The second day of sessions at the Noir Literature Festival kicked off at Oxford Bookstore Connaught Place with the unveiling of Private Delhi, Ashwin Sanghi’s latest thriller novel written in collaboration with James Patterson. In conversation with Amrita Tripathi, Ashwin spoke about writing with the legendary Patterson and the inner working of such a partnership in terms of plotting, constructing the storyline and finetuning of the manuscript. As a writer of fiction that draws inspiration from the past, Ashwin emphasised on the importance of maintaining a balanced view of the glories and problems of the past as well as the present.
The second session was one that elicited a lot of interest because of the cricket-crazy nation that India is. Jock Serong’s protagonist in The Rules of Backyard Cricket, Darren, is a cricket prodigy caught in a vicious cycle of crime, with offenses from urinating on the street to match-fixing finding a place on his rap sheet. The session, Across The Line, was moderated by Amrit Gill. Jock attributes his inclination toward writing crime fiction to his training and career as a criminal lawyer and having seen people at the worst moments of their life.
The best part of writing about the crime-solving techniques of another era was devouring fascinating details of history in the name of research, agreed Madhulika Liddle and Arjun Raj Gaind. For Arjun, the genre is also a way of reversing the colonial gaze, of moving away from the much-celebrated icons of Western crime fiction to see British India through the eyes of a truly desi detective.
Shantanu Dhar’s fantasy crime thrillers have turned many heads with its unconventional setting. In the session Fantastic Crimes and Where to Find Them he shared with Ravi Shankar Etteth his experiences as a debut author pitching a crime novel about vampire invasion as the publishing industry is not easily convinced by authors who deviate from the tried and tested formulae.
Discussing murder weapons in the session Recipe for Noir, Surender Mohan Pathak, Shashi Warrier and Madhulika Liddle picked poisoning as the most interesting modus operandi as it lets the murderer be absent from the scene at the time of death. The session touched upon the intricacies of the culinary arts as much as those of the literary arts when the authors shared their preferred poisons and favourite causes of death.
Abheek Barua and Hans Olav Lahlum both admitted to drawing inspiration from the British crime writing tradition of Agatha Christie and Arthur Canon Doyle. Another common theme informing their respective works is the refreshingly “deglamorised” portrayal of women. Abheek’s Sohini Sen a middle-aged woman who exhibits traits of high-functioning alcoholism, whereas as Hans’ Patricia is a slightly condescending disabled woman; both characters also incisive sleuths.
Vish Dhamija and Niharika Karanjawala began their session with a lively debate on whether it is the prosecution or the defence that had the upper hand in a courtroom. Vish opined that the prosecutor is weighed down by the ‘burden of proof’ – as the onus of producing proof fell on them – while Niharika, citing her experience as a defence lawyer held the contrary view, and the duo amicably agreed to disagree on the subject. When asked about his writing methods, Vish dismissed the notion of the much talked-about writer’s block saying, “We have made writing more of an art than it is; it is all about discipline.” As an eager fan demanded to know the inspiration behind Rita Ferreria of Bhendi Bazaar, he admitted that this iconic creation was probably an amalgam of a taller Priyanka Chopra, and Sushmita Sen.
Anish Sarkar, in his session Mindfield: The Psychology of Crime, gave the audience a peek into the mind that pens novels focusing on the myriad complexities of the human mind. Characters might be inherently destructive, or might have a backstory that have made the way they are, but it is the manner in which one brings out the various shades of grey that will ensure that you convince the reader. The unreliable narrator is one of the trickiest devices to incorporate into the plot as the line between keeping the reader hooked and completely fooling them is a fine one, according to Anish.
Robert Gott is one of the foremost writers of historical crime fiction in Australia. In the session From Fact to Fiction: A Tightrope Walk, he gave a quick tour of the 1940s Australia that acts as the backdrop for his historical thrillers, his animated storytelling a delight to listen to. In a departure from the popular Christie-Doyle influence that all crime writers cite, he chose Wilkie Collins for a master class on crime fiction. When asked for writing tips, “Get yourself a nice notebook, a good pen, and write by hand. Stop all this computer nonsense!” he advised an aspiring writer.
Hans Olav Lahlum’s hat rack must be a very crowded place, with him donning the headgear of crime novelist, politician, historian, chess player and many more! When asked how he manages to manage these diverse and demanding roles, he bared his wrist to show the audience two wristwatches, which he joked, gave him forty-eight hours instead of the regular twenty-hour. During the session, Hans announced that he will be taking a break from writing the popular K2 series to write a standalone novel. Hans’ witty anecdotes and insights on writing ensured that the Noir Literature Festival 2017 ended with much laughter and more importantly, inspired minds.
Festival producer Mita Kapur thanked the speakers for their cooperation and the thought-provoking sessions that the festival witnessed as the curtains descended on the third edition of the Noir Literature Festival.
The operation concluded successfully with zero body count and negligible injuries. The secret code #NoirLitFest was used to grant access to ground visuals from the operation. The Mission HQ can be contacted through the classified portal @noirlitfest on all social media platforms. We look forward to the next edition of the Noir Literature Festival and the mangled corpses and twisted mindgames that is part of the package.