Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Authors Tom Alter and Nury Vittachi on writing

I recently had the pleasure of interacting with two fascinating novelists, Nury Vittachi of Hong Kong, and Tom Alter, who despite his blond hair and emphatically 'western' appearance, is "100% Indian."

Hong Kong’s best-selling English language author Nury Vittachi has an amazing range of over 90,000 fiction and non-fiction books in print. He is best known for his humorous crime novels about the Feng Shui Detective. This versatile author writes for children as well as for adults, and can simultaneously elicit laughter and provoke deep thinking.

Tom Alter was born in Mussorie, India, to American missionary parents. After acting in over 250 Indian films by eminent filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khiladi) and Ismail Merchant, and starring in 50 TV serials and numerous stage productions, Tom Alter directed his artistic talents toward writing novels. A sportsman adept at playing cricket, basketball, tennis and badminton, writing on sports related themes was a natural choice.
His latest novel, The Longest Race, revolves around a brilliant young marathon runner. The book, Alter says, “is an allegory about anyone who wants to have a challenge in life.” The theme is of universal relevance, and not a fairy tale with a winner. "For me it is much more than a story about sports,” he says. “Bahadur is a hero of today's India, not only in the field of sports.”

Where do they find inspiration and ideas for their stories? Nury Vittachi says, "The world is a funny place. I don’t have to invent humour – mostly I just watch it and write down what I see.”

Tom Alter also finds ideas from the familiar world around him. “I grew up in Rajpur, where Bahadur’s story is set,” Alter says. “As kids, we freely played with the children of malis (gardeners) and chowkidars (watchmen). I could definitely identify with them.”

These two authors shared interesting insights about their unique approaches to the craft of writing. Alter says, "I rarely share what I write with anyone -- am too possessive about it -- am hopeless at taking advice." Bahadur's story is one that Alter lived with for many years before writing it down. Naturally, he got it "around 70-80% right in the first draft." Subsequent revisions did not result in any major changes in the plot or characters.

Vittachi's writing is amazingly varied. Does it require a different mindset, different type of artistic discipline, to write books like the NORTH WIND about journalists under siege, and then humorous essays and detective stories? How does he handle this switch in styles and themes?

Nury Vittachi says; "I’m a big mouth! I write almost as fast as I talk – up to 5000 words a day. Can you imagine putting up with someone like me for days or years on end? My wife is a saint."

He shares an interesting anecdote about his novel, Asian Values. "That book was fun to do. When I wrote the first draft, I showed it to my writer friend Xu Xi who told me that it didn’t capture the emotions that two strangers clamped together would feel. So I actually arranged to be clamped to a stranger for 24 hours to get a better understanding of how it would feel. It was an unforgettable experience (the unfortunate victim to whom I was clamped was a young female jazz singer). Then I re-wrote the book."


Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) said...

Fascinating post, Monideepa. I love the sound of that Feng Shui detective for some light reading - I'm definitely going to look out for Nury Vittachi.

monideepa sahu said...

Hi Vanilla, thanks for dropping by. Making people laugh is one of the toughest jobs in this strife ridden world. Light reading is refreshing, especially when thought provoking bits are splipped in unobtrusively.