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A journey Of writing short stories, novels and publishing

Published : Aug 12, 2015, 5:55 am IST
Updated : Aug 12, 2015, 5:55 am IST

A tete-e-tete with Anuradha Roy, longlisted for the Booker Prize. After writing fiction as a child, she moved on to editing and publishing and in 2000 she co-founded academic imprint Permanent Black.

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A tete-e-tete with Anuradha Roy, longlisted for the Booker Prize. After writing fiction as a child, she moved on to editing and publishing and in 2000 she co-founded academic imprint Permanent Black.

Anuradha Roy, whose third novel Sleeping on Jupiter has been longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize this year, has been writing ever since she can remember. After writing fiction — mostly short stories — as a child, she moved on to editing and publishing as a career and in 2000 co-founded academic imprint Permanent Black, with husband Rukun Advani.

She made a return to writing fiction with her first novel An Atlas of Impossible Longing in 2008. Since then she has written two more books, including The Folded Earth in 2011, at an interval of about three years or so. Her varied experience, Roy says, helped her as a writer. “The pieces published in newspapers when I was a child were all fiction — they were short stories and stories are all I wrote as a child. The nonfiction and editorial work came later, when I needed to earn a living. I'm sure varied experiences help: they certainly help me understand the publishing process and help me stick to deadlines.”

Roy, who was born in Kolkata in 1967, had a peripatetic childhood, moving with her geologist father's job in small towns across India and in an earlier interview with this newspaper had revealed how her family had initially even lived in tents.

Books, writing, music and art were an integral part of her childhood, recalls Roy. “My mother read a lot of fiction so my brother and I did too, as well, whatever we found. I have vivid memories of British Council children's libraries in all the towns we lived in. My father liked to read aloud to us: poetry and the nonsense verse of Sukumar Ray and he listened to Hindustani classical music — I remember going to many concerts with my parents. My mother paints, and that meant a lot of art books lying around the house,” says Roy, who makes pottery and paints in her free time.

Roy is a huge fan of Nordic noir “Such tiny populations in Scandinavia and so many brilliant crime writers — yes, Nordic crime fiction is still stacked all over the house, both my husband and I read a lot of it.”

Interestingly, her publisher MacLehose Press specialises in translated literature and crime fiction. Like many voracious readers, Roy admits she reads several books at a time and says Japanese Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain is one of the few books along with Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Pather Panchali that she reads again and again. Although she co-publishes academic non-fiction, Roy preference leans towards narrative non-fiction “like the books of Ryszard Kapucinski, or books on landscape or travel like Mountains of the Mind, by Robert Macfarlane, or The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen.”

Roy and her husband divide time between cantonment town Ranikhet and New Delhi. “I can write anywhere if I have to, but work is much more concentrated in Ranikhet: there are few social demands and there are acres of hillsides to walk on. I find it easier to think clearly when I can go for long walks and that is impossible in Delhi.”

On whether her work as an editor and publisher influences or even interferes in her writing process, Roy says, “I wanted to be an editor because I was interested in language and fine writing, so there is no conflict at all.” While writing, Roy says, she sets no daily limits on her output. “If it’s going well it is impossible to stop, if it’s going badly it is no use fighting, sometimes you just write off the day. When I am writing I read a lot of non-fiction, poetry and crime fiction. I tend not to read serious fiction because I don't want to be overpowered - emotionally or stylistically - by a different narrative,” she said.

Despite a writing style that is very poetic and concise, Roy doesn’t feel she is influenced by poetry. “I’ve always read a fair amount of poetry, almost all in English, but I wouldn't say I have any conscious poetic influences. While writing Sleeping on Jupiter I was reading a lot of Bhakti poetry in translation.”

Interestingly, Sleeping on Jupiter has a unique dedication — to her dog Biscoot, husband Rukun and editor-publisher Christopher MacLehose. Roy says her husband is the first person to read the first full draft of her novels. “When I finish a full first draft I show it to Rukun, who publishes non-fiction but has an excellent ear for fiction and is an accurate drivel-detector.”

Praising her publisher MacLehose as a brilliant editor, Roy says she has learnt a lot through the editorial process that her novels go through. “He is magnificent. To work with him on a book is a bit like going through several crash courses in writing better.