British Indian teenage twins Jyoti and Suresh Guptara completed the first draft of their fantasy novel "Conspiracy of Calaspia" at the age of 11. Six years and nine revisions later, it has grown from a simple children's tale to a multi-layered novel of 180,000 words.
According to Jyoti, the idea began by telling each other stories and the final work of fiction is a true joint effort by the siblings.
"We had been telling each other stories, it developed from that. We plotted the stories, drew up the world and fleshed out its characters together. I doubt there is a line that hasn't been fiddled with by the two of us," Jyoti told IANS in an interview.
"Conspiracy Of Calaspia", which was released by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit here Dec 19, has earned the reputation of being the English-language bestseller in Switzerland and on book portals Bagchee and Amazon.
The novel was released in Britain and Switzerland Nov 21 - a day before the Guptara twins turned 18. The Italian language rights of "Conspiracy" were recently sold by its Indian publisher Tara Press for 60,000 euros (approx $78,990).
Suresh and Jyoti's book, which is part of their Insanity series, too takes the reader into an imaginary land with make-believe characters.
"Like most fantasies, we try to transport the reader to a new yet believable world - Calaspia - to witness the life and struggles of her people," explains Jyoti.
The twins' father Prabhu Guptara, an acclaimed literary figure in Europe, was born in India and was a professor at the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong. The twins live in Switzerland.
Jyoti also became the youngest known writer to have an article published in The Wall Street Journal at the age of 15.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Why did you decide to become a writer at such an early age? Was it your father's influence?
Dad was certainly pleased that we were serious about writing. He encouraged us to pursue our passion and told us that if we worked hard and were lucky, "Conspiracy of Calaspia", might one day be published. Some people even earned a living doing this! And I too wanted to.
We had been telling each other stories, it developed from that. There came a time when we had to write them down. We plotted the stories, drew up the world and fleshed out its characters together. We took turns and there was no order.
Sometimes we'd both sit at the computer, deliberating and eventually compromising the wording. Since the whole book has been rewritten so many times and edited by both of us, I doubt there is a line that hasn't been fiddled with by the two of us.
Q. Both of you have been active in sports and music like other teenagers. How did you manage the time to write the 180,000-word novel?
At the age of 11, we spent every free minute on the first draft. We had more free time back then anyway. Then there were times when we were not as eager since we were just expanding on existing material. We worked in bursts whenever inspired. When Suresh went to boarding school, and school required more time, we had to work mainly over weekends and in our holidays. Now I am a full-time writer.
It's true these 180,000 words are the result of six years, but we're not as lazy as that sounds. For one thing we rewrote the saga around 10 times. At one stage, we deleted 40,000 words of a superfluous subplot.
Q. Your book has been described as "most enjoyable" by author Richard Adams. What sets your work apart from other titles in fantasy fiction?
The Insanity Saga is primarily about a cast of heroes pitted against the powers of Insanity - a corrupting force both internal and cosmically external. We play a lot with appearance and reality, surface and substance. A "good" character often ends up having to fight himself by turning into his own bane.
Like most fantasies we try to transport the reader to a new yet believable world - Calaspia - to witness the life and struggles of her people. Here we encounter various plots: deception and betrayal, friendship and trust, enmity and suspicion, mystery and murder.
In our day and age, we must first of all examine what is good and what is evil?
In the Insanity series, we hope to portray both sides and let readers come to their own conclusions. So although an antagonist's actions are sometimes most blatantly wrong, we try to examine his side of the story.
Unlike most fantasies, the clash between the creatures of light and dark is not the focus. Instead we explore the light and the dark within each character, and how this affects the rest of the world.
Q. How do you think the book will fare in India?
We are no experts in this field - or not yet - so it is difficult to say. India is a growing market - there is some demand for English books of this genre. "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" are well known. We are confident "Calaspia" can compete with any fantasy that originated in the West in terms of quality. Moreover, we hope Indians will identify more with us than with fantasy writers of the West.
Q. What does the future hold for you?
I see myself as a full-time writer who has just started a career. Suresh plans on going to university and is still thinking through his future. So far as writing is concerned, a seven-book series feels like a lifetime commitment right now, but we do not want to become permanent residents of Calaspia. We plan to come up with other things like non-fantasy set in the present - which is insane enough anyway, isn't it?