(Image Courtesy: Readomania)
Popular publishing house, Readomania, is hosting a Crime Writing Festival which will go on for the month of May. Throughout the month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Readomania’s thriller authors will feature in live Twitter discussions at 8 PM and answer your questions on everything ‘thrilling’.
The Readomania Crime Writing Festival will also hold a contest on the best ‘original short crime fiction’, the winner of which will receive an ebook publishing deal with their digital imprint, ReadoShots. There will also be book giveaways to the best question asked twice every week. Featured authors: Anurag Anand, Archana Sarat, Ayan Pal, Deepti Menon, Maitrayee Sanyal De, Manjiri Prabhu, Tanushree Podder, Sourabh Mukherjee, Sutapa Basu.
You can learn more about the festival here: Readomania Crime Writing Festival 2019
I am one of the blogging partners for this festival. You can read the first guest post by author Sutapa Basu here.
The second session of the #ReadomaniaCrimeWritingFestival on @TwitterBooks is by author Sourabh Mukherjee (@sourabhm_ofcl) on May 7th. Sourabh Mukherjee is the bestselling author of two psychological thriller novels The Colours of Passion (Readomania, 2017) and In the Shadows of Death (Srishti, 2015), besides being a writer of several other books in the romance and other genres. The Colours of Passion was long-listed in WordToScreen 2018 (Mumbai Academy of Moving Image MAMI).
(Image Courtesy: Author’s Twitter Account)
In this interview, Sourabh has kindly answered some of the questions that I asked him about crime writing. Read on to know more about the genre and to get some helpful writing tips if you too aspire to become a successful crime fiction writer.
- What attracted you to write in the crime fiction genre?
Being an avid reader of crime fiction myself, I have always harboured an ambition to make my own humble contribution to this genre. My stories, of course, germinate from my own interests in human psychology and in the complexities of human relationships, especially in these times of changing social order.
Also, it does not make me too happy to note that, whenever we speak of popular detectives in English fiction, we end up naming characters created by foreign authors. With so much of quality fiction being written in India in the English language, where is that one pan-Indian character that is a brand by her or his own right and has instant recall? So, I asked myself, why not make a humble effort to create one in ACP Agni Mitra?
- What according to you makes for great crime fiction? Could you elaborate on this with the help of your own books?
As an author of thrillers and more importantly, as a voracious reader of crime fiction, I believe that the single most difficult part about writing crime fiction is to be able to create relatable characters that resonate with readers, by appealing to the innermost recesses of the human psyche.
For an author, the biggest challenge lies in being able to convince the reader. Especially, in crime fiction, this is the single most important responsibility of the author. It is extremely important to develop strong justification for the actions of your characters.
I heavily use the first-person narrative in the voice of the killer that brings to life that person’s past, ways of thinking, and how the ‘game plan’ evolves. It creates an instant connect with the reader who can see the person’s point of view.
- Could you describe the process through which you conceive and then execute a novel specifically in the crime fiction genre? Are you interested by something you watched on the news, or read somewhere, are your plots based on real incidents that you further explore in your own writing?
The ideas for my stories germinate mostly from social taboos. My first thriller ‘In the Shadows of Death’ dealt with sexual exploitation of the male teen within the supposedly secure confines of the family which we don’t talk about a lot, the reverse sexual harassment of the male employee at the workplace which again is a reality not just in India but across the world, the politics of sexual favours and associated benefits in the corporate world, and the issue of adultery in the modern urban society.
Similarly, the idea for ‘The Colours of Passion’ originated several years back. The key theme of the story is how the society is quick to dismiss relationships it’s not comfortable with, to brand them as ‘illicit / immoral / unnatural’ just because we struggle to give such relationships a name. For us, every relationship ‘mandatorily’ needs to have a name and needs to fit into a socially acceptable construct.
So, for me, the core theme comes first. How these issues push my characters to the edge comes next. And how you tell an engaging story in the format of a thriller is what comes thereafter.
- How much of focus do you give to each of the aspects of a novel such as plot, settings, characters, theme, the use of imageries, conflict, and action? Which are the aspects out of this list that are most important for the crime fiction genre?
I am a ‘visual’ writer and while developing a scene, I attach a lot of importance to the atmosphere, to the language my characters use and also, their body language and behavior as they speak or act. In fact, I always feel that anyone writing a screenplay from one of my books will have it really easy.
Also, settings are extremely important to me.
Both my published novels are set in Kolkata. I wanted to paint Kolkata in all its glorious inconsistencies. We have the moneyed upper class and the upwardly mobile middle class with its new-found avenues of prosperity that make the city a natural destination for global brands and plush real estate. We have shopping malls which are among the best in Asia, residential apartments which literally kiss the sky, nightlife which is among the best in the country, and a glamour industry which is getting its due attention in the national and international arena.
We also have the squalor of slums that are now home to the burgeoning mafia – smugglers, contract killers – and their unholy nexus with politicians and industrialists. Thus, Kolkata is a living, breathing character in my stories.
- How do you create believable characters who are capable of horrific crimes?
My novels have dealt with a wide variety of social taboos that readers can relate to. How these issues push my antagonists to the edge is what my thrillers are all about.
They are always about how our life experiences go on to shape our perspectives, and in certain extreme situations, to drive us down the murky path of crime, when our conviction in such perspectives is so strong that we become blind to logic and reason, to our belief in propriety and commonly accepted norms of the society.
I personally believe that, there is a killer lurking inside each one of us. The limits of endurance – before the beast in unleashed – vary from person to person. After the ‘grand reveal’ in the finale, I want my readers to say, ‘Hey, that could very well have been me!’
As such, my characters are not entirely black or white. They are human, they are relatable. And I am never judgmental about their actions. There is evil lurking inside each one of us. The question is, how much provocation does one need to unleash the beast within, and to what extent does one go?
- How important are unexpected twists and turns in crime fiction writing?
I do believe that it is extremely important to keep a reader engaged through a fast-paced narrative with unpredictable twists and turns. However, one must also realize that, readers today are very smart. They read crime fiction from all over the world. They are hooked to quality content on the Internet. And authors need to take this into cognizance while weaving a tale. Modern crime fiction is less about holding on to the identity of the ‘villain’ of the piece till the last page, and more about the insights into the psyche of the individual. It’s less about the ‘who’ and more about the ‘why’.
- Are you an avid reader? Who are your favorite crime fiction writers? Which writers inspire you?
Satyajit Ray and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay are of course icons when it comes to Bengali crime fiction. I have grown up reading Feluda and Byomkesh. However, as for influences, I have always been fascinated by Saradindu’s work. Byomkesh is very flesh-and-blood, never larger than life. Also, every Byomkesh story is about human emotions that drive one to the path of crime and how we give in to inner devils and unleash the criminal lurking inside each one of us.
I have been a big fan of Agatha Christie – mainly because of Poirot’s methods of investigation, the witty repartees, the human emotions at the core of the crimes.
Among more recent crime authors, I like the Alex Cross stories by James Patterson – not just for the thrills, but also for the underlying human emotions. I was floored by The Devotion of Suspect X and Malice by Keigo Higashino. I love the Cormoran Strike books by Rowling more because of her superior writing style and the characterization of Strike. I am also hooked to the works of Gillian Flynn and more recently, Paula Hawkins.
- Do you think it is important to study the writing craft in order to become a better writer? If yes, then what are the ways in which you do it?
Honestly, I am not a great believer in ‘trained authoring’. For me, writing is an instinctive, often cathartic process. Of course, I cannot emphasize enough on the need for editing to make the narrative crisp and fast-paced. And I am a stickler for correct use of language and grammar.
As for my own technique, I create a basic structure and chapter outlines and then I start writing the chapters with the basic premise in sight. And I let go, letting the sights and the sounds in my mind take over. It is, therefore, extremely important for me to be in the ‘appropriate’ frame of mind to write. I need to be in those situations myself. Therefore, when I am writing a story, there are days when I am not in the ‘appropriate’ mood that the work demands, and I do not write a word.
While writing is an organic process and I am one of those for whom it’s driven more by instinct and impulse, I feel there is definitely a need for a method in the madness. And honestly, my education has mostly been through the books I read.
And I will give examples from some of my favourite authors.
I believe James Patterson is a master when it comes to ‘designing’ a thriller. How much do you reveal in one chapter? Where do you ‘cut a scene’? How do you leave a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter? I have learnt a lot of that from his books.
When it comes to creating atmosphere, I have learnt a lot from the books of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn. They actually invest in talking about things like the landscape, the weather, the design of a room, the clothes people are wearing. All of these help make the scenes come alive, drawing the reader in, creating an immersive experience.
And Gillian Flynn and Keigo Higashino are my ‘guru’-s when it comes to the psychological exploration of my characters. I have read ALL their books and every book has been an education in the craft, besides being absolutely entertaining.
Finally, depending on the topic, one needs to do thorough research. My thrillers deal with homicide investigation and coming from an entirely different professional background, I do a fair amount of research into areas like forensics, autopsy procedures, DNA studies, cyber forensics and so on. These, of course, are supplemented by my own studies on criminal psychology, which is a subject of personal interest.
- Do you think it is important to follow popular trends in the pursuit of a career in writing?
This is extremely important.
Readers today are evolved. They are exposed to a variety of content across a variety of channels. They are smart and have a world-view. They also have short attention span and they are spending a lot of time on social media and apps in their handheld devices. To cater to the new-age readers, and to remain relevant, it is extremely important to produce quality content that is appealing, relevant and at the same time can hold their attention.
With so many writers around and with publishing houses willing to nurture fresh talent, once the book is born, the marketing and distribution of the book has become extremely important. An author needs to ensure that, the book reaches the target audience through right channels, and there is strong and favourable word-of-mouth about the book.
Technology has made publishing easier. One can self-publish a book on Kindle or on a mobile platform with a few clicks. However, this puts additional responsibility on the author to take care of editing, proofreading, layout and ensuring an overall pleasant reading experience. In many cases, that goes missing. So, while the market today is literally inundated with books from self-published authors, very few of them manage to make a mark.
Technology, of course, plays a significant role in marketing and spreading the word about a book. Social media, blogging sites, e-zines and the like have made it easier for authors to reach out to a much larger reader base than was ever possible.
- What would be your advice to aspiring writers?
It is important to create real, identifiable characters in a story – unless of course one is writing a fantasy or a superhero story. Correct use of the language is essential. An author should ensure that a story progresses at a uniform pace – a story that slows down after an energetic start is a big let-down. Finally, it is not about the length but always about the impact of a story. I have read 1-page stories that have left me thinking for days.