Amit Varma, one of India’s most popular bloggers, once wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal, worked on a cricket website and also dabbled in advertising. Now, he's turning his writing skills to books.
Varma's debut novel My Friend Sancho, which was published in India this month, tells about the unlikely friendship between a wise-cracking young crime reporter and the daughter of a man who has been mistakenly killed by police. The novel was long-listed for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize.
Varma, who won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007 is currently working on his second novel. He spoke to Reuters about books and blogging (www.indiauncut.com).
Q: You call yourself a writer who blogged along the way. Did the blogging help with the writing?
A: "Blogging and writing a novel are two entirely different disciplines. However, when you write every day, it does make you a better writer. In the 19th century, novelists would sometimes keep a daily diary to sharpen their writing skills. I blogged every day, and for the first couple of years of my blogging, I wrote about five posts a day on average.
"All that writing made me a crisper writer. Online readers are impatient, and have many options for their time. If you're self-indulgent or use 10 words where five will do, you'll find it hard to build a readership. Blogging -- the sheer practice of writing -- certainly made me a better writer in terms of craft and discipline."
Q: How do you approach your writing?
A: "Writing a novel requires discipline. I'm not a morning person, so I chose to work all night and sleep during the day. There were less distractions that way, and I got more work done that way."
Q: You have said writing is a lonely, insecure process. How do you cope?
A: "Well, I enjoy the actual process of writing immensely, so that is its own gratification. And yes, it can get lonely, but that's one of the tradeoffs one accepts as part of being a writer. I am my own master, I don't have to go by deadlines set by other people, I sleep and eat when I want, I don't have to commute, and, most importantly, I'm doing what I love. Whenever I feel down, I remind myself of all these marvellous privileges."
Q: As one of India’s most well-known bloggers, do you think it will take time for you to be perceived as a writer who also blogs?
A: "Hopefully, with time, my books will speak for themselves. I'm convinced that 10 years from now, with at least 10 more books out there, I'll be regarded as a novelist who also happened to once have a blog. I love India Uncut, but I hope it ends up as just a footnote in my career."
Q: In My Friend Sancho, you’ve written about a lot of things that you must be familiar with: Mumbai, journalism, even your blog. Is there comfort in familiarity?
A: "Writers are often advised 'write about what you know.' I've lived in Mumbai for 14 years, and love this city and know it pretty well. It made sense to base the novel here. That said, while the settings in My Friend Sancho are familiar ones, the book itself isn't remotely autobiographical, and my main character, Abir Ganguly, isn't like me at all. As this is a first novel in the first person, some readers assume otherwise."
Q: You had said this book could be the first of a series. How do you see yourself taking this story forward?
A: "My second book is not an Abir Ganguly book, but I have a vague plan for a series of Abir Ganguly novels. India is going through a fascinating period of change, and there are lots of stories out there for a novelist to explore. Doing it through the eyes of a journalist whose job it actually is to report on these stories is a device that attracts me. The second Abir book, whenever I get down to writing it, will be a murder mystery."
Q: What’s next?
A: I'm working on my second novel now, about an Indian civil services officer in his late 40s in a city in central India. In one sentence, it's a novel about how a 1980s man comes to terms with 21st century India.