Vish Dhamija is known as India’s John Grisham, the master of legal thrillers. An exclusive interview reveals his choice of fiction writing and about his latest book – Unlawful Justice.
Legal thrillers were not as big a thing as they are now, thanks to you introducing the genre to the Indian market. Why legal thrillers?
Life rarely gives you a second chance to reverse a past regret… I always wanted to become a lawyer, even enrolled to study law, then dropped out after a year, to study management. Decades later, I realised, that the latent, unfulfilled desire still existed. But, instead of studying and practicing law I decided to write legal thrillers. I guess you can say that only the expression of my love (for law) changed.
From digital marketing to writing well-woven legal thrillers – please take us through your journey and the inspiration behind the journey.
Like I say, marketing is nothing but storytelling. Every time you come up with a new product, for example, you spin a yarn for consumers to believe that your new product is something that they’ve been waiting for all their lives, isn’t it? I’ve been in retail, in traditional marketing and, now, in the digital space, but believe me only the platforms to tell those stories have changed. Writing fiction is taking marketing to the next level.
What was the breaking point that led you to write a book such as Unlawful Justice?
There was no breaking point as such. The story idea had been around in my mind for a while. The subject, being a delicate one, I had to exercise extreme care in the initial rape scene – I didn’t want it to sound indecent, but nonetheless it had to be hard hitting enough for the reader to cringe. I realised that, only if the readers empathized with that scene, they’d be able to appreciate the ending, however unlawful. Once past that point, the rest was simple. And as a conclusion, I let the background score from Miles Davis explain Unlawful Justice through jazz… it all came together neatly (I’m told).
Research is important when it comes to legal thrillers, in order to get every nuance right. Where and how can an author start his/her research?
Of course, you need to do initial research about what is realistic and feasible, but research isn’t something you do once and keep aside. Research is something that carries on throughout the course of writing a story. I remember while writing Unlawful Justice, at one point I had to call two lawyers to check if what I had interpreted from the available text was in fact legally correct. The fact that I have friends who (when I dropped out of law) carried on and became lawyers is an asset I have that not many people might have. I guess I’m lucky in that sense. But forget legal thrillers, you cannot write any fiction without research. You need to know the truth before distorting it, isn’t it?
How can one turn a non-reader into a reader? What steps can a writer take to invade the minds of even those who do not read?
That’s a difficult one. With so many distractions – music, movies, mobiles, games – it’s impossible for any single one to win. And if that wasn’t enough, bookstores around the world are either closing down or stocking other forms of entertainment. However, I was only reading it somewhere last week that the book reading trend is gathering momentum once again. I can only hope it catches speed soon. I doubt if me or any other author can influence that. It’s more for schools and parents to inculcate reading habits in children from a young age.
You said that you only see yourself writing crime fiction. What would you suggest new authors do: diversify or stick to one genre until they carve a niche for themselves?
I said I could only see myself writing crime fiction for now. Now is the operative word. Watch this space in a few years. However, it’s quite common to write in a broad single genre simply because of the author’s interest. I read a lot of crime fiction, I watch a lot of crime series, so clearly my interest, currently, is in crime fiction. However, that’s not to say it can’t morph into something totally different in future. I don’t think authors should restrict themselves to any genre. The first step should be to put the story into words – the genre should not be their primary concern.
What is the most important thing to remember while writing?
Writing. I’m not joking. Most people, I’ve met, think of everything except writing the story. Writing isn’t difficult, but the discipline to keep at it is hard labour. My advice would be to write that story first.
What makes writing difficult and what makes it easy?
The difficulty, like I mentioned above, is in keeping yourself motivated through the process. It takes several months to finish the first draft, and that’s only the beginning. I’ve met a lot of people who wrote a few chapters and gave up – not because they couldn’t write more, but they got bored or priorities changed. The story writing, in and by itself, is a relatively easy part.
Now that we’ve read and loved Unlawful Justice – a book that’s made us think – when will we get to read your next? And what will it be about?
Next is ‘The Mogul,’ again a legal thriller. It’s a story of a business mogul who is accused of killing his ex-wife and her current husband. I won’t say anything else at this stage.
Your favourite authors
Too many to list (I read about 40-50 books per year) but besides the usual chart toppers I like Lisa Gardner, Robert Crais, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson, Jeffery Deaver, James Carol, Michael Connelly.
Your advice for aspiring authors
Read, read and read more. Write, re-write and keep writing. That’s the only way to progress. Do not be daunted by the publication process. The first step is to write a good story and perfect it to a point that a commissioning editor is left with no choice but to make you an offer.
Interviewed by : Sonali Dabade
Author(s): Vish Dhamija
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Release: May 2017
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