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January 23, 2015

ZEEJLF Conversations: William Dalrymple

Text by Nittal Chandarana. Image courtesy Zee Jaipur Literature Festival

“It’s very important for an author to know when to say ‘no’.”

Verve chats with co-founder and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, William Dalrymple

On the history of JLF
“It grew out of an existing festival. Faith Singh, who is an English Bishop’s daughter married John Singh, who is part of the Rajput Royal Family. They fell in love in the 1960s and then ran the Rambagh Discotheque which was called the fertilised egg, back in 1973! Faith and John founded a festival after they retired called the Jaipur Virasat Festival which split in 2006. The music became the Jodhpur RIFF and the books stayed here and became JLF.”

On the ZeeJLF’s massive footfall
“I was here in 2004 when 14 people turned up, 10 of them were Japanese tourists who got lost trying to find Amer Fort, and it’s been amazing! We have 250,000 people come this time. For a long time, it was doubling every year. Luckily, now growing at about 5-10%, which is manageable. (Had it gone on, from a quarter of a million to half a million, we’d be in a soup!) Because of JLF, we now have 70 other literary festivals in the country.”

On authors and burgeoning festivals
“Well, it’s very important for an author to know when to say ‘no’. It’s been two years since I finished Return of a King and I’ve really got to start saying ‘no’ to everything and getting on to my next book. Kazuo Ishiguro said that after he won the Booker prize with The Remains of a Day, he lost two-three years touring for a book. But if you’re a big international author, and if you’re lucky enough that your books are published — my books are published in 40 languages — and most of them send you an invitation…then there’s an invitation from Greece! I mean, who’s going to say no to Greece? And then they say come to Rome….”

On his favourite festival
“This is my favourite but after this, my two other favourites are Hague and Sydney.”

On his next book
“I hardly started it. I have been touring, after the success of Return of a King; I have done a lot of festivals and I haven’t been able to make up my mind between two different books. One is a sort of artist or cultural history of India which is going to be a bit like Nine Lives, like 9 or 10 separate little essays on the East India Company. I’ve settled on both. I think I’ll do the cultural history first. I’ve gotten translators on Persian documents already for the East India Company book so I’m working on that too.”

On reading and some favourite contemporary authors
“I still make time to read, though I read lesser and lesser fiction. I read fiction only in Christmas or during holidays but I read a huge amount of non-fiction and I review a lot. I enjoy reviews though it’s the worst paid job in the world and you can spend three-four days and then get a £150 cheque. It’s devastating! Despite that, I like it and it keeps you on your toes. My favourite living novelist is Cormac McCarthy, who I’ve never been able to get here. Favourite Indian novelist is Jhumpa Lahiri, and favourite Indian writer is Suketu Mehta, who’s work is irritatingly good!”

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