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January 25, 2016

Zee JLF Conversations: Sunjeev Sahota

Text by Tanisha Choudhury

Sunjeev Sahota, the author of The Year of the Runaways, talks about being a writer and life after being shortlisted for a Booker

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
“I was a big reader in my late teens and twenties and I was about 25 when I started writing my first novel. At some point during my big reading phase, I decided I wanted to do it myself.”

You’ve said before that Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie was the first novel you read and it was at 18. Apart from that, which book has had the greatest impact on you?
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry had a big impact on me. I read it quite early in my reading career. I was 19 and it was the first novel that totally absorbed me and showed me a side of India and a community in India – the Parsi community – that I did not know much about.”

What contemporary authors do you enjoy reading?
“I love Alan Wright, Damon Galgut, Tessa Hadley, Deborah Levy.”

If you had to pick one, which character from The Year of the Runaways was hardest to write?
“Probably Randeep because he’s quite a complex character and he does things that are quite appalling to women as well as to some men. But at the same time he’s got this vulnerability.  So he took the longest to become clear in my head.”

As a writer do you take inspiration from things you see around you or do rely more on imagination?
“Both. I constantly seem to have one ear and one eye on what people are saying, how they are saying it, phrases they use, and how they behave and subconsciously use body language.  The imagination is overlaid on top of everything as well.”

What are your thoughts on literary festivals?
“I think they are wonderful, and a great way for me to meet readers and to get out of my basement study and actually see the light. Especially at festivals that are well curated and seem to have their own ideology, I find they can be quite enlivening and really educational as well.”

How is the experience of being an author different after you’ve been shortlisted for an award like the Man Booker?
“It doesn’t change that much. There’s a few months when things get quite hectic and busy and you get lots of invitations. But what I write, how I write, and how I feel about my writing, that doesn’t change. The person that speaks to people at festivals is not the person at his desk writing. That is the much quieter version of myself, hopefully the better version of myself. I don’t feel much pressure. I’m just going to keep going down this path…”

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