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January 15, 2016

Kanishk Tharoor Talks About His First Book

Text by Natasha Sahjwani and Zaral Shah

Author Kanishk Tharoor talks about his first book Swimmer Among The Stars, life as a Tharoor and his favourite reads

1. As a writer, do you take inspiration from the people you meet and see around you or rely more on imagination?
“I probably lean more on my imagination but there are several stories in the collection based on real life. Including one story based on an elephant’s journey in Morocco. Incredibly I’ve now heard from someone who saw it all happen!”

2. What would you say is the biggest challenge one faces while writing a short story?
“Definitely deciding when it’s done, and stop tinkering and moving bits around.”

3. Do you start with the ending or the beginning? 
“It varies. I’ll often sit down with an image or a line in mind and the work of the story will be explaining that image or line.”

4. With regard to writing, who are you most inspired by?
“The writerly inspirations are legion. I’ll just name Calvino, Saramago, and Toni Morrison for now!”

5. Indian publishers are risk-averse and say short stories don’t sell. How did you convince your publisher?
“Short stories are a difficult sell everywhere. It probably helped that my stories are a little unconventional and (hopefully) somewhat original and well-written!”

6. What challenges – from a craft perspective – make the short story more challenging yet fulfilling?
“Short stories demand your rigorous attention in a way that novels don’t but they also allow you the chance to play with an adventurous conceit that can survive 30 pages but not 300.”

7. In this age of shorter attention spans, do you think writing a book of shorts is more prudent than attempting a novel?
“No, not at all. Stories have to find their appropriate length. I think there’ll always be a demand for novels!”

8. Which story from Swimmer Among The Stars is closest to your heart and why?
“They’re all dear to me, but if I must pick it’s a tie between the title story and the concluding sequence Mirrors of Iskandar.”

9. Do you remember the first story/piece you ever wrote? What was it about?
Little Turtle & the Battle for Freedom, about a Native American boy in New York fighting Europeans (Age 7).”

10. What are dinner table discussions like in a family of intellectuals? 
“We talk a lot about current events, books, movies… and Arsenal.”

11. You’ll be at the Jaipur Literature Festival later this month. What do you feel about festivals that celebrate literature?
“I’m fairly new to the festival experience, but it’s quite exciting to be included among so many luminaries.”

12. What do you hope readers will take away from the Swimmer Among The Stars?
“I hope that my collection can instil in them a sense of wonder, a wonder not simply at the stories I’m telling or the craft of my writing (though that would be nice too!), but a wonder directed at the world outside the page.”

13. What is your preferred genre to read? As someone who comes from a background of history and literature, is there a particular period in history whose tales intrigue you?
“I read pretty omnivorously between non-fiction and fiction, including works of history. I tend to be drawn to slightly obscure historical subjects, eras and places that are often forgotten or overlooked when we think about the past. One piece in my collection, Letters Home, fictionalizes little-known episodes in history and legend, from the legacy of Polish soldiers in Haiti to the lonely letters of ancient traders along the Silk Road.”

14. Are you working on a new book? If yes, what is it about?
“I am working on a novel. I’d rather not talk about it too much before its completion, but I’ll just say that it’s set in the 15th century and not in India.”

15. What are you currently reading?
“Like a lot of people, I’ve a bad habit of reading a number of books simultaneously, and that’s happening right now!”

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