The brainchild of Dipanker Mukherjee, Readomania is a new publishing House with big ambitions. This year, Readomania launched a composite novel, India’s first, and it became a huge success. It’s understandable why. The novel is unusual in its form, structure and inception. I spoke with the team to understand how it all came about.
1. Welcome to my blog everyone. My first question is, who came up with the idea of a composite novel? And how easy or difficult was it to adapt to this way of writing?
Arvind Passey: I read about the Readomania contest on the web… and frankly, all that my mind registered at that point of time was that if my short-story got the required number of votes from readers and had a certain number of comments, it would qualify to be read by the editor/s. So what mattered to me more than the structure of the final publication was getting through to the editorial board. To one who loves playing with words and ideas, a somewhat different ‘way of writing’ is not something to be feared. If you care to browse through the 850+ posts on my blog you’ll know that I do not step away from a topic that is ‘different’ or alien to my comfort zone.
Ayan Pal: I am the 2nd author whose story/chapter is titled “The Diary of Joseph Varughese”. Dipankar and I had discussed the idea of a composite novel in 2014. In fact, I had already written one in 2008 over 13 days and had spoken about it with him. I am sure if would have discussed this with others as well! I wanted to actually be either the first or the last author and ended up being the 2nd. I did not find it difficult, probably because of the characters that I was free to choose from the previous story by Sutapa.
Sanchita: To me the idea was novel. I first read about it when Readomania announced their contest named ‘Short Story Cycle Project’, and found the concept interesting. Rather than easy or difficult, I would say it was exciting to participate in this relay novel concept. From the time the first story by Sutapa was shared with us, I found myself thinking about possible threads that could be carried forward to form a framework for another interesting story. To sum up the whole experience in one word, I would say it was intriguing.
Sutapa: I hold a postgraduate degree in English Literature so the concept of a composite novel was not novel to me. But it was Readomania’s objective to spearhead creative innovations in Indian fiction writing that led us to think of this literary genre. Readomania’s editorial team along with Dipankar at its head is always searching for fresh concepts and ideas in writing. It was during such a quest that this concept of trying to develop a composite novel cropped up and we thought, ‘Why not?’
Bhaswar: The idea emanated as an invitation from Readomania to participate in a short story cycle project…do not know whose brainchild it was. I was one of the link authors with my story- A Leap of Faith, tasked with linking the story before and after mine. It was a novel experience as it needed to span countries and the journey of how an Afghan girl becomes an Indian bride!
Deepti: The first story by Sutapa made all the difference, and helped break the ice. All we knew was that we would have to take an idea from the story that went before, a peg on which to hang our own stories. Once that idea crystallized, the writing flowed, as it always does.
Bhuvana: I heard about Readomania from a friend and when a contest was announced on the site, I sent in my entry. I was very happy to be short listed. Yes, I am of course aware of this genre –but I was super excited that I was going to be part of a very delightful experiment.
Avanti: Doing this was easy because there were guidelines w.r.t. time, word count and the seeding story was shared. In fact all following stories were shared and discussed. It was difficult may be for the first two reason mentioned and for the limited scope w.r.t. plots, characters. But hands down it was a challenging task.
Mithun: As someone who has written short story in the past, I thought taking to the concept would be like a fish taking to water. I could not have been more wrong. When a story is hinged on several others, as in this case, the ballgame changes completely. I have however, completely enjoyed the rollercoaster ride.
2. To me they read as short stories, connected by characters and themes. Each story was separate and could be read on its own. What was the process of writing this novel for you all? How often did you meet, and discuss the stories?
Arvind:Yes, each story is a story in itself. Complete. Fulfilled. Like any of us. The link, though there, can be imperceptible at times, but the reader knows intuitively that a bridge is there and that he is crossing over to a new world after each story ends. The process of story-writing wasn’t difficult for me as I was initially slated to be after Ayan Pal’s story… and had to carefully read the first two to know how things were moving. Not that any other position would have made it any tougher or easier. After all, we were doing our own writing according to our own researches and writing methodologies. I had picked up the ‘diary’ as the object to pursue and did some intelligent jugging of the name of the protagonist in my story.
We did not meet in the real world but were there for each other in the virtual space… not that discussions mattered to me much. The reason is that I detach myself form everyone and everything when I write. I allow my isolation to guide me.
Ayan: – I discussed about my previous story with Sutapa, the author to get a hint of when exactly this was set and accordingly set my story in a particular year. I also discussed about the year my primary character, who was introduced in the previous story, was born. I needed this to get the timing right in my story and keep things in perspective. I also had discussions with the next author (it was then Arvind Passey) and we discussed about loose threads in my story that could be taken forward. We as authors also read other stories and gave feedback to each other to see if the connection was working out.
Sanchita: After reading the second story by Ayan, the intrigue quotient was raised further and I immediately wanted to sit down and write my story. Meanwhile, the Readomania editorial team had sent out a small brief to me mainly reiterating what to stay away from while weaving my story. And it was not difficult to follow, as it was a small list. After sharing my story I had a telephonic discussion with Sutapa to fine tune it further and that was it. My story was ready.
Sutapa: To bring all the 14 authors to an understanding of how the concept will be developed did emerge from a lot of discussions. As the authors were spread across geographical locations in India and abroad, that itself was a challenge. But what actually kept the ball rolling was the enthusiasm and the excitement of the authors to be part of this innovation. Throughout the development, all the authors were aware of each move. Obviously the stories had to be written one by one. Each time a story was submitted, it was shared within this author circle. The result was a spate of encouragements and suggestions that only enhanced each story.
Bhaswar: As a link author it was challenging because I had to ensure that my story fitted in the one before AND the one after, a challenge which other authors may not have had. However it was a great experience and I do not think that this cramped my style.
Many authors here have collaborated on other platforms as well so many of us were virtual Friends. We did not meet for the stories- I was given the story before and after mine and had to link the two.
Deepti: All our discussions were by email, and every story that appeared would throw up a whole barrage of comments from the others, each of them throwing light on the threads that held the stories together. What was interesting that the whole story came together in our minds only when we actually read the book.
Bhuvana: As I live abroad, meeting the other contributors or the editor wasn’t an option. But team Readomania and all the authors were so thorough and regular in communicating over mails that at no point in time did I even feel the need to meet everyone. Now of course, I do want to meet the C&K team as we all have bonded well.
Arpita: The composite novel as interpreted by the Readomania team meant that each author would pick up a hook or link from the preceding story and weave a tale, preferably as different as it could get from the previous one. The hook could be person/place/event…anything which was minor in the preceding tale and had the potential to become major in the next one.
Anupama: We are spread across the whole wide world. We met frequently over the cyber space, sharing our stories, bisecting them, cheering and egging on, each other.
Avanti: I think we mad the best use of cyberspace. Each story was shared, discussed, edited, re-edited, fleshed out and taken to a logical conclusion over e-mails, chats and telephone.
Mithun:The entire process, in spite of having been carried over mails, was strangely organic. As words bounced across mails, we realized what went where and tried to polish our writing accordingly, and bring out the best story that we could, individually. At the end of it, we might as well have been sitting across a room, sipping tea and discussing with each other and it wouldn’t have been any different. It was a strong and well connected exercise.
3. How was the experience of writing as a community?
Arvind: Praise makes me nervous because what I have learned from my presence on the social media is that people praise because they think this is what is expected of them. No one today is happy with critical remarks that talk about flaws. They may be right because humans have their fair share of flawed personalities… and we are awesome as a collective force. Moreover, the world has all sorts of readers… so what my mind doesn’t accept can very well be worth a pat to someone else. I accept this. Let me add here that even grammatical blunders don’t affect a lot of readers because they don’t appears as blunders to their sensibilities… we all do remember the Harish Bhanot comment during the CWG in Delhi a few years back, don’t we?
Ayan: The experience was fantastic! Though there were times when I was a bit possessive and disappointed about the reinterpretation of my story and characters, I was pleased with the final result. That’s what matters the most!
Sanchita: It was a rewarding experience for me. I felt like a student who had just submitted her dissertation and was waiting with bated breath for the jury of 13 to pass their verdict. And needless to say, from their feedback I got a feel of graduating with flying colours. Guess they were being generous here.
Sutapa: The technique was to keep the editors involved right from the start. Once the seed story was developed it was shared along with the queue with the author circle. While the authors wrote their individual stories picking up ‘ hooks’ from the previous stories, the concluding story giving the resolution of the novel was also developed and shared. So now, the authors were familiar somewhat with the progression of the novel, so they could take their stories in the general direction. But I would still say it was a challenge for all the authors to write within this restricted environment and yet retain their own style and voice.
Deepti: The experience of writing together as an author community was a whole lot of fun. Our mails to one another, and the Facebook messages, were not only linked to making the work in progress truly special, but also filled with good natured banter and revelry. This proved to be quite an eye opener as we got to know one another well enough to gently poke fun, crack jokes and exchange bits of personal information. Dipankar would suddenly appear out of nowhere, and subtly suggest that it was time to get ‘Crossed and Knotted’ once more. But this sense of camaraderie was what made our writing sparkle, I believe implicitly.
Bhuvana: It was very different and wonderful. When I am writing a poem or a short story on my own, I would long for a critical assessment once in a way – I was incredibly surprised by the amount of support that came in from the editor and my fellow authors. Also in a composite novel, the responsibility is greatly shared. One could leave ends loose; one could leave unresolved cues, as others down the line would attempt the resolution.
Arpita: Initially, this was perhaps not very clear to the authors, who mostly picked up on persons as the hook…not places/events…and we had instances where characters were getting repeated whilst details regarding their description/background were getting muddled….for example if someone created a character as a student of Arts…about four stories later…someone else picked up that character and unwittingly turned the academic stream to Computers! There was also a table created to pin down ages/years/matching mobile phone models/other period references to sort out the time issue. As we were almost touching the end of the current century at one point in time…we then took a deliberate decision to remove all traces of explicit year/time references from all stories.
4. I couldn’t help but notice how the pattern shifted from thriller to supernatural, to realism and back all over again. As a reader, I was very happy with so many genres packed so skilfully in one book. Though, Ii have to say, I read them as short stories connecting a community rather than as a novel. How many of you felt constrained by the previous stories, when writing your own? Did that influence the themes of your story?
Arvind: Why should the tone or choices of the previous stories affect any writer? For instance, if supernatural and realism were explored, the writer always had a choice to be different and opt for a different approach.
Allow me to add here that if a composite concept were to be taken up by just one writer, it would be terribly difficult for him to break away from his conventionally chosen pattern of expression… which is easily done when there are multiple writers taking up this exercise. So yes, it is exciting not just for the writer but also for the reader who gets to read more than one pattern in one novel.
Sanchita: I am so glad that you noticed this particular aspect which I think is the USP of this book. The fact that it has so many genres packed in one while skillfully taking a story and its characters ahead. I did not feel constrained, maybe because I was the third author and as I mentioned earlier my list of what not to write was a small one and it did not touch upon anything that I had in mind, while I was weaving my story in my mind.
Sutapa: Maybe it was quite maddening when a specific author left some loose ends in his/her story for the next author to pick up as a hook but found that they were all ignored and an obscure cue had been picked up. It made the author do a rethink as to what had really emerged from the story vis-a-vis what had been originally intended. Also for the editors, it was a challenge to ensure that the characters who walked across the novel and were build by different pens still remained consistent to their original features. To juggle so many voices and styles in stories that were progressive across the main novel,without colouring any of them by you own nuances was a challenge for the editors.
Deepti: I believe that the true strength of this book is the shifting of genres, with each author picking a genre he or she was comfortable with. Personally, I didn’t feel constrained by the previous story, as I had a definite plot in mind, with a strong protagonist who, (many folks have asked me about this!) was purely fictitious!
Arpita: The most amazing feat in the making of C&K was precisely this cohesiveness which was brought about naturally, by the flow of stories, to the extent of 80%… the rest , of course, had to be tweaked by team Readomania. This tweaking mostly included mentoring the authors about the depth of character-portrayals, certain plots, certain narrative styles and so on. 5. Final question, it’s said there are more writers in the world than there are readers. Yet, here we all are, still pursuing the dream. You’ve all been published. What does it feel like? How similar is your reality as an author to your dream? Any surprises, regrets, disappointments?
Arvind: Yes, it does seem that everyone is writing… even I’ve felt many times that everyone I know on the social media is forever talking about what he or she has written. But this isn’t true. Our world of experiences is so narrow and small… the world has a lot more readers than we tend to believe and this includes even those who keep telling us that they are primarily writers.
What I do not like is, of course, believing that there is a terrible rat race out there and then keep pushing my post or article or story or novel or book in every unwholesome way. I believe that marketing is a fine art that only a few can master. The rest are crass and vulgar and simply ugly. It does feel good to be published. I have a few poems published in journals in UK and India and a few stories in anthologies…but the dream to write a full-length novel is ON.
Sutapa: Being published has brought me more surprises and hardly any regrets. It’s a high that one would like to experience again and again. But I am sure there is nothing new in that feeling. All authors must feel like that. And yes. I do wish there were more readers than authors but aren’t authors also readers?
Deepti: There are writers and there are readers, and often, the two go together in perfect tandem. The thrill of seeing my name in print still continues, even though my first story was published in 1984.
If I do have any disappointment, it stems from the fact that my first book, titled ‘Arms and the Woman’, published in 2002, which takes a light-hearted look at the life of an Army wife, didn’t get enough publicity. This time, I guess I am older and wiser! (Hopefully!) 😀
Bhuvana: I guess this statement is even truer in the internet age where anyone who ever wanted to write can put up his/her work and hope to be read. But it was heartwarming to finally hold a book that I have authored in my hands and to hear my friends tell me that they bought the book for me.
Of course one dreams of becoming a widely read author but that can’t happen overnight. Readomania has given us all a toehold in the industry and it is now up to us as individuals to keep working on our skills as writers. Honestly at this point in time I have no regrets and disappointments!
Arpita: I would rather deluge the world with writers so that the society is compelled to pick up at least one book to read! Too much audio-video options have robbed the current generation of children/young adults of their power of imagination and describing abilities…..it is rare to come across one individual, young/middle aged, who can carry out a normal soul-baring conversation without veering towards sales-pitch of some kind! So let there be so many authors that the world is unable to ignore them anymore!
Thank you all for your time and for sharing your wonderful book with me.
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