Author Vish Dhamija talks to Boski Gupta about his latest book, crime thrillers, and the charm of holding a paperback
He may be based in the UK, but Vish Dhamija knows the pulse of Indian readers. He understands that though crime thrillers are popular, you can’t sell a bad story to the audience. No doubt, his books become bestsellers as soon as they are released. His latest Nothing Else Matters is a part-crime, part-romance, according to his own words, and we won’t be surprised if this too tops the charts soon. The author here talks about his passion for writing, his characters and newer age readers…
You have written thrillers, courtroom dramas and romantic thrillers as well. How do you plan what genre you are going to write? Which one comes naturally to you?
Crime fiction has four essential pillars: in any crime there’s a victim and there’s a criminal. Then there’s police to investigate and apprehend the perpetrator, but in reality, the story doesn’t end there. The accused has to be taken to court to prove the guilt. Depending whose side of the story I want to narrate, I pick the protagonist/antagonist as the main voice and hence, it inevitably gets classified into a sub-genre—honestly, I’ve never sat down to think which sub-genre of crime I’m going to write next. My personal favourite, of course, is lawyer as the lead character.
Can you share your earliest memories of writing, how did your interest grow?
I wrote for my school magazine, but that’s history. I wrote the first few chapters of Nothing Lasts Forever in 2008 and showed them to my wife. Her first reaction was ‘where have you copied these from?’, and that was motivating. To think what I had written was good enough that she thought that I had copied from someone else… The book was published in 2010, and it became a bestseller. That inspired me to keep writing.
But you have started writing late in your career. Why?
Are you calling me old (laughs)? As Keats said: If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all. It’s no different to writing fiction. I guess you cannot break an egg and expect a chicken; you have to wait till it hatches. Maybe the time was destined!
Though you live in London, your novels are related to India. How do you stay connected with your readers and how do you influence them?
In today’s world, it’s immaterial where you live. A good story is something that transcends borders anyway, thus for me to sit abroad and write a story based in India makes a lot more sense to readers than a story that’s set abroad. If anything, it brings the international perspective in a backdrop they are familiar with. I connect with my readers, primarily through my books. Then, there’s always social media.
How much research goes in before the book comes to table?
Immense. You cannot even begin to write before you’ve done your research. Believe me, more than half the time time is spent in research—police procedures, legal system, weapons…
What are the challenges a crime novelist faces?
We can’t be real, but we have to be realistic. Anything we write has to be believable, not a fantasy. So, the crime and the detection have to be realistic. And if you take the accused to a court, the arguments better be convincing. One concocted move, and the entire premise of the story can fall apart. And with the internet, anything you say can be explored and checked, so it’s become a lot more difficult to get away with make-believes.
Please put some light on thriller and crime genre in the Indian markets.
It’s definitely caught on. I was in Delhi for the Noir Literature Fest recently, and the number of people that showed up for the festival at 9 am on Sunday gives you the confidence that readers are interested. Worldwide, crime is the second largest selling genre (after romance/erotica) and India is no different. India is, after all, the third largest English fiction market in the world after the US and the UK, and irrespective of what people might want to believe—we are more alike than unlike the world over.
Who are your favourite writers? Who inspires you to write thrillers and suspense?
James Ellroy, Lawrence Sanders, Michael Connelly, Scott Turow, Greg Iles… it’s an endless list. Subconsciously, morsels of crime fiction were fed to us even before we realised—remember Phantom comics? And Tintin? Even our comic book heroes were fighting evil, investigating crimes. It didn’t take long for the worm to start curling in my brain from an early age.
What are you planning to write next?
The next two are legal thrillers with Harper Collins: Unlawful Justice (mid-2017) and The Mogul (early 2018).
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
I don’t write daily. I write on weekends and on vacations. I normally write in the morning—so most weekends, I’m up at 5 and write till about 9.
In the age of eBooks and audiobooks, where do you see the publishing business in future?
While the comparison is obvious, unlike music the eBooks will not completely replace paper. Back catalogues of music could be converted into digital files at home, but you cannot digitalise the books you already have. The old generation will always prefer paper (80%) and the new generation will split equally between digital and paper. But remember, the growth in the reading population will be sufficient to keep traditional paper publishing alive for a long time.
Do you think physical copies have a charm of their own? Are you an eBook reader or a book reader?
I’m old school. I still listen to music on vinyl, so for me a physical book retains the charm. The cover, the scent of print, the paper, turning the page…
What advice would you give to the budding writers?
If you have a story to tell, go ahead and write it, no matter whatever anyone says. Never give up on your dreams—I know it sounds philosophical, but it is the truth. You don’t lose when you lose; you only lose when you give up trying.