Indian novelist and diplomat Vikas Swarup launched his third novel The Accidental Apprentice recently in Mumbai. We chatted with him about his latest work, why he writes and the way forward for books.
Excerpts from the interview:
What inspired you to write in the first place? Would you write a book on your years as a diplomat?
Writing for me is a means to tell a story. I think one of the pleasures of writing is to see entirely fictional characters take a life of their own and then work their way into the minds of those who read the published novel. I don’t think readers will be interested in a diplomat’s real life trivia. I’d much rather entertain them with fiction!
How did The Accidental Apprentice come about?
In olden days, books like the Arthashastra talked about the attributes of a good king. These days we talk about the attributes of a successful CEO. So I thought it would be interesting to frame a coming-of-age narrative based on the trials one has to go through to become a CEO. My protagonist Sapna is an ordinary girl who is suddenly made an extraordinary offer. You could also think of it as a 21st century take on Cinderella, except she is now being offered the CEO-ship of a $10 billion company rather than Prince Charming.
You touched on some social issues in your latest...
All three of my novels are what I call ‘social thrillers’. Almost every chapter ends with a tantalising twist and the reader is forced to turn the page in search of the elusive resolution. But I also want to give the reader a glimpse into modern Indian society. Hence the reference to some of the burning issues of the day, which are woven into the story to feel natural and organic.
Do you have a system in place for writing? A time of day, a place, a favourite pair of PJs?
It is tough to be a writer when you have a full-time day job. I can only write when I have a clear horizon — meaning several hours without interruption. So I tend to write very early in the mornings and on weekends. I write very fast, actually meaning type. I love typing away at my desktop in my bedroom.
The eternal battle between the charm of reading and the thrill of e-books...your take on this?
The Gutenberg model has lasted for more than 500 years, but eventually physical books are destined to go the way of LP records, cassette tapes and VHS films. Though I love the physicality of books — their smell, feel and texture — I am resigned to the fact that eventually e-books will become the norm, because of the huge savings in inventory and environmental costs. I have already started reading e-books on my iPad.
One of the pleasures of writing is to see entirely fictional characters take a life of their own.
—Vikas Swarup, author