An army kid , a history student at St Stephens to working on edit page of Times of India. Author Vikas Singh was bitten by the ‘writing bug’ for a fairly long time. So, while the cartoon character is very much ubiquitous as Chota Bheem (seen even on toothpaste tubes for kids) the book “Bhima – The Man In The Shadow” did not miss the chance to generate loads of interest & excitement in the blogosphere. Our very own iMelonite Geeta Nair , gets into a really interesting conversation with the author. Take a look.
“I think the most important thing for any writer is to either lead an interesting life, or surround himself with fascinating people, if not both. The quality of your output, which is your writing, is directly linked to the quality of your input, that is, the life experiences that you imbibe” – is the very first suggestion the author gives out to aspiring writers.
A great believer in psycho-analysing the characters before writing them, the author puts in front these vital questions before writing. Who are they deep down? What makes them tick? Why do they do what they do?
So once you’re clear about that in your
head, you can plunge into the story and you’ll usually find that the narrative will just flow.Then there’s something, he learned the hard way, which is the importance of pacing yourself.
Writing a book is like running a
marathon, there’s no way you can sprint through all of it.
So learn to take your time and enjoy the journey. And don’t get bothered if you find nothing to say one day. Instead of trying to move the story forward, take some time to
think about each character’s personality. If he or she had a sun sign, what would it be? What’s his/her favourite colour, or favourite food? Even if you never use any of that stuff in the book, it still helps you to flesh out the
Also, don’t get hung up on writing the perfect line. If it’s not coming right away, write an approximation of what you want to say and move on. If a better line comes to you later, you can always go back and change it.
Geeta: Your advice to budding writers, especially those who want to write about mythology.
Vikas: As far as mythology is concerned, try to read as much on the subject that you plan to write about as possible. Look carefully not just at the stuff that’s written, but at what may have been left unsaid. And then, start trying to live inside the heads of the characters. Understand why they behaved the way they did in that period. Would they still behave exactly the same way if they were living today? If not, why not? Sometimes, that juxtaposition can help you see the character in a whole different light.
One question that you’ll have to ask yourself is, should I try to just reinterpret the events already described in our myths, or should I completely reinvent the story? I felt more comfortable just reinterpreting the story, but I think the other approach is perfectly valid
too, as long as you have a coherent philosophy holding it together.
Geeta: Tell us about your journey from an army kid to an author, the ups and downs you faced. And how did you finally embark upon this journey.
Vikas: I picked up the reading habit principally because we moved around a fair bit when I was a child. I didn’t make too many friends as a kid because we never stayed too long in one place, but I didn’t mind because I had wonderful companions in fictional characters. Even today, I have no problems eating alone in a place with just a book for company, though I do get curious looks!
Anyway, I studied history in St Stephens, then did a masters in marketing management, but quickly figured out that I wasn’t meant be a manager. So I drifted into journalism, principally because I thought it would give me a great excuse to read and write all day. I was working with Jug Suraiya on the Edit Page of The Times of India when he told me that he was putting together a brief, breezy history of knowledge with Derek O’ Brien, and asked me if I’d be interested in co-authoring it. It sounded fascinating, so I happily agreed. It finally came out as a book called ‘The Know of Things’, which I remain very proud of. By then, I’d been bitten by the writing bug, so a few years later I came out with a cricketing thriller called The Big Fix, followed by Bhima: The Man In The Shadow.
Geeta: What are the challenges you faced while penning ‘Bhima’ ?
Vikas: Well, I have a job with The Times of India that keeps me pretty busy, so finding the time to first do the research and then write the book was pretty challenging. I basically managed by not sleeping more than three hours a night for weeks on end — which is not something I’d recommend to anyone — and having gallons of coffee.
Initially, I grappled with the way the characters would speak. I tried to make their language formal, bearing in mind that I was narrating an ancient epic. But it sounded contrived and stilted to me. Finally, one day I decided that the characters would anyway not have spoken English. So if I’ve already broken the language barrier, I might as well go all the way and have them speak in a modern-day style that would make sense to today’s readers. Once I settled on that, the story just flowed.
As far as publishing the book is concerned, I have to say I had no real problems. Unlike J K Rowling or Amish, I have no romantic tale of being rejected by lots of houses before finding a publisher. Though when you look at their sales, that may not be a bad career move!
Anyway, a lot of the credit for my book getting picked up fast goes to my wife, Sharvani, and my literary agency, Red Ink, who thoroughly vetted the draft and made me rewrite some portions pretty extensively before submitting it to publishers. Thereafter, the team at Westland (my publishers) has been a real delight to work with.