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Booked by words

chandigarh Updated: Jan 23, 2013 12:11 IST
Usmeet Kaur
Usmeet Kaur
Hindustan Times
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Andrew Lycett may be attributed with knowing about legendary writers such as Rudyard Kipling, Ian Fleming, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dylan Thomas in depth. This is because the 64-year-old is a renowned biographer who has penned books on the lives of these men. At the British Council Library in Sector 9 on Tuesday, where he chaired an interactive session moderated by Nirupama Dutt, Andrew talked about his life as a biographer.

Invited to participate in the Jaipur Literature Festival, which will be held in Jaipur from January 24-28, UK-based Andrew says it will be his first time at the event. A journalist-turned-biographer, Andrew had previously worked as a foreign correspondent for The Times, reporting from countries such as Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The Oxford graduate also worked for The Illustrated Weekly of India in Mumbai in the ’70s. Since many of Andrew’s subjects were former journalists, including Kipling and Fleming, we wonder if the selection was deliberate. “It is true that I have been more interested in writing on journalists and authors who wrote crime fiction, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes). Now, Sherlock was not a perfect character, but he was endearing. He had flaws in him and perhaps that’s why people still want to know about him,” he says.

His work as a biographer, says Andrew, is to look for a new angle about the person he is writing about and to not include what is already known about him or her. “I am not one of those biographers who infuse fictional episodes in their biographies. My work is based on detailed research, which includes reading the subject’s handwritten letters. I write what is true, what can be called an uncensored copy with a balanced approach,” he adds.

Andrew, who has also co-authored a biography on late Muammar Gaddafi, titled Gaddafi and the Libyan Revolution (1987), has based his latest project on Victorian novelist Wiki Collins, to be out later this year. “Collins wasn’t a very popular author, but he is amongst those writers who came out with crime or detective writing in the early 19th century,” remarks he.

The genre of biographies, believes Andrew, is akin to a cross between a novel and a historical. In the present age, where technology largely determines a work’s popularity, the author feels that biographies have evolved for the better. “Earlier, biographies were more about promoting characters, they now incorporate peoples’ lives in an honest and balanced way.”

When asked for his take on India, Andrew flummoxed everyone present with his question, “Do you have twitter in India?” adding in quick succession that it is a country that generates great wealth.