, about small-town Alabama? About race relations? 

Not that strange, I suppose, when you see it as a coming of age story...reminding you of that moment when your childhood slipped away. (For most people it is a moment, even if we don't remember it.)

*Spoiler alert* Please don't read further if you haven't read Go Set a Watchman. Or To Kill A Mockingbird! *Spoiler alert*

 

But how strange that reading Watchman now as an adult, I find myself still plunged into momentary despair, alternating with laughter at some of the antics and jokes, but through it all a sombre realisation that all our heroes do, after all, have feet of clay. I don't think any the less of Atticus (or even Lee, as some are!) that he is portrayed as a man with deep prejudice, he is clearly a man of his time (and modeled somewhat, apparently, on Lee's father). Does that make me an apologist for racists? Not in the least, I hasten to add, lest I be misunderstood. But the portrait seems authentic. 

It obviously is a jolt for the reader, given that he was the moral centre of Mockingbird, and it's undoubtedly a brutal awakening for Scout... But those of us who out-grew her along the way -- no matter how much we identified with the tomboy, the rebel, the whip-smart girl with her tight-knit group and sense of moral certainty  -- well, we've long since learnt the hard way that our idols have feet of clay. It's one of the rites of passage into adulthood. 

*Spoiler alert!* (Not kidding now)

For me, more devastating than that realisation was the matter-of-fact way in which we learn that Jem has died. I miss him in an acute way, just as Scout does. The second heart-wrenching moment is when she remembers how she climbed up to the water tower, determined to end her life. Tears streaming, I had to shut the book (and then ask myself, why on earth was I crying?! More to do with me and those missing in my life than what was on the page?) It's hard to say, but this story was a very definite, tangible part of my childhood. Scout and Jem were friends. And I couldn't bear to think of Scout that miserable and alone. Or without Jem. 

Clearly much has changed: Jem's gone, Calpurnia too -- with race relations deteriorating to such an extent that she becomes a stranger to Scout... (The one untrue note I found, was when she asks if she "always hated them"? I don't think that rang true, or that Calpurnia after raising Jem and Scout would have chosen quite that method of dis-engagement). Anyway. Boo Radley isn't around any longer. Nor is Dill (who I didn't know was modelled on Lee's own friend Truman Capote), though he is referred to. The flashbacks are intense and add much to the story, because that's the Maycomb we remember! That's the universe as we left them all.

But the biggest change of course is that we're now sitting here as grown-ups, grieving not just for Scout, but for a lost childhood and lost innocence.

Older now than Jean Louise ever will be, I say farewell my friend and well met. I for one am more than delighted to have had the chance to visit with my favourite Finch again.

 

Go Back

18 Blog Posts