Bloomsbury Posts

Kamila Shamsie, ” A God in Every Stone”

Kamila Shamsie, ” A God in Every Stone”

Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every StoneA God in Every Stone is Kamila Shamsie’s fifth novel.  It is set at the time of World War I and before the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan. It is about an Englishwoman archaeologist, Vivian Rose Spencer, and her meeting with her discovery of the Temple of Zeus and Ypres war veteran, twenty-two-year-old Qayyum Gul who is returning home to Peshawar. But the story is much, much more than that.

A God in Every Stone will be classified as “Pakistani Literature”. It may have been written by Kamila Shamsie but it could even work as literature of the subcontinent or South Asian literature, with sufficient sprinkling of historical facts that makes it intriguing and interesting for a global audience. It is so clearly positioned in a time of history that it is sufficiently far removed from the present times for the writer to be able to present, analyse, teach and comment–uninhibited. Placing the story during World War 1 and in undivided India is fascinating. It is a story based on some historical facts like the massacre of Qissa Khawani Bazaar (the Storytellers Market) on 23 April 1930, the Khudai Khidmatgars and of the freedom fighter, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. More importantly I liked the placing of it in a time of history when people of undivided India are shown fighting together against the British. ( In this telling of history/fiction, it is immaterial whether they were Pakistanis or Indians, they are fighting against the colonial rulers.) It is as if the novel is showing a “history from below” much like Subaltern Studies did in academics. For instance giving characters such as Najeeb, the assistant at the Peshawar museum; the soldiers hired by the British to figure in the Great War such as Lance-Naik Qayyum Gul; the young prostitutes–girls of mixed lineage; the storytellers; the letter-writer — are people who would barely have figured in previous fictional narratives.

It is a story set so firmly in the city of Peshawar, but makes the wonderful connect of this region with Greece, the rich history of Peshawar and Gandhara art. The forays into Europe of World War 1, the “betrayal” of Tahsin Bey by Viv, the recuperation of soldiers of Indian origin in Brighton, the VAD etc. Even the subtle transformation of Viv’s mother from being horrified by her daughter dispatched to an archaeological dig in Turkey to encouraging her to make a trip to Peshawar. ( ” The truth was, the war had sloughed off so many rules that no one seemed to know any more what counted as unacceptable behaviour in women.” p.75)

Positioning the story in Peshawar is stunning since much of the problems of early twentieth century such as tribal warfare, being a part of NWFP, Swat valley continue to be relevant in the twenty-first century. What also shines through in the novel is that this region has been alive, settled and of crucial geo-political significance for centuries, something that locals tend to forget or maybe are too absorbed in their daily life. What comes through in the novel is that the locals may be active participants ( willing or unwilling is not the question right now) but local dynamics have a powerful impact on their lives. This is evident through the fascinating badalas that are shared. Of these the one that attracts the most crowd is that of the Haji. Well it could be just a comment of the times but it assumes a different dimension if read with a knowledge of what is happening today in world politics –the Islamisation of Terror.

Even the descriptions of the Gandhara artifacts, the archaeological digs etc criss-cross history marvelously. They bring to play not only the political significance of important regimes of the past such as Darius, the Mauryan empire, Alexander etc but of more recent developments such as what is happening in Afghanistan and the Taliban ( i.e. blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas). But the inextricable link between culture/cultural expressions and politics. The politicians and kingmakers may no longer be alive but their presence is marked by sculptures, pottery shards, etc that have been left behind or excavated. The connection between Gandhara and non-violence is also striking when one recalls that Ashoka who quit fighting after the battle of Kalinga, became a Buddhist and a staunch believer of non-violence, his first “posting” was at Gandhara. Whereas this novel involves Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who too believed in non-violent forms of action. Centuries apart sharing similar beliefs in the same region.

The flitting between the imagined and real worlds. Creating the myth of circlet of Scylax so convincingly could only have been done by a person who is passionate  about Greek mythology and loves research. It meshes beautifully in this story.

A God in Every Stone is exquisite. With this novel Kamila Shamsie has set a very high benchmark for literary fiction–worldwide.

                                     *****
( After reading A God in Every Stone I posed some questions to Kamila Shamsie via e-mail. )

Q1 Have the film rights been sold to this book? Who chose the extract for the Granta special?
No. And I chose the extract.

Q2 How did do you decide upon this story?

I didn’t. I had decided on a very different story which started with the massacre in Qissa Khwani/the Street of Storytellers in 1930 and continues until 2009. But my plans for novels always end up going astray. It did have both archaeology and the anti-colonial resistance in Peshawar as elements right from the start so the germ of the novel was always there but finding the story was a slow winding process which involved lots of deleting and quite a bit of re-writing.

Q3 Where was the research for this book done?

Mostly in the British Library where they keep colonial records – and also have a wonderful photography collection. I also went to some of the novel’s locations in Peshawar. And the Internet is an invaluable tool for research, of course.

Q4 How did the idea of a woman archaeologist,  Vivian Rose Spencer, strike you? I wish she had more of a presence in the book.

The idea of an English archaeologist struck me first – originally the archaeologist was going to be male but while reading a piece of travel writing by the Englishwoman Rosita Forbes who was in Peshawar in the 30’s I became interested in the experience of Englishwoman in Peshawar. At that point the structure of the novel was very different and there were more primary characters. I’m pretty sure that, regardless of Rosita Forbes, I would have made the archaeologist female once it became clear that the soldier and archaeologist were the two primary characters. I wasn’t about to write a novel in which both the main characters are male. Male writers do more than enough of that!

As for wanting her to be more of a presence – she has more pages in the novel then anyone else. But her story is more the focus of the first half of the book. The anti-colonial story has to shift it’s focus to the Peshawaris.

Q5 How much history did you delve into? Did the historical research come before the writing or specific research happened after the story took root?

Lots. And lots. I research and write as parallel processes – and the research doesn’t really stop until I’ve finished the book.

Q6 This is literary fiction similar to what Subaltern Studies is in academics–telling the histories from “below”. You made heroes of figures who were considered rebels in “mainstream” narratives. Did this happen consciously?

Whose mainstream?, would be my first response to that.
What I am interested in, which relates to your question, is the stories that have received less attention than other stories. Whether it’s women archaeologists rather than men archaeologists, Indian soldiers in WWI rather than English soldiers, the non-violent Pashtun rather than the one who picks up a gun.

Q7 What is the difference between literary fiction, historical fiction and fiction set in history?  Would  A God in Every Stone even fit into any of these categories?

It’s not something to which I give any thought when writing a novel. Which category will make people want to read it?

Q8  There are many women characters in your novel, who only serve purpose for that particular moment in the story, no more. Yet their fleeting appearances are powerful, almost like a painting, they leave a deep imprint on one’s mind. For instance the infant bride and the teenage prostitute, are they figments of imagination or based upon sketches that you came across?

I certainly see then serving a purpose beyond a single moment. Everything in a novel has to serve the entire novel. (The infant bride grows up to be a very important part of the novel – she’s the green-eyed woman.) They aren’t based on sketches. I know there were prostitutes in the Old City and I know very young girls were given away in marriage. Beyond that, I worked out the particular stories that best suited my purpose.

Q9 Why did you choose to write about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan or “Frontier Gandhi” ?

I grew up barely even hearing his name which is why I wanted to write about him. He’s been written out of Pakistan’s history, except in KP, which is a terrible shame. Also, he was such an important figure in his own right that it seems only correct that we should call him by his own name or honorific – Ghaffar Khan or Bacha Khan – rather than by reference to anyone else, regardless of who that anyone else is.

Q10 Are the badalas yours or recorded?

Mine.

Q11 Have you ever worn a burqa. The confusion that you show the young girl to be in can only come from an experienced moment.

No I haven’t. Novelists imaginations fortunately often thrive quite happily without experienced moments!

Q12 Now that you have British citizenship, how do you see yourself? British-Pakistani writer, Pakistani writer, of South Asian origin?

Pakistani. I’ve only been British for 6 months!

13 April 2014

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Today my article on literary festivals of India has been published in the Brunch, Hindustan TimesThe title in print is called “Booked & Hooked” and online it is ” Your guide to litfests this season”Here is the link to the online version: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/brunch-stories/your-guide-to-litfests-this-season/article1-1171368.aspx. Meanwhile I am c&p the longer version of the article published.) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

“I attend literary festivals to meet authors, to see another dimension to their life, listen to the heated conversations, introduce my four-year-old twin sons to famous people, and inculcate a sense of reading culture in them,” says Umesh Dubey, first-generation entrepreneur who takes his family to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) for the entire week.

A literary festival can be defined as a space where writers and readers meet, usually an annual event in a city or as “literature in performance”. Must-have elements include panel discussions with a healthy mix of new and seasoned writers, Q&As with the audience, author signing sessions, workshops related to writing and publishing, book launches, bookstores, a food court, and entertainment in the evenings. And – hopefully also – intellectually stimulating conversations, a relaxed ambience, picturesque setting, good weather (no dry days!), and networking possibilities.

In India, literary festivals came into vogue with the astounding success of Jaipur Literature Festival, which began in 2006 . The timing was right, soon after the Christmas holidays/ winter break, in January, when Rajasthan is a favourite tourist destination. To organise a festival in the Diggi Palace Grounds, chatting with authors most readers have only admired from afar while sipping the hot Diggi chai in earthen cups, basking in the warm winter sun, listening to crackling good conversations and at times heated debates, and as darkness descends, preparing to hear the musicians who will perform… it made for quite a heady experience. And if at any point you get weary of the crowds and the conversations, it is easy to step out for a jaunt as a tourist and explore Jaipur. This basic template has begun to be emulated across the country.

jaiput-lit-festAccording to the Jaipur Litfest producer, Sanjoy Roy, the intention is to create “a democratic access system of first-come-first-seated where we treat everyone as our guests and do not make a fuss over VIPs. The colour and design create a sense of an Indian mela.” Of course prior to JLF, India did have a fair share of literary “festivals” like Ajeet Caur’s SAARC Literature Festivals, or those that were organised at the Sanskriti Anandgram in Delhi or even the early editions of the Katha festivals, but admittedly none were on a fabulous scale, nor were they open to the public. According to Maina Bhagat, director, Apeejay Kolkata Festival, “The city is the biggest player in the festival”.

So what explains the runaway success of today’s literature festivals? Says poet K. Satchidanadan, “There is a whole urban and semi-urban middle class youth eager to meet authors and listen to them in a festive atmosphere. The publishers are interested in releasing their books there and having their authors on the platform. The authors are interested in meeting other authors and also readers. Cities also get to be on the literary map of India with such celebrations.” Ananth Padmanabhan, senior vice-president, sales, Penguin India, says, “With social media dominating mind space, festivals are a great place to sit back and connect readers to writers; such an engagement opportunity was lacking.” In fact, festival-hopping has resulted in a modern-day phenomenon of the festival junkie: People who move from festival to festival.

Of late the Indian economy may have been in the doldrums but there is no denying that post-liberalisation, more and more people have disposable income, they do want to invest in culture and what better way than to make it a family outing? It is a democratic patronage of the arts. It is also a reflection of how much India is becoming a writing culture rather than a reading culture.

Arshia Sattar, who through Sangam House organises Lekhana Literary Weekend  (an extension of the Sangam House international writers’ residency programme that is run outside Bangalore) and is also jury member, DSC Award for Literature 2014, says, “My concern is that we are moving further away from ‘literature’ and closer to writing. I think if we had fewer ‘festivals’ and if they had  a focus rather than being all things to all people (which is probably what their sponsors want in terms of ‘footfalls’) . . .we might see people stepping out to literary events with dedication.”

Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette India, says, “There is not a single real benefit any festival brings to a publisher. And there are a number of cons – it costs a lot to get your author up there for almost no returns on investment, and zero promotional benefit. Yes, if you switch off the business aspect, for the audience it’s a great platform to see your favourite authors, and for authors a great platform to cross-commune with other writers. For editors it’s a good networking and ideas engagement opportunity. But in terms of sales or author brand building, go back to every single festival and put down the authors and their titles and see the impact of either media coverage or sales, and you’ll see not one has moved beyond their earlier levels. Some very successful (read great stage performances) sessions do result in immediate brisker sales at the venue bookshop, but even those are minimal – anything between 30 copies to 100 copies.” Adds Diya Kar Hazra, publisher, trade, Bloomsbury, “There are so many literary festivals these days – sometimes two or three in one city. The writer is expected to do more than just write these days – they blog, they tweet, they have pages on FB. They appear at festivals and events reading from their books and having conversations with fellow writers. The reader–writer relationship has changed, as a result. Authors are much more accessible than they ever were.”

Author Shovon Chowdhury who released his debut novel, The Competent Authority, earlier this year says that attending literary festivals “feels good. You feel special. I’m not jaded yet, so I enjoy it. I also love meeting lots of interesting people, including some super-intelligent ones. It gives me a dose of much needed perspective and humility. Plus there’s free meals.”

An attractive feature of a literary festival is the free entry. This requires the festival management to scour for private sponsors, funds and collaborations that will help in putting together the extravaganza and these could be either in money or in kind. In many case, corporate house are willing to assist with sponsorship for the brand visibility and media coverage. Recently tourism departments and state governments have partnered with festivals which is understandable given the positive impact festivals can have on the local economy. For instance, in a dipstick survey the JLF management did last year, it was estimated that approximately Rs 20 crores of additional spend could be attributed to JLF in Jaipur on account of accommodation, restaurant and shopping. Even this is set to change. The inaugural edition of the Pune International Literature Festival had ticketed entry. Comic Con too proposes to sell tickets in 2014.

Much of the success of the festivals depends on the programme created, parallel sessions, selection of the moderators and if necessary, themes selected. It is also heavily dependent upon the curation, storyboard to the chemistry between the panelists.  Altaf Tyrewala, Director, Chandigarh Literature Festival, says “The organizers and I were struggling to think of how CLF could be different from other literary festivals. We realized that in the circus, we often lose sight of the book, the very foundation of literature! So we decided that CLF would showcase the book, and nothing but the book. We decided to let active literary critics nominate that one book that had stayed with them over the past decade. There was a general agreement on what constituted a good book. Naturally, the discussion between the author and the nominating critic was focused entirely on the book in question. It made every session riveting, and more importantly the invitees realized that their presence was crucial to the festival’s format.” It helps to do some thinking in advance to avoid embarrassing incidents as happened at a recently concluded festival. The moderator was informed just before stepping on to the stage that the authors lined up were commercial-fiction authors. The response, the moderator shuddered and said, “I would never read such authors!”

The buzz around festivals is tremendous. But the bubble may soon burst as has happened with book launches. People will weary of them if they happen too often. They will lose their charm for various reasons. As writer Ravi Subramanian points out, “The divisions between the literary and commercial authors are becoming apparent at these festivals.” Second, most of the festivals are conducted predominantly in English, though slowly this too is changing, to reflect and represent the local languages and the international participants. There are writers who have begun to feel bored and disillusioned  with these festivals that often sustain and strengthen the hierarchies among writers, dividing them into “stars” and ordinary writers. Even the most ordinary Indian English writers acquire “stardom” while the best of language writers are often time-fillers invited most often to show that they too are represented.

Over the years the festivals have come to align themselves before and after the December/Christmas holidays, making it easier for authors to mark their presence at more than one event. The length and dates of the festivals are also determined by collaborating partners. In fact Surya Rao, director, Hyderabad Literary Festival, says, “We avoid a clash of dates with other major lit festivals because we check the dates of other fests. The Jaipur fest happens to be the closest to us.”

Maybe Indian festival organisers will collaborate with each other as happens in other countries like Australia.

A possible “classification” of literary festivals. 

There are so many literary festivals being organised in India that one has to create some sort of “classification”. For instance, festivals that have stood the test of time of a minimum period of three years, grown in popularity (as measured by the increasing audience participation), established a brand in their name and proven to be sustainable in terms of the sponsorship would probably be at the top of the list. These would be the major milestones in the festival calendar – Jaipur ( Jaipur Literature Festival), Calcutta (Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and Kolkata Literary Meet) , Chennai (Hindu Lit for Life), Mumbai (Kalaghoda, Times of India festival), Hyderabad Literary Festival and the Sahitya Akademi’s Festival of Letters.

Then there is what could be termed as a “sub-genre” – that is, equally strong brands, dealing with genres of literature which are not necessarily given sufficient space for intense engagement, such as Bookaroo (children’s literature) organised in Delhi and in Pune (in collaboration with Sakaal Times), ComicCon (comics and graphic novels), Samanvay (Indian languages) in collaboration with the India Habitat Centre,, Cultures of Peace: Festival of the Northeast (Women and Human Rights) organised by Zubaan, Poetry with Prakriti (poems), Mussoorie Writers Festival (mountain and travel writing) organised by Stephen Alter and Lekhana (a long literary weekend).

Finally there are the relatively new festivals that are as yet to establish themselves, but people are already familiar with them – Bangalore, Kasauli, Shillong, Agra, Lucknow, Benaras, Patna, Bhubhaneshwar, Chandigarh, Pune, and Kovalam. And there are still more being organised.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose 

“Boys don’t knit” by Tom Easton

“Boys don’t knit” by Tom Easton

Boys Don't Knit

Ben Fletcher is in a bit of a soup. He was with a bunch of his friends when he was nabbed after an unfortunate incident at the supermarket. It involved a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso and a lollipop lady. Anyway the upshot of it is that Ben Fletcher has to do community service. According to Claudia Gunter of the West Meon Probation Service, Ben Fletcher has to maintain a personal journal, “giving as full an account as possible of the events of each day and recording, in detail, your thoughts, concerns and feelings.” He is also asked to take up a hobby to keep him on the straight and narrow. Of the few classes being offered at school, he wishes to join the one being offered by the  “hot teacher”, Jessica Swallow. Unfortunately it is knitting. So knitting class is what he signs up for.

Ben lives with his parents and six-year-old sister, Megan. His father claims to be dyslexic and is a car mechanic who thinks that Jeremy Clarkson is god. “I suppose he’s all right, my dad, except he just talks about nothing but football and Top Gear. On and the Second World War. ” Ben’s mother is a “state magician, which sounds quite cool but it’s not really, because it isn’t like David Copperfield with a huge stage and special effects. It’s just little clubs and pubs with dodgy PAs, unappreciative audiences and nowhere she can keep her white doves. She’s always off ‘on the circuit’. My relationship with  my mum is OK, when she’s around. On the one hand she never cooks or cleans or does any of the stuff mums are supposed to do, on the other hand she can make Pringles come out of my ear.”

He is a normal boy, Ben is. When he manages to find himself in this incredible situation of learning how to knit, tying himself up in knots wondering what people would think of him, especially the girls. Once in knitting class he discovers the joys of knitting patterns, being creative with colours and experimenting with designs. He slowly discovers he has a talent for it, likes it, begins to take orders and is competitive too. All the while he is trying to knit quietly and secretly in his room, hiding his knitting pattern sheets and balls of wool under the bed. Even Claudia Gunter is interested in his progress.

Boys Don’t Knit is a delightful, laugh-out-loud funny book by Tom Easton.  (In his “spare time” he is the Production Manager for Hachette UK.) It is devoid of vampires and ghouls–creatures about whom Tom Easton also loves to write–but it has all the ingredients of a crackling good read. It has the angst of a young boy, just stepping into his teens, who to his dismay has to take up knitting classes, thus upturning the preconceived notions of gendered roles in society.  At the same time he discovers how to handle competitiveness with grace and remain focused on the goal of winning the prestigious knitting competition. And more importantly, discovering that the girl of his dreams, Megan Hopper, may just have a thing for him. Life could not get any better.

hkblogoThe imprint, Hot Keys Books, will be releasing Boys Don’t Knit on 14 Jan 2014. It is an imprint worth watching out for. After a long time I am discovering the joys of being familiar with a list that is producing magnificent titles, with a range of issues and very well written. So far any book that I have picked out of their pile has been worth reading. Hot Keys Books was begun by Sarah Odedin who in her previous avatar was an editor at Bloomsbury. Hot Key Books, a brand new division of Bonnier Publishing, publishes books for 9 – 19 year olds and was established in 2011. They are focused on developing this as a brand and so far doing it well. In the couple of years of existence they have already got a winner with Sally Gardener’s Maggot Moon. It won the 2012 Children’s Costa Book Award and the 2013 Carnegie Medal. From 2014, it seems Hot Keys Books will increase their number of titles from 40 to 60 per year.

Tom Easton Boys Don’t Knit Hot Keys Books, London, 2014. Pb. pp. 278 £6.99 ( Age range: 12+)

Fun and fantastic reads!

Fun and fantastic reads!

Steampunk-An-Anthology-of-FaThree collection of short stories by three different publishers — Walker Books, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury —  that I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent weeks are on steampunk fiction, the fantastic and unnatural creatures and witch stories. I have absolutely loved the collections. Taken my own sweet time to read them, dip into them and enjoyed the stories tremendously. Read them if you can. Under my Hate, Tales from the Cauldron, Hot Key Books

Unnatural Creatures, short stories chosen by Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

 

Ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant Welcome to Steampunk! Fun anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories Walker Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 £7.99

Ed. Jonathan Strahan Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hot Key Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 Rs 350 

Neil Gaiman, stories chosen by Unnatural Creatures Bloomsbury, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 465. Rs. 499

One to One: Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Vol. No. 7, No. 8 & 9, Jul – Aug 2013

One to One: Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Vol. No. 7, No. 8 & 9, Jul – Aug 2013

PubSpeak, JayaMr S.K. Ghai, Managing Director, Sterling Publishers (P) Ltd is responsible for the Institute of Book Publishing and Publishing Today, A monthly of the book industry and its professionals. In Vol. No. 7, No. 8 & 9, Jul – Aug 2013 ( http://www.ibpindia.org/p/Publishing-Today-July-August-2013 ) he interviewed me. This is what he wrote in his introduction: “For One to One I have interviewed Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, International publishing and literary consultant, there are a very few professionals who write on publishing regularly and she is one of them and having a regular column in Business World. She is quite active on social media and had over 250,000 visitors in less than a year.” I am c&p the interview below. 

4 Sept 2013 

SKG You have been interviewing publishers, authors; is it the first time that you are being interviewed? 
JBR No. Not at all. Some of the interviews that come to mind are by Samit Basu in 2006  (http://samitbasu.com/2006/07/03/jaya-bhattacharji-interview/) and by Anupama Krishnakumar in 2012 (http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=4379).SKG When, how and why did you choose publishing as a career?
JBR I cannot even recall when I fell in love with books. But I wanted to delve in to publishing from as long as I can remember.SKG You were once selected in the editorial team of Penguin, but you decided not to join. Any reason? 
JBP Yes I was. This was immediately after I had completed my BA (Hons) English from Jesus and Mary College. David Davidar had interviewed me, Renuka Chatterjee called offering me the job. But I refused since I decided to pursue my MA (English) at St. Stephen’s College.SKG You prefer to be freelancer as compared to being in a regular job. Any reason?
JBR I prefer being a freelancer since it allows me to balance my time between professional commitments and bringing up my daughter Sarah Rose. Plus the independence it brings allows me the freedom to comment on the industry, without any bias. It can be challenging at times, but I certainly prefer it.SKG I remember meeting you briefly at Zubaan. How long did you work there and any memorable experiences or incidents that you would like to share?
JBR I joined Zubaan the day it rose from the ashes of Kali for Women. I was there for more than 4 years, but those were the formative years. It was during this time that the significant books like Baby Halder’s A Life Less Ordinary, Anil Menon’s The Beast with a Million Feet and Kunzang Choden’s The Circle of Karma were published. I enjoyed working on various projects. Some that come to mind immediately are creating a mini author website for Kunzang Choden. It was done at a time when such intiatives were still rare. (http://www.zubaanbooks.com/circleofkarma/) I also helped in the branding of Zubaan by circulating monthly newsletters, creating a database, conceptualising and  launching the official website (zubaanbooks.com); inheriting the womenwriting.com website from the British Council and revamping it (http://www.womenswriting.com/WomensWriting/AboutProject.asp); curating the visual history of the women’s movement in India via posters called PosterWomen (http://posterwomen.org/Posterwomen/ ) ; helping out with the Words of Women series at the India Habitat Centre and lots more. It was definitely a packed and exciting schedule.There are so many memories to share, but difficult to choose one.SKG You also worked for Routledge and then Puffin for a short while – any special memories ? 
JBR I worked as Editorial Manager, South Asia, Journals for Routledge, Taylor and Francis and as a Consultant Editor, Puffin Books India. Both the assignments were very different to each other. The journals assignment was an eye opener since it taught me a great deal about academic publishing, especially the methodical manner in which journals are published.Whereas with Puffin Books the joy of working with children’s and YA literature was thrilling. It is a genre that I have worked with ever since the 1990s, from the time I was asked to be the Guest Editor for the Special issue of The Book Review. It was an issue published every November. I expanded the focus to include literature from South Asia and got publishers to send in review copies from abroad. All this was done before the internet and emailing was possible. I remember even getting the third volume of Harry Potter. It was mailed from London and arrived a couple of weeks after it was released. Yet the review copy reached me a few months before it was released in India. A far cry from when the last volume in the series was released. It had a simultaneous release in India and UK.SKG You have interviewed many publishers – national and international CEO’s like Naveen Kishore-Seagull, Liz Calder-Bloomsbury, Peter Booth- Wiley. Any unique experience you would like to share?
JBR With every publishing professional I meet whether from India or abroad, I enjoy my interactions. It is learning, sharing of experiences and understanding how the business works. Many times I continue to be astounded at how the basics of the business remain the same. It is only the technology of production and communication that changes. Of the three you mentioned I learned a great deal about translations from Naveen Kishore; from Liz Calder what it takes to be a woman publisher, setting up Women in Publishing, co-fouding Bloomsbury Publishing, how her firm discovered J K Rowling, establishing the Paraty festival in Brazil etc; with Peter-Booth Wiley it was discovering how a successful family business operates and continues to be ahead in the game of publishing. He is the sixth generation of the Wiley family who is managing the business, 200 years after it was founded.SKG When you assess and recommend manuscripts to publishers, what are the points you generally highlight? 
JBR It really depends upon the genre and style of writing. It is very difficult to comment in general terms. But I think it has to be a fine balance between what is a good story/narrative and whether it will work in the market.SKG Your comments on the recent amendments to the copyright act?
JBR The recent amendments to the copyright act were mostly in favour of the music industry except for the clause about the use of photographs and images. The parallel imports clause too that was causing much concern in India has now been referred to a Parliamentary committee for review.SKG Your comments on the highlights/missing points in the recently formulated India’s National Book Promotion Policy? 
JBR I wrote about this in my column. Here is the link: http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/08/01/national-book-promotion-policy-where-are-we-nov-2011/SKG What are your views on India’s digital publishing and how do you think they can monetize ? 
JBR I don’t think anyone really has a clear answer to this. Digital publishing, IMHO, should be seen as a unifying factor in publishing. It allows publishers to streamline operations and access various markets that hitherto were inaccessible. Monetization will happen depending upon the publisher’s requirement and an understanding of the market. For now there is a lot of experimentation in the business models of publishing particularly in academic publishing. Trade publishers are as yet to figure out what works for them. If the latter had a system of impact factors as is in journal publishing, probably they would be able to strategically explore and execute alternative streams of revenue generation.SKG You review books regularly. What are your comments on ‹The art of book reviewing›?
JBR Read, read, read. Review books without any biases, but with knowledge, honesty and fairness. All criticism must be constructive, whether positive or negative. Also never damn a book however annoying it may have been to read. The book is an author’s baby. Be kind. And if it has been a pleasure to read, be balanced in your assessment rather than packing your review with hyperbole.SKG Many publishing professionals have godfathers in the industry; do you have one or consider some one who helped/guided you? 
JBR Hmm. I am not sure if I have had a godfather. Mentors certainly. Many of them women. I have always been passionate about publishing. But I was fortunate to have been given opportunities to explore publishing by Uma Iyengar and Chandra Chari of The Book Review; Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan; Ritu Menon of Women Unlimited; and Gordon Graham, former Chairman, Butterworth Publishers and Founding Editor, Logos.SKG Where you would like to be after five years?
JBR A successful international publishing and literary consultant and columnist.SKG You know the publishing industry inside out. How do you see the future of book publishing given the current scenario of digital verses print? 
JBR I do not see it as a digital versus print game in the publishing industry. I see the entry of digital technology as a game changer that will encourage publishing to evolve to the next level. Initially it will be viewed as a disruptive element since the traditional modes of production, publication and dissemination have been working very well for generations. But to survive in the future, it is important to adopt and adapt.The future of book publishing is not bleak especially for those professionals who are smart about taking up challenges and capitalising upon opportunities. But today there is no scope for complacency. Unfortunately the truth is that to commission, create and produce high quality books you need to have time and be methodical about it. It is a process that cannot be hurried. Yet the consumption patterns of readers are changing so rapidly that publishers need to strike a balance between the two arms of business — commissioning/editorial and marketing/selling. There are many ways to do so. Most importantly exploring new opportunities for revenue generation. It will come from selling the books in innovative ways, accessing new markets but also focusing on good, reliable content, ensuring that the long tail of business continues. Also never forgetting that the core of the business of publishing are the authors. So it is important to manage author relations, irrespective of their being on the A, B or C lists.SKG You are very active on social media networks- Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn and writing blogs. How useful do you find social media what would be your suggestions for young publishing professionals? 
JBR Social Media is an integral part of one’s life now. In order to access, network with like-minded professionals you need to know how to use these platforms. I use them only professionally. But it requires strategy and learning every single day.I started a blog sometime ago focused on publishing and literature. On 27 Aug 2012, I installed a visitor counter. Today, 9 Aug 2013, it shows 2,61,563 visitors. All of these are real digital footprints since I have a SPAM blocker. I am told that it is an “extremely impressive” count.My advice for young publishing professionals is to be passionate about publishing, always be alert and receptive to new ideas, think out of the box, do a bit of homework every single day and definitely use and explore the social media platforms. But by merely plonking stuff on to a platform, without understanding and updating it, will be insufficient. You have to challenge your limits.SKG What are your hobbies? 
JBR Cooking/Baking, listening to music – it used to be gardening, painting and playing with my dogs, but no more. No time for the first two and I no longer keep dogs. And I have to add, reading. I actually love it.SKG How would you describe a good book? 
JBR Fiction or non-fiction – it has to be one that sustains the reader’s interest till the very end. It cannot be a book where the author polishes the first fifty pages and then forgets about the rest.SKG Apart from manuscripts, do you get the time to read & what do you like to read?
JBR I make the time. Carpe diem is my motto. My reading is eclectic. It can range from periodicals, short stories, fiction, non-fiction, young adult and even picture books. Anything and everything to do with words.SKG In fiction, what makes a bestseller? 
JBR Tough question. Does anyone really have an answer to it? If it is the Rs 100 novel or commercial fiction that is extremely popular today in India, then I would attribute it to the conversational style of English used by the authors. The readers are able to comprehend and understand and respond well to the content. But it is not a given that a consumer of a Rs 100 novel can be termed as a “Reader”, one who reads substantially, not necessarily voraciously. For literary fiction it is the quality of the work, the complexity that lies in the treatment of the story. Similarly other genres like translations, science-fiction, children’s literature, YA literature, thrillers, etc will have their own peculiar characteristics that help in determining its viability in the market. Probably the standard for all would be the content should be good, the treatment by the author/translator above par. Technicalities like editing, production quality, distribution, price points also play a crucial aspect in the rapid consumption of the book. If it is a “good” book but unavailable and unaffordable, the whole point of investing time and patience in producing it will be defeated.

ONE TO ONE with Jaya Bhattacharji RoseInternational publishing and literary consultant who also has a monthly column, “PubSpeak” , in BusinessWorld online. Her blog http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/ has had over 2,50,000 visitors in the 11 months since the visitor counter was uploaded.

 

On “discoverability” in publishing. (PubSpeak, BusinessWorld, Aug 2013)

On “discoverability” in publishing. (PubSpeak, BusinessWorld, Aug 2013)

PubSpeak, Jaya

( My monthly column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online. July 2013 is on “discoverability”. Here is the link to the orignial url http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/publishers-search-tools-to-find-readers/r1013160.37528/page/0 )

Publishers’ Search Tools To Find Readers

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose on why it is the discovery of a book that ultimately matters for the business of publishing

How does a reader ‘discover’ an author/book? Today digital technology is rapidly becoming a unifying factor in the coming together of print and electronic forms of publishing. It is also responsible for the “discoverability” of a book. Traditional forms of discovery – curation in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, word-of-mouth recommendations, libraries, second hand bookstores, gifts, book reviews in newspapers and magazines and book clubs continue to be significant. Literary prizes too are important.

Chinaman
Caroline Newbury, VP Marketing and Publicity, Random House Publishers India explains the link well with reference to their author, Shehan Karunatilaka winning the DSC prize worth $50,000 in 2012 for his book Chinaman. “Any prize which supports both new and established writers is to be praised but the DSC Prize is a special case for its specific promotion of writing about South Asia,” says Newbury. “Since its DSC Prize win we have reprinted Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman and its prize-winning credentials definitely help bring it to a wider readership in India and beyond.”

Yet it is the popular modes of discovering a book including online reading communities like Goodreads and Riffles; advertisement banners in e-mails and on websites; automatic recommendations on online retail sites like Amazon, Flipkart; conversations and status updates in social media spaces such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest; following literary curators; bloggers; and even movie adaptations of a book.

50 Writers
Two books that I read recently – 50 Writers, 50 books: The Best of Indian Fiction and Reading New India: Post-millennial Indian Fiction in English, apart from being thought-provoking commentaries on literature, are a good way of discovering authors. The first is an anthology of essays discussing books from Indian fiction, across languages and the second a critique with a synopsis of the stories of predominantly commercial fiction. The texts complement each other well, but for a reader they are valuable for discovering fiction hitherto they have unheard of, especially since the fiction discussed is recommended by academics, authors, critics and literary tastemakers.
reading-new-india-post-millennial-indian-fiction-in-english

It is important to delineate the thin line between discoverability and promotion of a book. Discoverability would depend largely upon the gravitas of the book, the whispers that are heard about a book in various contexts. But promotions would be the marketing blitzkrieg created by the publishing houses. These could include the predictable book launches, panel discussions, and author tours, interviews in the prominent newspapers and participating in literary festivals. Now add to that list partnerships with coffee chains. Authors too are beginning to hire PR firms and consultants to strategise and create a media buzz for their books.

Last week two publishing professionals – Jonathan Galassi, head of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/farrar-straus-giroux-jonathan-galassi-on-hothouse.html) and Anakana Schofield, debut novelist ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jul/25/anakana-schofield-how-to-write ) – raised the fundamental question about the meteoric rise in the number of writers, but where are the readers? It seems that for the first time in publishing, there are more writers than readers. It should be considered as a happy trend. More to publish, more to sell. But are there any takers? Or more importantly, how do you discover a book you want to read so that you will buy?

On 1 July 2013 Penguin and Random House announced that their merger had been approved. From 2014, the merged entity Penguin Random House is expected to be publishing 15,000 titles a year. Assuming these are all new titles of the front list, it will be a formidable stable of authors. But at the rate of publishing 41 books a day will only make it tougher to locate a title.

And if this is the scenario in English-language trade publishing how does the rest of publishing fare? Some of the other categories to be considered would be trade lists in other languages, translations, children’s literature, non-fiction, and of course academic publishing. All kinds of authors are struggling to be heard/ read.

And this conundrum of discovering an author or a relevant text extends beyond trade publishing to academic publishing too. Last week The Bookseller, a publishing industry daily, announced that “Google is to bring a textbook sale and rental service to the Google Play store this August in time for the Back to School season. The company announced it had partnered with academic publishers Pearson, Wiley, Macmillan, McGraw Hill and Cengage Google Play will offer textbook rentals and sales for up to an 80 per cent discount, the company has said, which is the same claim Amazon makes for its Kindle textbook rentals.”

This is similar to the CourseSmart model provides eTextbooks and digital course materials. It was founded in 2007 by publishers in higher education including Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group (Macmillan) and John Wiley & Sons. According to research firm Outsell Inc Online products accounted for 27 per cent of the $12.4 billion spent on textbooks for secondary schools and colleges in the US last year. Publishers like Pearson Plc and McGraw-Hill Education are also creating online versions of their texts, often loaded with interactive features, and selling students access codes that expire at semester’s end.

These alternative methods of discovering an author may be worth exploring. It is probably “easier” to experiment with dedicated platforms for textbooks where the selling price of a title is exorbitant. So, offering short-term licences (“access codes”) to academics and students to review, rent and (in moderation) print relevant pages creates a wider community of users.

Plus, it is increasingly becoming an important alternative source of revenue generation for publishing firms, although reservations exist about the adoption of a digital format by students, indications are that students prefer books. Whereas for trade publishers investing in platforms will be economically unviable unless you are Penguin and create Book Country. But for most others it will be an expensive proposition unless they opt for digital catalogues. Hence an online, interactive, cross-publisher catalogue service that supplements or replaces traditional hard-copy publisher catalogues like Edelweiss, whose tag line is “Finding your next favourite book is a lot easier”. As marketing executives say books are a low-cost product so media copies are distributed but it is the discovery of a book that ultimately matters for the business of publishing.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist
@JBhattacharji

Samantha Shannon, “The Bone Season”

Samantha Shannon, “The Bone Season”

Bone Season

It is a complicated world that Samanatha Shannon has created in The Bone Season. The heroine is nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney. She has been working in the criminal underworld of Scion ( pronounced as “Sigh-on”) for three years. She was recruited directly from school and made a member of the Seven Dials, a group that is in the central circle of the city. They consist of the White Binder, the Red Vision, the Black Diamond, the Pale Dreamer, the Martyred Muse, the Chained Fury and the Silent Bell. She is employed by Jaxon Hall and is considered to be a rare clairvoyant, since she is a Dreamwalker, and can break into people’s minds to gain information.

Scion is London of 2059. It consists of clairvoyants ( “voyants”, as they are popularly referred to). Voyants can be identified by their aura, mostly coloured dreamscapes. Jaxon Hall has identified seven orders of clairvoyance: soothsayers, augurs, mediums, sensors, furies, guardians and jumpers. Paige Mahoney or the Pale Dreamer she is known on the streets falls into the last category, a Dreamwalker. This is a category that is rarely to be found. It is an oligarchy, with a very strict social pecking order.

There is a dark side to this society. A netherworld, if you wish, based in Oxford. It has been in existence for nearly two centuries. It is actually a penal colony where stray voyants and/or criminals are sent. Sheol I is governed by six and a half feet tall Nashira Sargas, the blood-sovereign of the Race of Rephaim. Every decade they “harvest” as many voyants they can to co-opt them into their own society. Depending upon the abilities of the voyants selected, they are introduced into different levels of society. Those deemed worthless are relegated to being slaves or entertainers (“harlies”).

Paige Mahoney is sent off to Sheol I after she kills two people. But she is considered to be fortunate since she is spotted by the blood-consort or fiance of Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as The Warden. He decides he will be responsible for Paige’s training, a fact that makes her very special ( and causes some envy) in the society. This is Bone Season XX, but everyone refers to Bone Season XVIII as being exceptional, since it was when a rebellion was quelled. But little details emerge, save what is mentioned in hushed whispers on the streets.

Without giving out to many spoilers it is a classic story of good vs evil, familiar adventures and experiences of a young adult, albeit in a newly fashioned dystopian landscape. Irrespective of the fantastic world that she inhabits and the exceptional talents she possesses, Paige comes across as a normal girl, with the usual ups and downs of life and emotions ( including getting a flutter about Arcturus). Bone Season is a book that once you get into whisks you off on a jolly ride.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is to be released on 20 Aug 2013. It is the first of a planned seven-volume series, all though Bloomsbury has signed the twenty-one-year old author for only a three-book deal. ( Apparently it is a six figure advance against royalty that the young Oxonian has been given, negotiated on her behalf by legendary literary agent, David Godwin.) Well before the book has been released the film rights were optioned by The Imaginarium Studios. It is London-based performance capture studio led by Andy Serkis ( The Lord of the Rings ) and Jonathan Cavendish ( produced of Bridget Jone’s Diary).

A newspaper claimed that Samantha Shannon was the next big writer after J. K. Rowling, presumably based on the advance figures. The story that Shannon tells in The Bone Season is imaginative, but not exceptional. It is a story well told, by a talented novelist who in time to come (as her writing skills mature) will be influential on the literary landscape. Where most debut novels tend to be semi-autobiographical, in Shannon’s case the autobiographical elements are literary, existing in the atmosphere, the plot and the story details. Shannon was born in 1991, on the eve of an era, when there was a burst of fabulous literature for children and young adults. (Notably, Rowling published her first Harry Potter book in 1997.) Some of the international writers who came to dominate the period from the early 1990s were Lois Lowry, J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctrow, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer etc. The stories that they told were unusual for the time, they focused on what were termed as dark topics, but obviously struck a chord with many young readers. Details of nineteenth century England is a characteristic of Steampunk fiction and shades of which are visible in the slang used by the Scion, Voyants and Rephaim. The idea of toying with memories has been explored before in literature and films such as by Aldous Huxley, Men in Black, Lois Lowry’s Giver etc. Even the relationship that Paige has with the Warden has shades of Darcy ( Pride and Prejudice), Charles ( The Grand Sophy ) and George Knightley ( Emma). So entire generations of readers have been brought up on exciting and imaginative literature. It is bound to be influential. This is not really a space for a literary deconstruction of a tale well told. As T.S. Eliot said in his essay, “Tradition and the individual talent”, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the …poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison…. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism.” The fact is Samantha Shannon has carved a niche for herself as a writer to be watched.

SAMANTHA SHANNON:
Twitter: http://twitter.com/say_shannon
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Samantha-Shannon/391393244245437?fref=ts

THE FOURTH ORDER (Art by Leiana Leatutufu): http://thefourthorder.tumblr.com/

THE BONE SEASON
https://twitter.com/TheBoneSeason
http://www.boneseasonbooks.com/
https://www.facebook.com/TheBoneSeason

15 July 2013 ( Updated 16 July 2013)

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