Writing from Life

Award winning novelist and creative writing lecturer at Goldsmiths, Ardu Vakil, based in Mumbai and London, is coming to do a workshop for us this May!

The workshop will be looking in particular at how to successfully draw from your personal life story and incorporate it into your writing. This may be in the form of memoir, using your life as inspiration, writing what you know, or simply boring details from life. 

As an introduction to Ardu Vakil and his thoughts on writing, here’s an interview I did with him over the phone earlier this week.

How old were you when you first started to write?

Twelve. In the school magazine. ‘One Night in the Life of Ardu Vakilovich’. I still have a copy somewhere.

Describe for us an early experience that taught you language had power.

My friend at school, Dilip used to ask me for help with writing love letters to a girl he had a crush on. It worked. She became his girlfriend on the strength of my flowery, purple prose.

When did you realise you could actually make a living as a writer?

In London, in 1994, after the publication of my first novel ‘Beach Boy’. It won a Betty Trask Award before it was even published. And I was contacted by the Wylie Agency to come and meet them with a view to representing me. The reality, of course, is that it is only a handful of published writers who can actually make a living solely from the income generated by sales of books.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Write as much as you can, be disciplined, force yourself to write sometimes even when you don’t want to, but don’t be judgemental and self-stricturing. Don’t keep worrying about whether something is brilliant or not.

How important is personal life experience for you? Is it the most potent tool aspiring writers have to work with?

Yes. In the beginning. You have to start, in my opinion, by making yourself and any of your experiences the stories you write. If you can’t bring your own stories alive, if you can’t make yourself an interesting character to readers, you are unlikely to be able to make up convincing, engaging situations and characters.

What’s the most challenging part of the writing process for you?

Returning every day to the work, despite being beset by anxieties and uncertainties.

Does writing energise or exhaust you, and how has it changed you over the years?

When something I have written, after months of the hard work of searching, composing and editing is finished, I read over a decent paragraph and feel a sense of wonder. It’s certainly a rare feeling.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

My friends and sometimes members of my family have read over my work and made helpful suggestions. Working with Creative Writing students at Goldsmiths has also been instructive and inspiring for me as a writer. Watching the growth of other people’s work and seeing what dedication to determination can achieve. Those last two are probably the most crucial aspects of writing, though they don’t guarantee success, they guarantee that you will finish the work you started.

Do you want each of your books to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I’d like my stories and books to stand on their own. Each one is a separate entity. I do intend to write a sequel to Beach Boy, but in many ways, it will be a very different kind of book.

Who is your favourite author, and why?

I think Chekhov’s stories are always improvisatory, moving and alive.

I think all writers who have any ambition should read and reread ‘Anna Karenina’.

Recently, my favourite author has been Sadat Hasan Manto.

One of your most critically-acclaimed books has been Beach Boy, dealing with your youth in what was then Bombay. What did you edit out of this book?

A scene where I went for a swim in the sea outside my childhood home and I cried a lot; my salty tears mixing with the waves. It was untrue, lachrymose, and didn’t fit with the character in the book.

What has been the hardest scene you’ve ever had to write, and why so?

Writing is most hard when you feel you have to do it and you don’t want to. For example, I know what a train station in Bombay looks like, but to have to put it into words is a struggle. How to avoid clichés? What to leave in what to leave out? Who am I writing it for? Ultimately, I go back to the characters and the story. I’m not that interested in description for its own sake, a few lines maybe, if they are really beautiful.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

The most important thing money buys for a writer is time, apart from laptops!

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I am the first and foremost reader of my work. I am an exacting reader. I don’t like being experimented on by the writer, especially if that writer is me! Much of what I have written has been pushed to one side; my own slush pile if you like. I want to be moved and I want the character and situation to be alive on the page. If that happens, I’m satisfied, if not I start anew.

 

How long on average does it take for you to write a book?

How long is a piece of string question?

‘Beach Boy’ took two years, start to finish, but it depends on what you mean by the ‘start’.

Faulkner wrote ‘As I Lay Dying’ in 8 weeks. Harper Lee’s second novel took 30 years, but not sure this kind of info is helpful to any writer. A writer acquaintance said to me, she always knows how many hours a novel is going to take her start to finish. That’s a little weird. She’s written three or four short novels. (100 pages each)

What’s more important for you: characters or plot?

Definitely characters. Plot is empty without character who the reader cares about.

Early bird registration for this workshop will open on Wednesday March 1, 2017. Early bird tickets for the two-day workshop, running Saturday May 6 and Sunday May 7, will be €175. Registration after April 1st will be €195. Workshop details will be posted on the site on March 1st. This workshop is limited to 12 participants and tickets are expected to sell out fast, so please contact us at office.writenow@gmail.com to reserve a seat, or check back next week for more info!