Hello Shatrujeet, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to BUZZ Magazine. 😀
First things first: how did you take up writing?
A more correct way of putting it would be that writing took me up. It’s like this. Growing up, I wanted to be many things, but never a writer. Even in college, the possibility that I could end up writing for a living never occurred to me, even though I used to participate in and win essay competitions quite regularly. Then a good friend and senior of mine in college pointed out that I could probably write copy for ads, and that’s when I first considered writing as some sort of career choice. But it is only much later, when I joined a business magazine as sub-editor, that writing really became a part of what I did every day. I still remember how I was out of a job and desperate, so I applied to the magazine on a whim. They called me and gave me a test and quickly hired me. Back then, I thought I was so good they didn’t want to lose me. Now I realize they were probably desperate too, and decided to hire the first guy who walked in through the door. Anyway, that’s how writing and me found each other.
What was your very first attempt at creative writing?
Umm… let me see. I remember creating a two-page magazine out of notebook sheets when I was ten or eleven. I had named it Corvus Chronicle and it had the story of two crows, but the details elude me. Then, for the next 17 years, nothing, unless you count some undercooked poetry. Then came my first real stab at creative writing, a horror short story that I wrote almost 19 years ago. I loved the story, but I found the ending thoroughly unsatisfactory. In fact, after all these years, I still think the story’s plot is great, but I still haven’t found a good way to end it. So it sits in my mind’s attic like unfinished business. Someday I hope to find a way to complete it. It would give me joy and closure.
Where did you get the ideas for your stories?
Where does one get one’s ideas from? A million-dollar question, and anyone who figures out the answer and patents the formula will be a very rich man, indeed. The truth is no one knows where ideas come from. But I do believe that all these ideas we get – ideas for stories, inventions, theories, philosophies, everything – are already floating in the ether around us. We don’t create any of these ideas. Instead, these ideas come to us, and if we are receptive enough, they suggest themselves to us as thoughts and possibilities. If we do something about them, great. Otherwise, if they see us sitting on our asses doing nothing, they leave us and move to someone else who is more receptive, more excited, more inclined to do something with the idea. We are all just conduits for these primordial ideas to manifest themselves. We all have an equal opportunity at harnessing these ideas, but most of us squander those opportunities. Those who don’t, reap the benefits of being seen as ‘ideators’ and ‘inventors’ and ‘creators’. Where, I think, creative people are at an advantage is that they keep their antennae tuned to these ideas floating over our heads, and they see linkages between ideas that most other people are prone to miss. The creative mind has the ability to accommodate ideas and make them compatible to one another. Engineering order out of chaos is the creative person’s greatest talent.
To answer your question more specifically, I guess the idea for The Karachi Deception came to me from a question that nags many Indians: why can’t the Indian government assassinate gangster Dawood Ibrahim in a covert military operation? The idea, as I have said, has occurred to many Indian. All I did was take that line of thought forward in a creative but logical direction, in the form of spy fiction.
What in particular gave you the idea for Vikramaditya Veergatha?
I have always been fascinated by Samrat Vikramaditya as a character. I really think he is India’s answer to King Arthur, and I feel bad that we have let such an iconic and legendary king slip out of our national consciousness. So when I decided to become a full-time author, I knew I would write a story on Vikramaditya and his navratnas as a band of superheroes. At the same time, I was exploring another plot around the fabled Halahala – the poison that emerged during the samudramanthan, which Shiva is supposed to have drunk to save the universe from destruction. The two ideas – Vikramaditya and Halahala – coexisted in my mind for almost 4-5 months before one day, out of the blue, it struck me that I could club the two together. In the next half an hour, I had the broad story for Vikramaditya Veergatha in place.
My agent pitched the idea – I just had a three-page concept note at that time – to four publishers, three of who got back with a lot of interest. I finally signed a three-book deal with Jaico, but I must add that the series now has four books and not three. I think writing a series on the heroic Vikramaditya was just right because readers are loving the books so far. Older readers write in routinely, telling me the books took them back to the Vikram-Vetal stories they read in Chandamama. Younger readers, who have no such frames of reference, love the books for what they are – action-packed fantasy adventures about a human king who puts his promise made to Shiva above everything else.
And what about your debut novel, The Karachi Deception?
As I mentioned earlier, the book sprung from the question why doesn’t the Indian government assassinate Dawood Ibrahim when it appears to know so much about his whereabouts in Pakistan. I have loved spy thrillers since I was a teenager, and as my father was in the armed forces, I was familiar and comfortable with the military milieu. So I decided to write a story about a planned assassination attempt that goes horribly wrong, and where the Indian commandos who are in Pakistan to carry out the killing are betrayed and in danger of being caught by the ISI. Incidentally, the idea of an Indian deep ops mission into Pakistan has been the subject of quite a few Bollywood movies recently – D-Day, Phantom, Baby. But The Karachi Deception is older than all these movies.
Do you believe that authors need to be off and far away from the world in order to write their stories?
That’s part of the mythos that authors like to indulge themselves with. ‘To write, I need to be in a scenic retreat, cutoff from the cares of the world.’ ‘I need two gallons of coffee to get the creative juices going.’ ‘I need to post compulsively on Facebook before I can get a decent sentence down on my word processor.’ In reality, all an author needs in order to write stories is discipline and focus. Everything is in the mind. I have written three books seated in my bedroom, which overlooks the side wall of another building. I have written those books in the midst of taking courier deliveries, washing vegetables for lunch, fending off telemarketers and shooing pesky pigeons off the window sill. To write, all you have to do is sit and write. Where you sit doesn’t really matter.
Do you have particular schedules or writing routines when it comes to your work?
I like to start as early in the day as possible. The earlier I start, the more I achieve in terms of writing. I like to work through the day, with breaks for lunch and tea. If it is an average day, I wrap by six or seven. On good days, I write till past nine or even ten. I don’t write on Saturdays and Sundays, and holidays. Writing is work, so I treat it like work, not as a hobby.
A lot of authors are taking the indie publishing route. What’s your view about it?
I don’t really have enough of an educated opinion on indie publishing in India to comment upon it in with any authority. But what I do find is that some authors known to me who have taken the indie route have got in touch with me at different times to make enquiries about my publishers. They want to know if my experience with them has been good, what kind of royalties are typically on offer, how good is their distribution etc. This tells me that the indie route isn’t necessarily giving them what they were expecting when they went in. But that could apply equally to authors who went with traditional publishers as well. I myself have never really explored the indie route, probably because I am happy enough with my publishers, Rupa and Jaico. However, more than just being happy, what works for me is that the traditional publishers bring distribution clout to the table. I know my books are available for sale in many bookstores across the country, and as Ashwin Sanghi says, jo dikta hai wo bikta hai. For the time being, this is a big criterion for sticking with traditional publishers.
If your story got turned into a movie, who would you like to see star as leads?
The only people I can see playing Major Imtiaz Ahmed in The Karachi Deception are Aamir Khan or Farhan Akhtar. And Samrat Vikramaditya? No clue. Hugh Jackman in a Hollywood version, maybe?
What are your future plans for writing? Can you give out a teaser or two for your readers?
My next two books are going to be Book 3 and Book 4 of the Vikramaditya Veergatha series. What can I give out to readers about those two books? Well, I can assure them that there is a big shock / twist in store in Book 3, and this will strike at the very heart of the unity of the guardians of the Halahala. After the Vikramaditya books, I have an option of doing another epic fantasy series based on mythology, or writing a historical fiction on an unsung hero from Indian history. And just this morning, an idea for another intense spy thriller has come to me. So which will it be? Let’s see.
Do you have any particular authors who inspire your work?
While writing The Karachi Deception, I was guided by the tone and style of Frederick Forsyth and John le Carré. I can only hope I came within the same square mile of their artistic caliber. For the Vikramaditya books, my influences range from Jack Vance to Tolkien to China Miéville to RR Martin, but the core influence is the legends of King Arthur. I also realize that our own myths and legends, most particularly the Mahabharata, is a guiding force for the series.
What would your advice be to aspiring authors?
#The more you write, the more you unlock, the easier the thoughts and words flow. It’s as simple as that.
# Some days, the muse will not show up. Those days, specifically, the writer must show up.
# Choose the story you want to write wisely as it’s something that you will be stuck with for the next one-to-three years. The story should be something that sustains your interest and your passion over long periods of time.
What would be an ideal gift for you?
The love and loyalty of my readers.
You have been making quite the splash in the Literature Festivals both as a moderator and a panelist. Which role do you prefer playing more?
Both are nice, but I think being a moderator is a little more fun as it allows you to set the agenda for the session, and gives you the chance to interact better with the audience. Perhaps it’s only because I was a journalist, but it is a more liberating role – I can play the court jester to my fill.
Which other cities in India are you planning to go to next for bookish events?
I am going to Pune in a couple of weeks. I have been planning Bengaluru, but I still haven’t found the time. Let me see what my writing schedule permits.
Is Kolkata on the list?
I have been wanting to come to Kolkata forever, so I was hoping the Kolkata Literary Festival organizers would invite me this year. Sadly, they didn’t. I assume I still don’t meet their requirements as an author. Never mind. Hopefully by next year I would have done enough to merit some attention. But yes, I must come to Kolkata.
And finally, if there was a book you could turn into a movie, what would it be and why?
It’s not a book but a graphic novel series that I have in mind. It’s called Fables, by Bill Willingham. And it won’t be as a movie, but as a season-based series on HBO or Netflix or Amazon. Fables is one of the most innovative ideas I have encountered. Its premise: all the characters from old, well-known fables like Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast et cetera are real, and have been driven out of their land by an evil force. These characters come to earth, and, unknown to most New Yorkers, they now reside outside New York city, where they have a parallel society and run a parallel government. The story is packed with action, suspense and intrigue, with characters like Red Rose being the city mayor and the Big Bad Wolf its sheriff. A very enjoyable series that I would love to see on screen someday.
Thank you once again for talking to BUZZ Magazine. We wish you all the best with your current work and future works. 🙂
Shatrujeet Nath: Door-to-door salesman, copywriter, business journalist & assistant editor at The Economic Times; Shatrujeet Nath was all this before he took to writing fiction full-time. He debuted with the Indo-Pak spy thriller The Karachi Deception in 2013, followed by The Guardians of the Halahala and The Conspiracy at Meru, the first two books in the Vikramaditya Veergatha series. At present, he is writing volume three of the series, and is also scripting an ambitious Bollywood movie project for a large, Mumbai-based production house. Shatrujeet lives in Mumbai, but spends much of his time in the fantasy worlds of his stories. He can also be found at Facebook and @shatrujeet
About The Karachi Deception: The Karachi Deception is about a deep ops mission where a select group of Indian commandos go into Pakistan to assassinate India’s most wanted underworld don. Set in the world of espionage and covert operations, the book is a gritty geo-political thriller that blows the cover on state secrets.
About the Vikramaditya Veergatha series: The Vikramaditya Veergatha series is a set of epic fantasy novels comprising four books. The first two books of the series are The Guardians of the Halahala and The Conspiracy at Meru. The series marries the samudramanthan episode in Hindu mythology with the legend of the brave and noble Samrat Vikramaditya to create an action-packed set of mytho-fiction books.