Category: Amazing Authors

Notes from a survivor

Notes from a survivor

It’s five days and my celebratory jig hasn’t stopped. Yeah I survived.

Oh it has been exhausting (the jig as well as the Challenge) but what a journey it’s been.

How I got caught

Blogging has, for years, been my happiness thing. I had always believed any kind of mandatory writing would take away that pleasure. However this year I discovered it needn’t. Carried along on the wave of enthusiasm of some dear friends I put up my name for the April A to Z Challenge and it’s been a blast.

..and I planned

On advice from veterans I wrote up almost 21 posts in March. Wasn’t an easy thing to do since I’m such a last minute person. Besides, I’m rarely happy when I read what I’ve written, so I end up reworking and rewriting and editing and sometimes deleting it all and starting from scratch. However I had to be satisfied with simply tweaking the finished posts before publishing them this time. Okay I redid four or five and that was it. Those that I’d left for the last minute almost endangered my challenge but did get done before noon everytime.

Oh the thrill!

Each day I woke up with such a feeling of anticipation, my head buzzing with author facts. The comments would start coming in .. Warm and encouraging and I’d flit crazily between reading, answering, visiting and posting for the next day. It’s truly the best feeling in the world. A bit like having month-long exams in your favourite subject, one you know you can handle. Oh I messed up too, scheduling a post for a Sunday then withdrawing it, like a typical amateur. Hee hee.

A bit of a regret

My only regret is I didn’t visit enough blogs. This year I was more concerned with getting my posts out in time. Maybe next year I’ll manage things better. Yes, I think I’m in for the next year. Whatever little I read I enjoyed thoroughly. What a reading feast it has been. Fellow bloggers – AditiShailaja, Shilpa, Vidya, Oven-goodies… all amazing reads.. most I’ll continue to follow faithfully. 

The Acknowledgements

Before I end I do need to thank some family members.

First my SIL, S, an avid reader, who was even more excited than me at the choice of Amazing Authors as my theme.  She made me mail her my list of authors, added suggestions and mailed it right back. Then lobbied pretty fiercely for her favourites and is still a trifle miffed because I didn’t do justice to her favourite Ha Jin.
My sister, who also lobbied, though more subtly, for her favourite Shashi Tharoor and when I couldn’t find a place for him in the S or the T suggested I go in for an Amazing Authors Dvitiya, (Amazing Authors II).
My friend J, who put up with my endless chatter about the Challenge – during our late night walks, in the gym or even during our coffee outings.
Thank you guys – you’re the bestest girl-friends I could ever ask for.
Finally a huge thank you to my co-participants. You’re the only ones who can truly understand how I’m feeling. Thanks for reading and commenting so faithfully. Suzy, Sreeja, Nabanita, Sulekha, Beloo .. it was good to have you guys around. Thank you all for making it so much fun. I’ll see you around in blogsphere.

Those then, are my Reflections on the April A to Z Challenge.

Z is for Zadie Smith

Z is for Zadie Smith

Born 1975
From the age of 5 to 15 Zadie Smith wanted to be an actress. She was pretty good at tap dancing and dreamt of starring in a musical. By the time she was in her mid teens she realised there were hardly any musicals being made and decided to part with that dream. And then writing happened.

She was born in London to a British father and Jamaican mother who migrated to Britain in 1969. She was christened Sadie Smith. At 14 she changed her name to Zadie. Interestingly a love for music runs in the family as two of her younger brothers are rappers.

Her debut

… was the stuff of fairy tales. At the University while studying English Literature she published a few short stories for a collection of new student writing called Mays Anthology. A publisher read those stories and offered her a contract for her first book, which made her go in search of a literary agent. Seems like a dream debut, doesn’t it? 
On the basis of a partial manuscript her book was auctioned among publishers. During her final year at Cambridge she finished her book, White Teeth. It was an runaway success. So overwhelmed was she that she went into a writer’s block. “I think (the success of this book is) a surprise which will last me my whole life,” she said in an interview. Her second book Autograph Man also proved to be a success.

White Teeth 

…began as a short story except it was hardly short, more of a Novella. And so she decided to expand it into a full sized novel. It spans three generations telling the story of two friends, World War II veterans Archie and Samad. It follows their lives and then of their children who pick varied paths in life. It touches upon issues of immigrants, war, religion and friendship. I liked the way the book jumps back and forth between England, Jamaica and Bangladesh bringing it all alive through vibrant descriptions.

On writing


…. Smith has rather interesting views. First, she doesn’t believe in creative writing classes. She dismisses them as ‘support groups for writers who find writing therapeutic’.  And writing’s no therapy, she feels. She advises extensive reading as the best way to become a writer. “The more people you read the better writer you become,” she says.
She likes to write in ‘any small room with no natural lighting’. She’s quite the rule breaker when it comes to a writing regime. Some days she writes all day and some days she cannot get beyond two hours. She hates being told about successful authors who follow specific regimes. 

Isn’t that heartening? Perhaps it IS okay to do things your own way and follow no one at all. So it doesn’t matter that Enid Blyton wrote 10,000 words a day in her ‘red’ room, or that Ian Fleming needed to get away to Jamaica each year to get that novel done, or that Dahl moved to his tiny shed away from the house. All one needs to do to become a writer is do things her own way and write from the heart.

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And finally that’s The End! The April A to Z Challenge ends today and I really have no idea what I’ll do with myself. Looking forward to visiting all you lovely people now.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Y is for Yiyun Li

Y is for Yiyun Li

Born 1972

Though born a Chinese, English is her chosen language of expression. Yiyun Li was born in Beijing China. As a student of Immunology she moved to America for further studies in 1996 intending to become a researcher just like her parents wanted her to. She had never written anything and writing was far from her mind. 

Writing happened quite by chance

During her days in America she attended an evening community writing class. She followed it up with more classes. Meanwhile she wrote some short stories. One of her stories, Immortality, was read by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alen Mc Pherson. He was so excited he tracked Li down through a friend and sent a message saying she must continue too write. That made up her mind for her. A writer she did become.

Short stories and more..

Yiyun Li draws her subjects from China. Most of her stories are about small powerless people. Perhaps that’s why they are often cynical, tragic and frustrating. Her first book, which includes the story, Immortality, was a short story collection titled A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. I like her stories but more than that I like the glimpse of China she offers. Bits of history, the mood of the people, life under a dictatorship – all of that woven together in heat rending tales. Her writing is richly sprinkled with Chinese mythology and Chinese proverbs that she translates into English lending it a quaint quality.

The novel

Set in the 1970s The Vagrants is her debut novel. It opens with the gruesome hanging of a young woman and goes on to explore how different people in the city react to it. This one is no cheerful read, nor is it for those with weak stomachs. You despair as you find the eyes of dictatorship everywhere, corrupting everything and everyone, allowing for no escape. It reminded me a bit of George Orwell’s 1984. This one however is way more gruesome and graphic in gory detail. Not really my kind of book.

In China..

…Li refuses to release her books. They have been translated into over 20 languages but not in her native Mandarin. In a number if interviews she has said she feels China is not ready for her books just as much a she is not ready for them to be read in her country of birth.
Talking about whether her books represent China and its way of life she says, “It’s never my job to explain China.. We never ask an American writer to represent America or a British writer to represent Britain.” Yet it seems unavoidable that her characters are taken to depict China. Reminds me how Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth has come to represent China of another age.

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And finally it’s time for the last post tomorrow. This last author, is half British, half Jamaican and aspired to be an actress before the literary world beckoned.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

X is for eXophoric

X is for eXophoric


It’s X day and I’m late. But today I bring on not one but three eXophoric authors. That is, multilingual authors who grew up speaking one language yet chose to write in another. India has lots of authors who write in English, so it really doesn’t seem like such a big deal. However the authors I have picked for today have not just written in their adopted language but have crafted works that have gone onto become Internationally loved.

Ha Jin (Born February 1956)

From a young teen who didn’t know a word of English to teaching it as a professor in an English speaking country and becoming an award winning author.. how’s that for progress? As a young boy Ha Jin joined the People’s Liberation Army. By the time he was 17 he was teaching himself the high-school course. In his late teens he joined an English Learner’s Programme only because he wanted to read, in original, Friedrich Engels’ book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844′. At the University he was assigned English as a major despite it being his last choice. Later he went on to study in America and stayed on after the Tienanmen Massacre. His books ‘Waiting’ and ‘War Trash’ won various awards.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

He was a true multilinguist. Born an Irishman he is one of the most famous novelist, poet, playwrite and theatre director. He had degrees in French and Italian. His works, at least initially were very strongly influenced by friend and fellow Irishman James Joyce who was similarly qualified and equally well-known. Beckett is known for his black comedy and a rather tragic take on human nature. He began writing in English. After the Second World War he switched to French. He said French allowed him to write in much simpler form and let him ‘escape the habits’ of English writing. His French works are thus rather minimalistic. In 1956 he returned to English and then on wrote his works in both languages. He translated his own works too. He is perhaps the only author whose entire works exist in two languages and also one who wrote simultaneously in two languages. Each time he translated his works, he revised them. What an interesting read it would be if one were to compare the same works in the two different languages!

Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1954)

He was Polish by birth and couldn’t even speak English fluently till his late twenties and even then with a strong Polish accent (which is why he could never take on teaching assignments). It was his third language after Polish and French. Conrad never finished school however he left with a knowledge of Latin, German and Greek along with Polish and French. He was fluent in the the latter two. He picked up English while working aboard a British ship from his shipmates. He was hired to take a steamship to Africa and was so appalled by the horrors inflicted by colonial rule that he felt he had to write about them and the fictional account turned into a book – Heart of Darkness. His works offer glimpses of French, Polish and Russian literature. He once commented, “English is so plastic – if you haven’t got a word you need you can make it, but to write French you have to be an artist.”

Isn’t that just the opposite of what Beckett said? And this is what I find so very interesting about authors. I love the way they perceive languages, the way they find their comfortable linguistic corners and come with startling works.

Personally, since I do not know French, I would go with Conrad. Living in India learning English has come to me quite as naturally as Hindi, my mother tongue and our national language. It is indeed one of the most pliant languages, absorbing diverse slangs, adapting multilingual words making them it’s own and allowing people world over to make it their own too. And so we have American English, British English and Australian English. Back home in India we have Hinglish, Punglish and scores of South Indian versions.

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Tomorrow I bring for you another Exophoric author from China. Her books are rather dark, even gory yet the glimpse of China they offer is priceless. Stay tuned.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

W is for Wodehouse

W is for Wodehouse

1881-1975
Today’s author is, to put it in his own words, – a dashed good fellow, although much of Britain didn’t think so for quite some time. It’s PG Wodehouse today and you need to read on to find out why he decided to make his home in the US despite being born in Britain.

The Beginning..

To put it in his own words, “I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.”

So, British humourist, PG Wodehouse, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse or simply Plum, started writing pretty young. He was born in a family with a long respectable lineage. He spent his childhood being looked after by a nanny. Till he turned 15 his parents barely spent 6 months with him. He also lived with a varied bunch of aunts and was very close to his older brother.

… and then he became a writer

Although he was expected to go to Oxford like his brother, a turn in the family fortunes made him take up a position at the HSBC bank. Banking was hardly his cup of tea. He kept up his writings and finally took up position as a journalist. H progressed to writing for a number of publications. Later his stories were compiled for his first books. He also wrote lyrics for muscial comedies and some plays too. Oh he was very very prolific! He was knighted a few years before his death.

Brush with the Nazis

When WW 2 broke out Wodehouse was in France. In a typically ‘Wodehousian’ manner he was completely uninterested in world affairs. He didn’t return to Britain and stayed on in France apparently because ‘his wife couldn’t bear to leave their dog’. When the German’s occupied France they interned Wodehouse. After they released him he did some radio broadcasts for them that showed him being civil to the German military. He anticipated he would be appreciated for having kept up the British stiff upper lip. However, that didn’t happen. People, in a wartime mood, accused him of treason, of having struck a deal with the Germans for his early release. 
Author’s like AA Milne (of Winnie the Pooh) criticised him heavily. Others like George Orwell wrote in his favour. He quotes Wodehouse in his essay ‘In Defence of PG Wodehouse’…


“I never was interested in politics. I’m, quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent feeling. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts or feelings.”

Doesn’t that sound just like Wodehouse?
You can read the full text here. http://www.drones.com/orwell.html.


An investigation, later on absolved him of all blame, calling him merely naive. However the truth never came out clearly in his lifetime. For some time his books were banned in Britain and he never went back taking up an American citizenship and staying there till the end of his days.

He writes about…

… the vagaries of upper class British society. That was a smart thing to do since it was a world he was familiar and comfortable with being born and bred there. He writes with humour and weaves in scores of loveable laughable characters.
First, his very English humour
He has a wonderfully underplayed, dry sense of humour. It is almost always delivered with a British straight face, with a high handed dignity that you cannot simply smile at, you have to roll with it. At other times it catches you unexpectedly out if the blue. My favourite times, however, are when I see it coming… And I wait for it till it is upon me. Then there’s that physical aspect too with the characaters literally ‘falling’ into traps. Oh it’s tough deconstructing the Wodehouse humour.
And his characters..

Reginald Jeeves has to go first. He became a benchmark for the perfect butler, even though he was more valet than butler (yeah I know the difference from watching Downton Abbey episodes back to back over the last few days). He is perhaps the only fictional character who has a search engine named after him askjeeves.com. Wodehouse based the character on a real life butler Eugene Robinson. The name Jeeves came from a cricket player Percy Jeeves. Though Jeeves is obviously way smarter than his master his proper English upbringing will not let him quite say so. 
Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, Bertie Wooster is Jeeves’ woozy master. ‘Mentally negligible’, regularly falling in and out of love, always ready to help a friend or to take on the craziest wager – yeah that would be him. He got his middle name from a horse who won his father money the day before Bertie was born. He struck a kind of lottery when he fired his butler for stealing and Jeeves came to him from the agency. Jeeves stuck on from them, extricating him from scrapes and improper romantic engagements (which he probably considers the same thing).

And the aunts. I cannot wrap up without mentioning them considering PGW did a book called ‘Aunts aren’t gentlemen’. I doubt his books would have been the same without the gaggle of daunting aunts lead by Aunt Dahlia and Aunt Agatha. “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof,” says he.

And there are scores of others – Psmith, Lord Emsworth, Galahad Threepwood,The Oldest Member, Gussie Fink Nottle and so many many more. So who’s your favourite?

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Once again give yourselves a rest. No guessing for Monday. But do drop by… another ‘special’ post coming up.

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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.