I have been reading Ayan’s stories for a long time and recently met him personally and talked a lot about things. He has published his debut novel last month, about which we talked a lot before publication. Now that the book has been launched, I asked him to give me an interview for my blog. He happily agreed, and here is the result of that.
(This interview is arranged by e-mail and edited after getting all the transcripts.)
How are you doing?
I’m doing just fine! Provided being a combination of relieved (about the book being available), tensed (about the readers reactions), excited (about the endorsements that have come in so far), hopeful (that the bestseller ranks will keep getting better… the book has already entered the Top 30s on Amazon once), and thankful (to all my friends, family and fans who have come forward in support of this book), can be called fine!
That’s so great! Congratulations! Can’t wait to talk about the book. But first, the usual: tell us something about you?
I am a Kolkata-based IT professional (I work in IBM) and author (I have been published 11 times so far). I have been lucky enough so far in having received several accolades for my work. These include the honour of my book being a record holder in the Limca Book of Records, the title of ‘Distinguished Toastmaster’ from Toastmasters International for demonstrating outstanding communication and leadership skills, and a ‘Brandon Hall Award’, considered as the ‘Academy Awards’ by Learning, Talent and Business Executives worldwide. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from VTU, Karnataka and have completed a course in Education Technology from SDSU, California.
I am passionate about public speaking. I also love reading, creative writing, watching and reviewing films, listening to music, and binge watching my favourite TV shows. Confessions on an Island is my solo debut novel.
When did you decide to start writing?
I wanted to take up writing as a career after watching M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. There were a few things in the film that made me introspect and the result was a decision to do whatever it takes to become an author. And thus maybe find a way to connect the dots in my life so far. Because I believe that there are no coincidences in life, much like the movie proclaimed. I also believe that this is my destiny and I will do whatever it takes to shape it to the best that I can.
What is your first story? You inspiration for it.
My first story was published in the Amazon bestseller 21 Tales to Tell. It was the result of a nationwide short story contest where I emerged as the 2nd best author, combining critics’ scores and readers’ votes. The story is titled ‘A choice between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’. It’s inspired by a trip my mother and I took to Bangladesh and dedicated to my grandmother Attama.
The first story I read by you is ‘The Diary of Joseph Varughese’, published in Crossed and Knotted by Readomania. It has a very supernatural feel to it, though not shown in an obvious way. Do you like to introduce such supernatural-ism in your other works?
Of course! I think magic realism and supernatural elements complement a good plot perfectly. I would definitely like to include them in more obvious ways in the future whenever presented with an opportunity for the same.
Your recently released novel has an intriguing title, ‘Confessions on an Island’. How was your experience on deciding the title for your debut book? I mean, how exactly did you come up with the title?
The naming of the novel was a combined effort by not just me, but also the publisher, beta readers, editor and my core family members. It was a daunting experience at first but once the name was finalized, everything kind of fell into place. And beautifully too!
Confess something to us, how you met your love for the first time?
It’s funny really, but I met my wife Ankana when she came over to get 21 Tales to Tell autographed by me. She was a friend of a colleague and we had chatted for the first time on my mom’s birthday. And here’s the biggest confession – I proposed to her by writing a story that later went on to a feature in a bestselling book. I wrote the story first, and her acceptance made the ending come true later!
Wow! That’s nice. Well, I think I’ll leave it to the readers to guess the story. I read another story by you published in Chronicles of Urban Nomads. It was a confession of an inanimate object, a Benarasi saree. It was a sweet story. I see your novel is about confessions too. So, is the whole novel a confession?
Before I reveal anything about that, let me share a bit about my novel. Confessions on an Island is about a thrilling game akin to Russian Matryoshka Dolls that begins the moment a bestselling author trapped on an island attempts to narrate tales emerging from the stories that her intriguing abductor tells her, as a precondition for her freedom. The three narrators of the novel are a mysterious island, a bestselling author and an intriguing abductor. While the author and island narrate the odd chapters, the even chapters are standalone stories that the author and abductor share with each other. And everything that they say or do stems from or leads into a confession. In fact, several confessions. Some of them come back to haunt from the past, some shape the present, while a few are left to be explored in the future. So yes, the novel is about confessions!
Your prose has both clarity and beauty. Tell us about the authors who influenced your writing.
I have been influenced by several authors, sometimes maybe even unconsciously. But the ones who have had the most impact are JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Agatha Christie, Arundhati Roy, Khaled Hosseini, Satyajit Ray, Jhumpa Lahiri and Paulo Coelho.
What is the book that you read again and again? Why?
While growing up, I used to love reading the Barney Mystery series by Enid Blyton. Especially because they were a gift from my mom on my Birthday. Every read made me fall in love with the books even more – and I also play-imagined being them (the characters) during vacations! Apart from that, there was something about Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte that made it impossible to read it just once. And hence I did now stop myself from reading it multiple times, and no, it had nothing to do with the book being a part of my school curricula. As an adult however, mostly due to time constrains, I haven’t managed to read a lot of books multiple times. But the few times I have, it has been a wonderful exercise in rediscovery!
A case in point being the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I read the first three books in quick succession and then while waiting for the fourth to release, re-read them once again. The experience made me realize there was so much more to the books, and I decided to read them again and again before every new release in the series. And I loved that! Likewise for The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Every read inspired me somehow. Hence whenever I feel a bit down, I simply re-read the book!
I hear this book is a part of a long series. Is it true?
I would like to believe that it is! It all depends of course on the success of the first one. Let’s see how it goes!
Tell us about the series.
I have a trilogy in mind – Trapped. Confessions on an Island is the first part of the Trapped trilogy. Some of the characters from the series will be playing major roles in a series of YA/Fantasy novels I have in mind for the future as well. More to be revealed in the future!
You have a full-time corporate job. How do you manage to pursue such an ambitious project?
We have just one life, and I intend to make the most of it! I try and utilize whatever free time I have to write. This makes me write late nights, early morning, and over the weekends. I have to sacrifice socializing opportunities, my favourite TV shows, and sometimes reading too, which is the worst! But I do try and take breaks and do all of that too! My philosophy is simple really – do only one thing at a time. When I am at work, I do nothing else. When I am writing, none can make me do anything else. And I thank God for giving a wonderfully supporting wife and my biggest strength – my family. They ensure whatever they can, and at all times, to ensure I am able to balance my corporate and creative jobs. I wouldn’t be here without them!
What do you think about the role of anthologies in Indian publishing industry? What do you think about the TOI Write India controversy?
I feel multi-author anthologies that are thematically connected, like Defiant Dreams by Readomania for example, will continue to do well. Anthologies, at least for me, was a wonderful way of getting to know what works, and I can only hope the publishing industry realizes that it is a terrific tool to recognize potential within authors. As a business model however, single author anthologies by prominent authors can be a better bet. Take An Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri for instance. Both have done wonderfully, so I don’t see any reason behind an Indian anthology not working, provided its put together with some careful planning!
To answer the second part of your question, I feel the TOI Write India controversy could have been easily avoided had people truly realized the power of the pen. But having said that, all’s well that ends well! And I respect Vinita Dawria Nangina for publicly posting a clarification, and for authors like Ravi Subramanian for taking the stand that they did.
Thanks for mentioning Defiant Dreams (winks). What are your advice to aspiring writers?
Read, write, edit and repeat. The best way to learn is by reading. The best way to practice is by writing, and finally, the best way to analyse is by editing. Once you learn how to continue the process, you will emerge as the kind of writer you want to be. All the best!
Thank you for letting me interview you. Any parting words to our readers?
Confessions on an Island is not just a thriller, but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. I can guarantee you this – you will not regret your decision of giving it a shot!
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