Writer’sBlock

I have always loved reading, I am lost without a book. My inspiration, though, lies more in the people I meet and the incredible stories they tell me. That is why I love journalism.

Simon Denyer, former Indian bureau chief for the Washington Post, captures India — from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled the country for most of its post-Independence years to anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal — in his first book Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy.

  • QDescribe your favourite writing space.

    I tend to be a nomad — wherever I lay my computer, that’s where I write. But I do need somewhere without noise or distractions. It helps to have a window to gaze out of (in search of inspiration), and enough room to pace back and forth when I need a break from sitting.
  • QDo you have a writing schedule?

    I like to exercise in the morning, and then complete all the small tasks that are hanging over my head. Then, with my brain finally awake, and no more excuses to procrastinate, I will start reading through and revising what I wrote the previous day. The serious business of writing often takes place in the late afternoon or evening, or even the early hours of the morning. Rogue Elephant was written relatively quickly — I took three months’ leave from my job at the Washington Post in an attempt to do the bulk of the work. During this period, I tried to complete at least one chapter each week. Typically, I would start by spending a few days reviewing and organising all the material I had collected, then spend two or three days writing intensively, followed by a final day of reviewing and revising that week’s chapter.
  • QEver struggled with writer’s block?

    Often, but not for long, I usually find that if I am struggling with something, a good night’s sleep is the best solution. Let my unconscious mind work on the problem — it is usually better than my conscious mind.
  • QWhat inspires you to write? Do you have a secret trick, or a book/author that helps?

    I have always loved reading, I am lost without a book. My inspiration, though, lies more in the people I meet and the incredible stores they tell me. That is why I love journalism, and why I have so many inspiring memories from India.
  • QCoffee/tea/cigarettes — numbers please — while you are writing?

    I don’t smoke and hardly drink coffee. My vice is tea, and lots of it. Large cups every couple of hours, interspersed with cranberry juice and soda, fruit and snacks.
  • QWhich books are you reading at present?

    The Return of a King by William Dalrymple. I just finished The Case of the Love Commandos (the latest in the Vish Puri detective series) by Tarquin Hall. But I have also read an awful lot of books about China in the past year, after having moved there last July with the Washington Post.
  • QWho are your favourite authors?

    I can’t rank authors like that. There too many books I have loved, too many authors I admire, to put some above others. But, after a quick scan of my bookcase, in no particular order, and just for the sake of example, these are a few people who have written great fiction: Adam Thorpe, Annie Proulx, John Steinbeck, Julian Rathbone, Jeanette Winterson, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jonathan Coe. I’d probably give you a very different list next week, and by tomorrow I will be regretting not having included several of my favourite books. I also read a lot of non-fiction, often about parts of the world where I have lived and worked. Some of my favourites are those that really bring history alive, like The Conquest of the Incas, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, or The Scramble for Africa. Then there are more recent works by journalists like My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd (about war in the Balkans) or Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy (about North Korea).
  • QWhich book/author should be banned on grounds of bad taste?

    None. I’m not in favour of banning books. Just not buying them or not finishing them if they aren’t any good.
  • QWhich is the most under-rated book?

    I am not sure about that. But let me mention a couple of books that I love, both works of historical fiction, Ulverton by Adam Thorpe and The Last English King by Julian Rathbone.
  • QWhich are your favourite children’s books?

    My favourite children's book is one that I read with my daughter recently called Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I’d recommend it for adults too. When I was young, I remember being captivated by the Narnia books, and by Tolkien.

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