Bestseller is one of my favorite reads of the year 2019. It centers on the conundrum playing inside a publishing house. The author Ahmed Faiyaz deftly carves out the picture and expresses the truth with finesse. So, when I got an opportunity to interview this amazing person, I didn’t want to let it go. And tada!! Here it is. Without further ado, let’s just get into the brain behind a bestseller.
QUES: Please introduce yourself to our readers. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’m Ahmed Faiyaz, and among all the other things I am and I do, I’m a storyteller. The inspiration to write and tell stories perhaps was within me along. It was spurred by my love for fiction being a voracious reader since a very young age, and maybe being in love and also losing that person could be something that motivated the initial ‘what if’ stories.
QUES: How long does it take for you to write a book?
It takes longer to complete the book, but for me to write the first draft it takes between a month or two. But after completing the first draft, I tend to put it away and revisit what I’ve written from time to time, to review and edit it. At times it can take a year or two like it did with Bestseller.
QUES: What inspires you to write books? What are the things which catch your attention?
Travel, interesting people and situations that capture my attention and spark an idea, and it could easily come from meeting someone or reading something.
QUES: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I tend to do character sketches and look for real-life inspiration for my characters – their looks, mannerisms and what makes them interesting to be written about. This is really important for me.
QUES: Tell something in brief about your latest book BESTSELLER? Who is your favorite character out of it?
Bestseller is a comic satire on the publishing business in India, and the story is set in Mumbai. It has a love story in the backdrop, as well as a lot of drama, intrigue and behind the scenes politics which is depicted with a dash of humor.
Certainly, I would pick Akshay, because again at several points in the book I’m speaking through him and breaking that 4th wall, and just given his character arc which is quite inspiring because he turns his life around and grows as a person given the role he plays and situations he faces. I also love ZorahKalim, Roshan Khan and Mihin as I think they are the most entertaining and complex characters, and each of them can be spun off to have a book about them.
QUES: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
What I have learned over time is how relatable the characters are, and I often have readers reaching out to me about characters in my books, and telling me that so-and-so is like them or someone they happen to know. That surprises me because I don’t know these people and I’ve never met them before.
QUES: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
5 published novels (including a novella), two short stories collections that I edited as well as three others that my stories have been an integral part of. I would say 10 books in total including the 5 Urban Shots series excluding Urban Shots Yuva which I consciously didn’t contribute to. I would say Another Chance is very close to my heart given what inspired it, and the characters of Aditya which is a lot like who I am as a person, and the inspiration for Ruheen. Also, Bestseller is very special and equally so, because it was the fastest first draft I wrote, and the final book retains 90% or more of the first draft, and it felt very spontaneous and fun while writing it. I had a lot of frustration with the publishing business and the way things worked and writing it was a cathartic experience. Among the anthologies, I like Urban Shots Crossroads the most just given the diversity of interesting and talented voices it represented.
QUES: How do you manage your time between writing and work?
I used to straddle between both worlds years ago, but now I can’t do that given that I have a growing family. I tend to write only when I can completely focus on the writing and the story and finish the first draft, and I get about 20-30 days in a year to do this, which I am grateful for.
QUES: How would you describe the contemporary scenario of writing and reading around the world?
I feel today people have very small attention spans. How many wonderful books written in the last 10 years are still trending big and winning new audiences? Despite there being many such books, they have a limited shelf life of a few months or a year after a book’s release, whereas when you see the classics, these are books that have stood the test of time from decades and are still finding a new generation of readers and audiences. I feel more needs to be done to support contemporary writing both in India as well as other parts of the world.
QUES: What is your take on the book publishing industry of India?
It’s a mad, bad world, but it’s also a place that gives an opportunity for many like me to find our voice and tell our stories. It is becoming increasingly competitive and sadly, it’s become a highly commercialized marketplace, where unless you invest significant sums of money, it’s very difficult to get your work out there to the reading audience.
QUES: Do you like standalone or book series?
I like compelling and well-narrated stories and these could come either as a standalone novel or a book series. Having said that, I pick up very few book series, and I guess subconsciously a standalone book is a preference.
QUES: Have you ever gotten a writer’s block?
Yes, I did, for 4 long years and it’s good that happened, as this time away led to the more creative energy that I can draw from.
QUES: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal and Brooklyn by ColmTóibίn
QUES: What do you think makes a good story? Best piece of writing advice you would like to give to the budding writers?
What you see in a lot of successful and engaging books is the honesty and the ability of the author to hook you in and take you on a journey into a new world. It is to be true to yourself and to be honest with the story you’re trying to tell. You have to be really inspired to spend all that energy to write something. You can’t go with the trends of the market and author a book in a certain genre just because books in that genre are doing well. A market is a fickle place and trends change very quickly.
QUES: Do you read books? If yes, which one is most dear to you? Any favorite memory of yours from reading an interesting book?
I love to read, and certainly, have many memories of reading some very interesting books. For example, My Name is Loen by Kit de Waal is something I read on a train journey in a single sitting. I read most of The Travelling Cat Chronicles in a beautiful park in Prague, with a bit of sunshine and a drizzle. I have many favorite books and a lot of the works written by Haruki Murakami, Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Paul Auster, and Saadat Hassan Manto make it to the top of my list. Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is not a book I’ve mentioned often, but I absolutely love it apart from the works of the authors I mentioned. Also, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles which I read recently while on holiday and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates are great reads.
QUES: Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project that you are working on?
I’ve written a book called Faces – Places which has seven interconnected stories about different people and situations, and they are mostly stories of love, desire and connections, and how the life and choices of one person impact another. Kind of like a domino effect. Its slightly darker than any of my previous work, but the hope is that it is relatable, racy and an engaging page-turner for readers. Then there’s a contemporary love story of two people who go off in different directions and find their way back to each other, and the narrative spans twenty years.
*We wish Ahmed all the best for her future endeavors.*