“Individual memory, history, and the novel, are all selective: no one remembers everything, each historian picks out the facts he or she chooses to find significant, and every novel, whether historical or not, must limit its own scope. No one can tell all the stories there are.”
–Margaret Atwood, “In Search of Alias Grace: Writing Canadian Historical Fiction.”
March, 2015. I am sitting in the National Library of Ireland, scrolling through microform of an 1820s County Kerry newspaper. My eyes ache—this is the fourth day I have spent in front of the reader. As I wind through the pages of miniscule print, zooming in on articles and reading them only to discover their irrelevance, I feel familiar threads of anxiety knot in the depths of my stomach.
Next to me, carefully pasted in the front of my notebook, is an article reported from the 1826 Tralee assizes by the Morning Post. It describes the trial of “Ann Roche, an old woman of very advanced age” indicted for a serious crime “committed under the delusion of the grossest superstition.” The woman claimed she had been trying to “put the fairy out” of a child she described as “fairy struck.”
I found this article in 2011, and have spent the last four years plagued by questions of who Ann Roche was and whether she believed her own defense. Did she truly accept the existence (and malice) of the fairies? What had she done and why? I have told my publishers I am writing a novel about her. I have committed myself to her story, and am writing under deadline.
The only thing is, I have been searching for Ann for two years now, and have found nothing except the original article. I had accepted that there would be gaps in the record, the usual silences and omissions one comes across, particularly when looking for the stories of the marginalized or criminal, but I have scoured all the usual genealogical resources, various databases and records, and she has remained altogether absent. Elusive. Faceless.
I have now come to Ireland to find her. I wind through the microform. Nothing.
This is hopeless, I think. I will never be able to write this novel.
I never intended to write historical fiction. In my early twenties I wanted to be a poet or a playwright. A writer of forms that were deeper than they were wide, as I thought of them then. I’m certain I held a vague, un-interrogated dislike of stories “inspired by fact,” and if pressed, would have likely said that they seemed exploitative or exhibited laziness on the writer’s part. I considered historical fiction less exhumation of the partial past, and more ready-made “dot-to-dot” exercises in fiction: imaginative romps from one historical event to another, reeking with creative license for its own sake. At worst I probably considered the genre—as Hilary Mantel once said—“chick-lit with wimples.” At best, it was history bent out of shape, warped to fit the writer’s whim.
I was wrong, of course, and my opinions on historical fiction changed around 2009, the year of Mantel’s Booker Prize win for Wolf Hall, and a time of much debate regarding the accuracy of history, and whether the obligation of the fiction writer is to value history’s “objective truth,” or disrupt the notion that such a thing is possible altogether. It was also the year I began writing a novel based on the life and death of a woman called Agnes Magnúsdóttir.
As a teenager I left my home in South Australia for twelve months and lived in Sauðárkrókur, northern Iceland. It was a transformative experience for me, not least that it gave my 17-year-old self a renewed love and appreciation of story and its power to connect us to the past and to each other. The fjords, valleys and mountains surrounding the village were rich with history—sites of sagas, local legends and myths—and the Icelanders often narrated the landscape to me within a context of story.
“This road curves to avoid those elf rocks. That’s where the huldufólk live.”
“This is the hot spring where the outlaw, Grettir the Strong, bathed to revive himself after swimming from the island of Drangey.”
“This is the valley where the parents of the first European born in North America settled.”
One tale that emerged from the landscape and lingered with me long after I returned to Australia was that of the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. In 1828 the two men, a local herbalist and a sheep thief, were stabbed to death as they slept. Three people were convicted of the crime, of which two, a local teenager called Friðrik, and Natan’s servant, Agnes, were sentenced to death. Friðrik and Agnes were beheaded in 1830 at a valley mouth now spliced by Iceland’s main highway, and driving back and forth from Reykjavík, the site of these executions (the last in Iceland) was often pointed out to me. When I pressed people for further information about Agnes, however, particularly in regard to motive, little was offered beyond a shrug and a suggestion that she was a “bad” woman.
“But who was she really? What was her life like? What was she like?”
No one could tell me.
It was this desire to know who Agnes truly was that led me to write a novel about her, five years later.
From the outset I was painfully aware of my status as an Australian writing about an Icelandic history and a culture that wasn’t my own. Did I have a right to tell this story? I was also anxious to avoid any accusation that I was exploiting the dead for entertainment—these were, of course, the criticisms I often leveled at some other works of historical fiction. In my desire to write a work of emendation rather than appropriation, I undertook a rigorous approach to the mixing of fact and fiction, deciding to research as widely and as thoroughly as possible. If facts were solid, I would not alter them. If facts were questionable, or contradictory, or openly prejudiced, I would use my wider research to select the most likely scenario. And finally, if there were gaps left unfilled, I was at liberty to invent, although such invention would need to fall within the parameters of the reasonable; parameters set, again, by wider research into the times Agnes lived in.
These rules proved useful to me. The research took years and was difficult, but it unearthed rich material. I found Agnes in censuses, parish records and local histories, and found that my wider reading into 19th-century life in Iceland gave weight to the facts of her life I unearthed. Burial Rites, published in 2013, was a book I felt to be anchored to research, that nonetheless offered a foray into the unknowable emotional lives of my characters. I regarded the novel as a speculative biography: a work not of uncontestable historical accuracy, but one that contested the understanding of infallible historical truth, and in doing so, suggested the possibility of multiple interpretations.
In the author talks that followed publication, readers immediately wanted to know what was fact and what was fiction, what was true and what was false.
“I can’t tell you,” I replied. “The waters have been muddied.”
Scrolling through the microfilm on my last day in the library, I wonder whether it is possible to write a work of historical fiction about a woman without any biographical information, without any facts at all. I have been hoping to undertake the same methodology I used for Burial Rites—as I had found Agnes, so I would find Ann—but it is becoming clearer with each day that my research is futile.
Suddenly I see a name on the screen. Anne Roche. I stop, zoom in on the text, speed-read.
“There are three women confined to our County Jail, charged on the verdict of the Coroner’s Jury… Their names are Anne Roche, Honora Leahy and Mary Clifford.”
My heart starts beating furiously.
“Nance Roche, who is described as superannuated and having of necessity, retired from the bustle and frail vanities of this wicked world, now claims a mysterious intimacy with certain busy beings, respectfully denominated, Good People—hints at her profound knowledge and powerful influence on their supernatural agency, and is deeply skilled in every Fairy Herb and Nostrum.”
I print out the article with shaking hands. This, I think, this is enough.
I never found anything more concerning the life of Ann Roche other than the information contained in those two newspaper articles, found four years apart. And yet, those brief articles contained enough information to guide my wider research. I seized on the possibility of three central characters, rather than one. I turned my attention to pre-famine Ireland’s rich folk culture, and to the herbalism and belief in “sympathetic magic” practiced by “fairy doctors.” I spoke with librarians, curators and academics in Dublin, Cork and Killarney to ascertain what might have happened prior to the trial, and to learn what kinds of lives these women would have led, according to the various social statuses ascribed to each in the newspaper report. I immersed myself in information until I felt saturated with familiarity—if not of the specific facts regarding the lives of these women, then certainly of the world in which they lived.
The Good People was written within the realms of the plausible. All but the conclusion of the book—the incidents described in the only primary source material I could find—is invented, and yet all invention is so heavily influenced by what is known about similar criminal cases, about folkloric practices, about the lives of women who lived in poverty in rural Ireland, that the warp and weft, the play between fact and fiction, cannot be separated. Is it true? No. Is it false? No, not that either. It is somewhere in between. An approximation. A likelihood. A work of possibility.
Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.
(NEW YORK) – March 10 , 2017. Atria Books today announced the upcoming book of a unique novel by ny days bestselling writer and worldwide literary symbol Isabel Allende. The guide, named in the middle of Winter, will be published in fall 2017. Ms. Allende’s beloved works have been converted into a lot more than 35 languages and now have sold a lot more than 65 million copies globally. In December 2014, President Obama awarded Allende using Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Atria Vice President and Executive Editor Johanna Castillo acquired World English legal rights from Ms. Allende’s literary representative, Gloria Gutierrez in the Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells S.A.
The woman latest book, japan fan, published by Atria Books in 2015, was an international bestseller and called “monumental” by Harper’s Bazaar and “poignant, powerful” by The Boston Globe.
In in the middle of Winter, an easy car accident is the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love tale between two people who thought they certainly were deeply into the cold weather of these life. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old individual rights scholar—hits the vehicle of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first appears just a minor incident takes an unforeseen and a lot more severe turn whenever Evelyn arises at professor’s home pursuing assistance. Baffled, the teacher asks their tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different individuals are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, triggering the beginning of a love tale between Richard and Lucia that was long delinquent.
“Working with one of the most famous writers of our time has been an honor for the whole company. With In The Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende features yet again created a group of effective and iconic figures and a timely message when it comes to globe,” says Johanna V. Castillo.
Isabel Allende won global recognition whenever the woman bestselling very first book, the home associated with the Spirits, was published in 1982. And starting Allende’s job as a prominent writer, the guide, which expanded off a farewell page to the woman dying grandfather, also set up the girl as a feminist power in Latin America’s male-dominated literary world.
She’s got gone on to write twenty more works, including fiction like Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, Stories of Eva Luna, The Infinite Arrange, and Daughter of Fortune. Her nonfiction works consist of Aphrodite, an entertaining collection of recipes and essays, and three memoirs: My Invented Country, Paula (a bestseller that documents Allende’s daughter’s illness and demise, plus her very own life), and the sum Our times.
Allende’s works entertain and teach visitors by interweaving imaginative stories with significant historical activities. Settings for her books include Chile for the fifteenth, 19th and 20th hundreds of years, the Ca gold-rush, the guerrilla motion of 1960s Venezuela, the Vietnam War, and also the servant revolt in Haiti in 18th century. Allende became a U.S. citizen in 1993 but, as she claims, she life with one-foot in California and something base in Chile.
Besides the woman act as a journalist, Allende devotes much of the woman time for you to human liberties triggers. Following death of the woman 29 year old daughter Paula Frias, she established in 1996 an altruistic foundation in Paula’s honor dedicated to the security and empowerment of females and children globally. The building blocks has actually granted grants to over 100 nonprofits worldwide delivering life-changing treatment to thousands and thousands of women and women.
In the middle of Winter is posted by Simon & Schuster Canada, UK, India and Australia. It will be accessible from Simon & Schuster Audio.
Atria Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of CBS Corporation. Simon & Schuster is an international leader in neuro-scientific basic interest writing, focused on providing the finest in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of most ages, across all printed, electronic, and sound formats. Its divisions include Simon & Schuster mature Publishing, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Simon & Schuster Audio, Simon & Schuster on the web, and international organizations in Australia, Canada, India, while the uk. For more information about Atria, see our internet site at http://imprints.simonandschuster.biz/atria.
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This guide to how to write a horror story covers the basics. First, read a definition of horror and common elements of horror fiction. Then read 6 tips on writing horror stories that you can use to evoke intense feeling in your readers, even if you don’t exclusively write horror:
The word ‘horror’ means ‘an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust’ (Oxford English Dictionary). The word comes from the Latin horrere, meaning ‘to tremble or shudder’.
5 common elements of the best horror stories
The best horror stories share at least five elements in common:
They explore ‘malevolent’ or ‘wicked’ characters, deeds or phenomena.
They arouse feelings of fear, shock or disgust as well as the sense of the uncanny – things are not what they seem. There is a heightened sense of the unknown and/or mysterious.
They are intense (as the dictionary definition reminds us). Horror books convey intense emotion, mood, tone and environments. Together, these produce the sense that everything is charged with ominous possibility.
They contain scary and/or shocking and scintillating plot twists and story reveals (unlike episodes of the cartoon Scooby Doo, in which the bad guys are typically conniving realtors dressed as paranormal beings – ghosts, werewolves). In horror the ghosts and werewolves are very, very real.
They immerse readers in the macabre. Horror tends to deal with morbid situations, from repetitive cycles of violence to death-related uncanny scenarios. Zombies march, vampires make you join their legion, or (in subtler scenarios) long-dead friends or relations pay unexpected visits.
How do you write a horror story or novel like Stephen King, Clive Barker or (looking further back in the genre’s history) Edgar Allan Poe? Start with these six tips:
1: Learn how to write horror using strong, pervasive tone
Tone and mood are two elements that contribute to how your story feels. Great tone and mood can have readers’ spines tingling before a single character has even spoken or made a terrible decision.
How you describe settings, character movement and actions creates an overarching tone. In horror writing, a dark or frightening tone is often pronounced. Take this example from Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always:
‘Half closing his eyes, he crossed to the window and fumbled to slam it, making sure that the latch was in place this time.
The wind had started his lamp moving, and when he turned back the whole room seemed to be swinging around. One moment the fight was blazing in his eyes, the next it was flooding the opposite wall. But in between the blaze and the flood it lit the middle of his room, and standing there – shaking the rain off his hat – was a stranger.
He looked harmless enough. He was no more than six inches taller than Harvey, his frame scrawny, his skin distinctly yellowish in colour. He was wearing a fancy suit, a pair of spectacles and a lavish smile.’
The scene is suffused with a sense of the unsettling. Objects that should be stationary move. The room itself seems to move. The viewpoint character is disoriented. A peculiar character seems to materialize out of nowhere.
Barker also creates an ominous tone through indirect means. ‘He looked harmless enough’ draws our attention to the possibility the man could in fact be harmful. The ‘scrawny’ frame and ‘yellowish’ skin both make the stranger unsettling and increase the sense of unfamiliarity.
Whether you are an aspiring horror author or not, work at creating consistent mood and tone. If you want to write a scary novel, focus on ways you can make actions and descriptions work together to establish an uneasy atmosphere.
2: Read widely in your genre
Whatever genre you write in, whether psychological or paranormal horror read as many books by respected authors in your genre as possible. Examples of celebrated horror authors include Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Bram Stoker, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, John Lindqvist and more.
As you read authors in your genre, make notes on what aspects of your genre the author excels in. Is it great, spooky settings? Copy out your favourite quotes that create an eerie sense of place and re-read when trying to make your own settings more vivid. Actively learning from great authors will improve your mastery of the horror genre.
3: Give wicked characters better, credible motivations
When you write a horror novel, it shouldn’t read as though a malevolent force is sitting at a bus stop, waiting to infiltrate your unsuspecting characters’ world ‘just because’. Give every malevolent character a strong, clear motivation. Revealing exactly what the motivation is can be part of the mystery that sustains your story and keeps readers guessing why unsettling things keep happening.
If there’s a malevolent force, being or stranger in your horror novel, make their motivation similar in magnitude to the character’s actions. Readers will scoff if a creepy doll goes on a murderous rampage in your novel simply because somebody took its batteries out.
4: Use the core elements of tragedy
This is excellent horror-writing advice from Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. As Wendig puts it:
Horror is best when it’s about tragedy in its truest and most theatrical form: tragedy is born through character flaws, through bad choices, through grave missteps.
The horror genre uses the core elements of tragedy so nakedly that some of these have become clichés. ‘Don’t go in that house, idiot,’ you might shout at the screen while watching American Horror Story, because the character has the tragic flaw of being oblivious to personal danger.In horror stories, we get scared because, as readers, we see the signs foolhardy characters don’t.
At its heart, tragedy teaches some important lessons, for example:
The destructive, rippling cause and effect acts of cruelty can set in motion (the frightening way the title character of Stephen King’s novel Carrie unleashes her powers due to bottling sustained psychological abuse is a good example)
The value of seeing situations and scenarios from multiple perspectives (e.g. You could tell yourself, ‘That house is abandoned because the property market fell’. But also: ‘That house is abandoned because something terrible happened there (and keeps happening there) and people are afraid of it.’)
The lesson that bravery means making a choice in full awareness of danger, whereas making choices in blissful unawareness of their potential consequences leaves people vulnerable
To write a credible horror novel, in other words, show that the horror-filled situation is dependent on a network of character choices, past or present. At its heart, horror fiction reminds us that cause and effect is real, even in the fantastical realm of storytelling.
5: Write scary novels by tapping into common human fears
If the point of horror writing (and horror elements in other genres such as paranormal romance) is to arouse fear, shock or disgust, think of the things people are most commonly afraid of.
Live Science places an interest choice at number one: The dentist. It’s true that you can feel powerless when you’re in the dentist’s chair. Couple this with the pain of certain dental procedures and it’s plain to see why a malevolent dentist is the stuff of horror nightmares.
Making readers scared creates tension and increases the pace of your story. Even so there should be a reason for making readers fearful. A terrifying situation should be central to the plot and should be driven by some or other cause (even if the reader can only guess, ultimately, what the precise cause is).
Here are some of the most common fears people have. As an exercise, list the reasons why we might find these things terrifying. Most relate to physical and/or mortal danger, but you can also drawn on other common fears. Fears such as fear of humiliation, inadequacy or failure: Most common fears – fodder for horror novel writing
Fear of animals (dogs, snakes, sharks, mythical creatures such as the deep sea-dwelling kraken)
Fear of flying (film producers combined the previous fear and this other common fear to make the spoof horror movie Snakes on a Plane)
The dark – one of the most fundamental fears of the unfamiliar
Other people and their often unknown desires or intentions
Ugly or disorienting environments
Think of how common fears can be evoked in your horror fiction. Some are more often exploited in horror writing than others. A less precise fear (such as the fear of certain spaces) will let you tell the horror story you want with fewer specified must-haves.
6: Terror vs horror: Learn the difference
To learn how to write horror novels, it’s useful to understand the difference between horror and terror. Both have their place in horror writing. ‘Terror’ describes a state of feeling. Oxford Dictionaries simply define it as ‘extreme fear’. To ‘terrorise’, means to use extreme fear to intimidate others. Horror, however, also suggests elements of disgust and surprise or shock. Thus the word ‘horror’ describes not only extreme fear but also revulsion and a sense of surprise and the unexpected.
Horror writers share different ways to understand the difference between terror and horror:
For Stephen King, terror is a feeling the author tries to evoke in the reader before resorting to shock tactics such as surprising with the extreme or unpleasant:
‘I’ll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll horrify you, and if I can’t make it there, I’ll try to gross you out. I’m not proud.’
King’s quote suggests that if you can create terror in the reader before there’s even a gross-out moment or sickly reveal in your horror novel, you’re winning.
Terry Heller, an English Academic whose published books include The Delights of Terror: An Aesthetics of the Tale of Terror, describes the difference thus:
‘Terror is the fear that harm will come to oneself. Horror is the emotion one feels in anticipating and witnessing harm coming to others for whom one cares.’
Heller raises a good point. In horror we see the terror characters feel from their (or the narrator’s) perspective. We also feel the dread of anticipating bad things happening to characters. Because we’re attached to characters’ outcomes, we fear for them and feel horror at bad things they experience.
Meet like-minded horror authors on Now Novel and share your favourite tips on how to write a horror story as well as extracts of your writing for helpful feedback.
In June of 1997, on the verge of graduating from high school, I received an award for my study of foreign languages, a book wrapped in blue shiny paper. As I opened it, a small clipping from TIME slipped out – an article on an Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, whose novel was taking the literary world by storm. My prize was Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things (1997). I sat down to read it immediately.
On a visit to India the summer before, I had poked around bookshops desperately seeking out new fiction – something other than the requisite thin copy of Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935) that seemed to be everywhere, dusty and unthumbed, the few books by Anita Desai and Gita Mehta, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve (1954), and a graying Sahitya Akademi translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Chaturanga (1916). This was 1997 and, unlike today, most of Mumbai’s bookstores were hidden inside luxury hotels, Indian literature meant Rudyard Kipling and EM Forster, and the bookshelves dedicated to India offered little more than old Lonely Planet volumes and coffee table books on the lives of the Maharajas.
At age eighteen, I found Anand dry and Rushdie pompous. Desai and Mehta felt like they were writing for my parents’ generation. There was even something dull and unfashionable about the packaging of these books, most of which were published not in India but in England. Indian literature wasn’t cool – it was, somehow, embarrassing.
The God of Small Things changed all that.
The idea that India could have a contemporary novel of its own, shorn of Anand’s unwieldy idioms or Markandaya’s awkward exoticisms, a novel whose writing style was new and fresh, whose irony and anger were youthful and contemporary, a novel that shouted rather than whispered, a novel by a young woman, was, to my mind, a revelation. I found myself simultaneously devastated by the book and exhilarated at the thought that this is what the Indian novel had become.
The announcement of Roy’s long-awaited next novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, to be published later this year, brings me back to that time.
I did not know it then, but the Anglophone Indian novel was at a turning point that The God of Small Things foretold, even if its own gaze was resolutely backward. There was such tragedy in the writing, and stagnancy, and frustration at a world that could not accommodate childhood, social change, or eruptions of desire.
There was Ammu, who desperately wanted a life for herself but was burdened by what Kiran Desai was to later term the inheritance of loss, a sense of melancholy passed down from generation to generation, clipping the wings of the youth, suppressing the possibility of joy.
There was Velutha, who (one imagined) read Marx in the moonlight and represented a proletariat gathering its forces, waiting for the right time to strike out against centuries of oppression – but who eventually also became a victim of the devastating forces of history and state-sanctioned violence. And of course there were Estha and Rahel, two-egg twins who did their best to find spaces to breathe, even as their childhoods were snatched from under their feet, leading to lives marked by silence and grief.
Now we can look back and see just how presciently these characters comprised a cry for help, a recognition of the power of the past in stunting the future. But The God of Small Things also represented a sense of possibility, a freshness that promised throwing off history’s handcuffs and forging a new future for Indian literature.
Just as her readers were beginning to wrap their minds around this liberating duality, Roy herself started to feel burdened by her success.
After she was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997, she attained a cult-like following, was feted and invited to undertake speaking tours, and plied with money. The sultry book jacket image of her was circulated widely by the media, and in 1998 People named her one of the world’s fifty most beautiful people. Roy records this in The Cost of Living, the nonfiction book she published in 1999 as a response – a rejoinder – to this adulation.
She spoke at my college around that time and underlying her words was a gathering layer of anger. Rather than bask in the applause she had earned, it was clear she wanted to use her fame to publicise various injustices: the World Bank, the Sardar Sarovar Dam, India’s nuclearisation. She was not in the mood to be a celebrity. Something had hardened inside her and she would never be the same.
Now, as a professor of literature, when I teach The God of Small Things to my students, we discuss Roy’s transition away from fiction as emblematic of the very violence she describes in the novel, a violence in which the world’s Small Things – children, words, insects, the birthmark in the shape of a leaf on Velutha’s back that makes the monsoons come on time – are swept up into the winds of the Big Things – violence, history, politics, caste, and war – and methodically silenced.
Roy’s novel began as a small thing, a rejoinder to the violences of patriarchy, caste, and party politics, a clearing of space for voices that otherwise would have drowned, unnoticed. But it got taken over by the roar of international publishing markets, the exoticisation and commodification of brown women’s bodies, and the unequal relations between India and the West, turning The God of Small Things into another notch in the global capitalist-patriarchal enterprise.
I understand it now – it is an ironic footnote to the novel’s own story – how The God of Small Things became something else entirely from the novel she had written, and how once Roy saw it happening, she turned resolutely away. But at the time I still needed Roy to represent those things I sought so badly and could not find elsewhere: the female writer, the Indian humanist, the giver of beautiful gifts.
So while Roy turned in another direction, I remained dogged in my pursuit of the possibility her novel had offered me, the possibility of an Indian tomorrow as opposed to the staid rhythms of the past to which Anglophone Indian literature seemed so beholden. Certainly, Roy’s success made publishers more willing to take risks with the kinds of books they published. Suddenly it was not just Anand and Rushdie populating the shelves.
Bookstores mushroomed, Indian Literature sections grew. Some books were good and others less so, but the options seemed endless. I watched over the decades as Indian English literature became something entirely new, entirely different from what it had been before.
In the place of hoary folk stories, novels with glossaries, and the ramblings of male narrators were new and more diverse plots, new writing styles, new kinds of characters. The translation industry grew as well, and every day there was a new author that I had never heard of. Roy’s book opened up a new path, and writers, readers, and publishers jubilantly followed.
Meanwhile Roy set her sights on the ugly undersides of this new world.
In 2001 New York was attacked and in response the United States unleashed unilateral military strikes that have taken the world into what seems to be a perpetual state of war. The 1998 electoral victory of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India made Hindu nationalism increasingly mainstream. Ties with Pakistan were strained and India came close to war several times.
In 2002 a train of right-wing activists returning from the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was set on fire, precipitating a resurgence of Hindu–Muslim violence and culminating in an anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat that killed over one thousand people. And current prime minister Narendra Modi’s hardline version of the BJP won the 2014 elections in a resounding victory.
Development became the mantra of the new India. Buoyed by the economic liberalisation of the early 1990s, the slogan “India Shining” promised its citizens a bright, shiny future. But the new malls, apartment complexes, and global brands that now seemed to be everywhere heralded a nationalism more exclusionary than ever. The promise of a better future was palpable in these aestheticised spaces, but their empty corridors and high price tags only revealed the falsity of that promise.
The number of farmer suicides increased and the communist Naxalite movement grew in India’s heartland. The calls for azaadi (freedom) in Kashmir intensified, and the Indian army cracked down with further violence. Terrorism became part of the fabric of this new India, in spectacular cases such as the attack on Parliament in 2001 and the coordinated attacks in Mumbai in 2008, and in smaller bombs in markets and buses.
Cities such as Mumbai were also affected by a right-wing resurgence, as frustrations over increasing economic inequality became channelled into a parochial politics that divided residents into locals and foreigners. In 2015 many writers, including Roy, returned their national awards, protesting the muzzling of free speech and the government’s silence on rising communal violence around the country.
It is to exposing these issues that Roy’s writings turned, and although she did not write a novel in the two decades following the publication of The God of Small Things, she wrote prolifically.
After The Cost of Living, she published at least twelve books, including The Greater Common Good (1999), An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2004), and, most recently, Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2014), along with countless articles and long-form reporting in Outlook, The Hindu, and other publications. All are harshly critical of the violence of global capitalism, the dangers of Hindu nationalism, and the failure of the Indian state to value the lives of its marginalised people: Adivasis, Dalits, Kashmiris, women, farmers, Muslims, slum dwellers, and so on. The anger I had glimpsed in 1999 now hardened into a sense of loss at India’s betrayal of its people. In Power Politics (2001) she writes:
“It’s as though the people of India have been rounded up and loaded onto two convoys of trucks (a huge big one and a tiny little one) that have set off resolutely in opposite directions. The tiny convoy is on its way to a glittering destination somewhere near the top of the world. The other convoy just melts into the darkness and disappears. … For some of us, life in India is like being suspended between two of the trucks, one in each convoy, and being neatly dismembered as they move apart, not bodily, but emotionally and intellectually.”
— “Power Politics”, Arundhati Roy
Some in India find her too harsh, too strident, too literary for nonfiction, and too sympathetic to Naxalites and Kashmiris. Some have responded to her with venom. But it is precisely this anger that she seems to want to elicit. After the fantastic adulation of 1997, perhaps anger seemed more real, a sign of wakefulness, the more legitimate response in a nightmarish world.
It is in this context of two decades of polemic nonfiction that Roy’s fans, those who have stuck with her through the nonfiction and those who have not, now rejoice in the announcement that she is publishing a second novel this summer, twenty years after The God of Small Things. Although little information about the novel has been released, its title, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, suggests a chilling social satire. Will it be a fictional version of her political writings, a skewering of the Indian state’s indifference, but this time in fictional form? Or will it be something else?
Roy’s twenty-year turn to nonfiction makes a compelling case for the need for new forms of writing in conditions of social emergency, forms that remain resistant to commodification.
This is in line with an overall sense among Indian intellectuals and critics that the present requires a heightened vigilance, an active carving out of a space for dissent. From this perspective, Roy marks one end of cultural production in India today. Another is represented by the many new forms of fiction that have exploded in India since The God of Small Things.
These include grittier novels, such as Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008), Manu Joseph’s Serious Men (2010), the queer novels of R Raj Rao, and a number of graphic novels. It also includes commercial fiction: the popular novels of Chetan Bhagat, the “chick lit” writings of Anuja Chauhan, the fantasy fictions of Amish Tripathi, and the romances of Durjoy Datta and Ravinder Singh.
The range of new writings suggests that Roy’s desire to find spaces further and further from the market as a response to India’s right-wing turn is not the only response to present conditions. Indeed, the vast array of new commercial literatures in India suggests that dividing cultural production into the categories of commodified/apolitical and non-commodified/political is not the most helpful way to imagine a renewed literary future for India. Rather we can find surprising solidarities across these ideological divides.
Some of the new literature advances the ideas that Roy inaugurated in The God of Small Things, even though it is written in a non-literary style and is often commercially oriented. Even in genres such as “chick lit,” which many see as offering a superficial, market-driven understanding of women’s problems, we can locate some of the questions of female desire that plagued Roy’s characters.
In Anuja Chauhan’s Battle for Bittora (2009), the protagonist Jinni struggles to reconcile her own complex sense of self – outspoken, confident, occasionally silly– with a narrow idea of what it means to be politically engaged. On the surface the book can seem like the complete antithesis of Roy’s, with its comedic tone and its language of “sinewy wrists,” but nevertheless, it raises important questions about the relentlessness of patriarchy and the validity of female desire, in a simpler form that is accessible to a much broader range of readers than the earlier generation of Indian English fiction.
Something similar could be said about Ratika Kapur’s 2015 novel The Private Life of Mrs Sharma, which takes the sexual transgression that was so violently suppressed in The God of Small Things and folds it into the experience of everyday life. The protagonist Mrs Sharma, lonely because her husband is working in Dubai, starts up an affair with a man she meets on the Delhi metro. Torn between the prudishness of society and her own sexual needs, the narration is a fascinating rumination on social hypocrisy and the work women do to fashion liveable lives for themselves. But Mrs Sharma is an individualist who wants a better life for herself and will do almost anything to achieve it. The novel thus makes a similar social critique as does Roy, but uses the language of aspiration and self-transformation to do it.
And there is the recent English translation of three of Ambai’s mystery stories, collected as A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge and originally published in Tamil in 2014. Ambai’s detective protagonist Sudha Gupta solves mysteries involving missing persons against a shadowy background of domestic violence and sexual abuse. But the feminist project of its author – the women’s studies scholar CS Lakshmi, for whom Ambai is a pen name – is carefully downplayed in the books, which are marketed to a wide audience. The prose is shorn of any overt political gravitas and could be read as a simple detective plot set in the everyday life of middle-class Mumbai.
These texts might seem to mark the end of literature as dissent; they do not take political positions as much as write mundane stories of sadness, freedom, and desire.
Their politics are not spectacular, but folded into everyday life. But from another angle, these new books show how dissent does not need to take place in an exclusive sphere outside of the market, outside of all forms of commodification, that it might be even stronger and reach further if it reflects partial complicity in them. This possibility is something that Roy’s personal trajectory – from commodified fiction to angry, political nonfiction – has the potential to overlook.
Indeed, The God of Small Things was not immune to its own charges of political quietism: Aijaz Ahmad, a well-known Marxist literary scholar, criticised the book for finding political awakening in the private act of a sexual encounter instead of in the public sphere, a perspective excoriated by feminists. The lesson is that rather than policing what counts as political writing, we might accept that dissent comes in a variety of forms.
It is likely that readers in the United States will not have heard of these three novels by Chauhan, Kapur, and Ambai, as increasingly Indian literature – even in English – is marketed to Indian audiences and does not rely on international sales. Authors such as Chauhan and Bhagat are not even published abroad; they explicitly write for local readers.
There is an irony here: while critics see the new literature as thoroughly a product of the market, and thus as representing the end of “good” literature, these new texts are in fact not subject to the same kinds of exoticisation and international commodification that Roy faced with The God of Small Things because they are rarely read abroad. They are not outside the market, but occupy a different market. They are reflections of the new India, but also offer new forms of dissent unavailable to the earlier generation.
India’s new literary landscape – with its vast range of texts, its apparent disinterest in politics, and its complicity with capitalism – seems unwieldy at times, and I sympathise with Roy’s desire to steer clear of it and find a purer medium in prose nonfiction. For her commitment to justice, her vision of a better India, and her tireless resistance to the commodification of writing, she will be remembered as one of the most significant authors of the twentieth century.
Yet there is still a bit of that eighteen-year-old inside me, even now, who craves the joy of burrowing down into a fictional world. There is a part of me that wants the old Arundhati Roy back. Maybe I will find her in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Otherwise, I think I will go read The God of Small Things again.
This curious 13-year-old writer who studies in Sanskriti School, Chanakyapuri became obsessed with astrophysics when his elder sister introduced him to the genre.
The Maithili author who is now in class 9th recently published his 350+ pages long science-fiction novel, Oliver Blake and the Charognards.
But how did an 11-year-old developed an interest for astrophysics and science fiction?
Shivansh started writing his first book, Oliver Blake and the Charognards when he was just 11!
“My sister was the one who introduced me to science. I remember being told about the behaviour of electrons and quantum entanglement as far back as third grade. Ever since then, I’ve always had this infatuation with science and anything to do with cosmic events. So, starting my writing career with something I care about so much is something which I’m glad I was able to do,” he said proudly.
Although many people didn’t know much about him, it was Shashi Tharoor who tweeted a picture with the young author with the caption, “With the amazing 13-year-old Shivansh, who has published a 300+page novel he began writing at 11! Entertaining& well written: get it on Amazon.(sic)”
Shivansh with Shashi Tharoor
But it was more of a hobby for Shivansh who says, “For now I’m going to keep it as a hobby. It is a way I’m able to express myself.”
Shivansh has started writing his second novel which he says is a sequel to Oliver Blake and the Charognards, and already has a plot in mind for his third book.
“The murder mystery is my third novel, something I’m writing to attempt to show the transition from a completely normal teenager to what we perceive as a psychopath. In it, I’ve attempted to show that the transition is caused due to the actions of society, which in a sense were misunderstood or misinterpreted by him. It is a story about his fall into chaos and how he lashes out to try and protect himself,” he said explaining the plot.
The most unexpected thing happened to him when none-other-than Ruskin Bond invited him to his place, “Somehow Ruskin Bond came to know about my novel and contacted my father and invited us to Mussoorie.”
Legendary writer Ruskin Bond has already showered his praise upon the young author.
Explaining his meeting with the legendary writer, Shivansh says, “I believe Mr Bond had an influence over me before he even uttered a single word.”
He was awestruck when he first went inside his home, “I was shocked the moment I walked into the small drawing room. The bedroom was what caught my eye. Overlooking was one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen, it was all the inspiration an author could ever hope to have.”
“Mr Bond said ‘If you do intend to become a fully fledged novelist then you need to first fall in love with your characters. Know them through and through. See the world through their eyes. If you are able to do that… then you’ll realise how thin the line between reality and fiction really is. People often condemn living in an imaginary world, oblivious to what’s happening around you… but imagination is just another form of reality. You just choose how much of it you want to be a part of you.'”
I believe Mr Bond had an influence over me before he even uttered a single word, says Shivansh.
Ruskin also handed him his book The Night Train at Deoli when they were about to leave. While reading this book, Shivansh realised what Bond meant about loving the characters.
Ruskin Bond even handed his his book The Night Train at Deoli.
Juggling between school, homework and writing, when asked about taking up the role of a full-fledged writer, Shivansh carefully puts his word, “Yes, I do intend to become a full-time writer in the future…but I don’t know if it is the only field I want to experience. I believe I would like to study astrophysics or quantum mechanics. These subjects might also help me create a proper base for any future writing in the specific genre.”
Umberto Eco became an international literary celebrity in 1980 when he published his first novel entitled “The Name of the Rose.”
In the following years, Eco received worldwide literary acclaim and established himself as one of the best contemporary writers with his novels “Foucault’s Pendulum” and “The Island of the Day Before.”
Before writing “The Name of the Rose,” Eco was already a prominent figure in the Western circles of philosophy and literary theory; he was famous for his constructive and detailed literary criticism and his work on the theory of semiotics. He was 48 years old when he wrote his first novel, and the academic world was astonished when he revealed his secret passion for writing and narrating.
Several years before writing “The Name of the Rose,” Eco was approached by one of his friends who worked for a major Italian publisher. She invited Eco to write a short detective story which would be published in her magazine, but Eco declined the offer and jokingly told her that his detective story would be 500 pages long and it would take place in a medieval monastery.
Since Eco was originally a historian who extensively studied the Middle Ages, the joke soon turned into an actual idea, and Eco began researching historical and philosophical themes that were the basis for the plot of “The Name of the Rose.” He started working on the book by creating the names of the prominent friars of his fictional monastery.
Eco worked on “The Name of the Rose” for two years, which seems a rather short time considering that the book is almost 500 pages long and it incorporates several complex philosophical concepts followed by an impressive amount of intertextual references. His next novel, the ethereal and cryptic “Foucault’s Pendulum,” took him eight years to write but the work paid off as he produced another masterpiece of contemporary fiction.
Eco died in 2016 after publishing seven novels altogether. In the theoretical texts which he wrote earlier in his career, he frequently emphasized the idea that good authors need to build complete and plausible fictional worlds for their narratives to be autonomous and effective.
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He proved the validity of this principle in all of his novels by constructing narratives which immerse the readers into strange, yet familiar, fictional worlds.
What should an academic do if they think their life’s work has had no real-world impact whatsoever?
This is the question that confronted Peter Taylor-Gooby, a distinguished social scientist who has been appointed OBE and elected a fellow of the British Academy for nearly four decades of research into public trust, the decline of the welfare state and its replacement by market ideas.
“Market principles dominate social policy, the welfare state is in retreat and attitude data show a collapse in public trust in politicians, state institutions and benefit claimers,” he told Times Higher Education. “My academic output made no difference to anything.”
But Professor Taylor-Gooby, a professor of social policy at the University of Kent, is not nearly as downbeat as you might expect. “It doesn’t annoy me,” he said, adding that “life goes on”.
Instead, he decided to write a novel, The Baby Auction, which he hopes will get readers to “feel, not just intellectually understand” the implications of a world dominated by market principles in a way academic writing perhaps never can.
The novel follows characters who live in Market World, where as the title implies, every single product, service or act of compassion and care must be reduced to a monetary transaction.
Although Professor Taylor-Gooby has spent his entire life writing about market-driven inequality and exploitation, he came to believe that only through a novel was it possible to truly understand how real people might respond to such a society. “Social science needs to tap the imagination as well as cold reason,” he argued.
Market World might sound as though it shares some similarities to the societies evoked in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, but Professor Taylor-Gooby said he was not sure whether it counted as a dystopia.
“Market World is a viable world and it has many attractive features,” he said. For example, “there is no discrimination except on how much money you have”.
“I’m not simply someone who wants to bash markets,” he added. Instead, he hopes The Baby Auction – the profits from which will go to the homelessness charity Shelter – will illustrate how difficult interpersonal trust becomes in a world dominated by them.
Professor Taylor-Gooby’s frank admission that his research has had no impact – outside social science, at least – might not thrill those who submit his work to the next research excellence framework, where academics are expected to demonstrate real-world influence.
But, he argued, the impact agenda as it currently existed was “fundamentally misguided” not because academia cannot make a difference, but because impact happens as the result of a body of work, not just a single paper.