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I have been a hardcore fan of thriller novels since my childhood and have grown up reading the likes of Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, Fredrick Forsyth, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dan Brown etc. Last year when I began writing my own thriller novel, I tried to find out more about the Indian publishing industry (being an Indian) from a thriller genre perspective. I observed that there was hardly any good blog/website dedicated to thrillers written by Indian authors. For aspiring authors like me, it was a setback.

I began this blog “Thriller Writing” in January, 2014 aiming to create a website which will bring together the readers and authors of the thriller genre in India. I also wanted to help aspiring authors (including me) by apprising them of the emerging trends in the Indian publishing industry and bringing to them advice from popular thriller authors themselves.

In less than five months, my blog has garnered the support of more than two hundred followers. Thank you everybody. Hope I can be of help to the numerous thriller fans and authors in India and abroad.

Keep buying books, keep reading and keep writing.

Interviewing Juggi Bhasin, renowned author of thrillers ‘The Terrorist’ and ‘The Avenger’

Thriller Writing interviews Juggi Bhasin, one of the very first TV journalists of India,who has authored action thrillers The Terrorist and The Avenger. His books are based on the boiling cauldron we know as India-Pakistan politics.

Juggi Bhasin

From a TV Journalist at Doordarshan to being a Thriller Novelist, you have come far
As far as can I remember, I had always wanted to be a writer. But throughout my early career, there was always so much to do in various different activities such as television news, theater  corporate trainings, counseling at Sanjivini etc, that there was not enough time to write.

Around 2005, my wife moved to Mumbai as part of her career move. Soon after that our son too moved to Mumbai to study in one of the best schools there. At that time I was working with Lok Sabha TV and yes, honestly, I was once again enjoying my stint in the media. I discussed this situation with my wife and we both understood each other’s aspirations and we lived in two different cities, meeting and catching up on holidays which were not that many. Long distance marriages appear romantic on paper but in reality they can be a hugely stressful experience. My family for me was a priority. I resigned from my job and moved to Mumbai, resolved not do another job but devote my entire time to writing. By deciding to move to Mumbai I had taken my first step to becoming a writer.

Juggi Bhasin (1)
Tell us about your books “The Terrorist” and “The Avenger”
I have always been fascinated with the subject of terrorism especially the how and the why: how and why young people take to it, ready to sacrifice their lives, living lives filled with irony. They are completely misguided and yet completely focused at the same time. This is a vast, complex subject in which individual aspirations and desires mesh with the community and personal religiosity and the overarching body politic that makes heroes or villains of individuals amongst us.

My book The Terrorist is the fascinating but complex journey of two young men, from different religious faiths, both torn with their own doubts and demons within, in a clash that spins across the dustbowls of India – Pakistan, the killing fields of Kashmir and the vulnerable city of Delhi. One man is discriminated against in his office, in his home, even his personal life and he picks up the gun against the state. The other young man is pitted against him.

The Avenger is the story of one man’s quest to seek justice for the slaying of his teenage daughter in a terrorist attack. He persuades Suvir Suri – Ex-Special Forces (from the first novel) to raise a force to go across to Pakistan and assassinate the dreaded terrorist Sikandar Khan. The novel looks at the entire gamut of the deeply troubling relationship between Indians and Pakistanis, the human element in such a situation and the inherent tragedy that flows when opposing forces clash with each other.

Your novels offer the readers a front-seat view of terrorism, espionage, Indo-Pak politics. How much of that have you witnessed from your own eyes as a journalist?
As a television journalist in DD news – way back in the late eighties I used to extensively travel to Kashmir which then was in the grip of intense insurgency. There I had the occasion to take a close look at the terrorism issue and understand how it operated on the ground.

I was also present with my team when the Babri Masjid was brought down in 1992. I do believe that event had a huge bearing on the growth of indigenous terrorism in the country. Some of that trauma is reflected in my first book.

Your books are known for their realism and attention to detail. Throw light on how you do your research for a book?
I do believe it is very important to research extensively before one puts pen to paper. I had the good fortune of travelling in a number of places affected by terrorism so in a sense I knew what was happening on the ground. But today one can get a lot of material from the internet – you just have to be hard working and smart in selecting the right material.

Your views on the rising wave of self-publishing in India.
I know self-publishing is the craze nowadays but it is still better to find a good publisher to take care of all the processes involved in a bringing out a book on one’s own. Anyone can bring out a book but it is a different matter altogether whether it reaches the shop floor for someone to look at it or buy it. A book goes through several layers of printing, cover preparation, marketing, social media outreach and above all distribution. It is very difficult for the first time writer to take care of all these processes on one’s own.

What advice would you have for writers who are trying to get their first novel published?
Remember that your synopsis has to be strong when you send it to the publisher. That is your calling card. Every publisher is always on the lookout for an original idea or a good book. Let no one tell you that it is impossible to get published. Keep polishing your synopsis and there is no reason why you will not get a call.

I have heard from people that it takes a top publishing house like Penguin nothing less than two years to take a look at a new script. This is a false argument. My synopsis got the go ahead in less than two months.

What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on my new book (my third book) – Blood Song. It is due for a December release.

Why Traditional Publishing will go the Human Alarm Clock way

Recently, BBC did a story on a man named Jagdish Chandra Sharma, who keeps sitting outside a post-office in New Delhi. He has been doing this for the last 31 years. In these awfully long three decades, he has seen his profession gradually march from its heyday towards the ash-heap of history. In his golden years, there used to be a long queue of people in front of him. He often forgot about his lunch, servicing 70-80 people in a day. Today, he basks in oblivion. That’s the life of a professional letter writer. With the advent of technology and changing people behavior, he’s no longer required.

Human Alarm Clock
Human Alarm Clock
That’s the poignant tale of every profession which no longer exists today. Over the period of time, the human alarm clock got replaced by a clock and then by a mobile phone; a town crier got replaced by TV/Radio/Newspapers and then by Facebook. Ever heard of a creature called Hirudo Medicinalis, which was the basis of a booming industry in the mid-19th century? Wikipedia says that by the mid-19th century, 30 million of this species were exported from Germany to America annually and French imports in 1833 were in the region of 42 million. Well, Hirudo Medicinalis is a medicinal leech used in bloodletting (releasing blood from body to cure illnesses). Today, we don’t hear of any industry called as the ‘Leech Industry’.

The point of giving the examples of lost businesses is to draw you to the fact that with time, old professions vanish and new ones come up. One of the biggest factors necessitating such a change is ‘disintermediation’, which means ‘removal of intermediaries’. A few days back I came across a brilliant article in Wired.com which talks about ‘disintermediation’ in the publishing industry, quite along the same lines I have mentioned in my blog The future of Indian Publishing Industry… and who will make money from it?. To quote a statement made by former Random House chief Epstein – “I was at a meeting God knows how many years ago at MIT and someone used the word disintermediation. When I deconstructed that, I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the end of the publishing business.’ ”

Self-publishing is doing exactly to the publishing industry, what a mechanical alarm clock did to the human alarm clock business – it is removing the intermediaries, the gatekeepers. It is unleashing an era of Do-it-Yourselfing. The Wired article says that soon, all that the writer might need is a freelance editor, a publicist, and an agent who functions as a kind of business manager and there will be no lumbering media corporation standing in the way. I can’t agree more, the change is happening as you read this blog and the rug might be pulled from under the traditional publishers feet sooner than you think.

Interesting Links:

Interviewing Ankush Saikia, author of ‘The Girl From Nongrim Hills’

The Girl From Nongrim Hills is one of the rare noir thrillers in Indian market. TWH interviews its author Ankush Saikia.

THE-GIRL-FROM-THE-NONGRIM-HILLS

Tell us about yourself
I was born in Tezpur, Assam in 1975, and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin; Assam; and Shillong, Meghalaya. I worked in journalism and publishing in New Delhi for over a decade. In 2005, I was on the shortlist for the fourth Outlook/Picador-India non-fiction writing award. I am currently based in Shillong, Meghalaya and Tezpur, Assam. The Girl From Nongrim Hills is my third book (and second novel).

I have always read a lot, from the time I was a child, mainly I think because there were people from both sides of my family (including my parents) who read, and I think at some point in my late teens I decided I would try and write a book myself. I think the different places and people I saw while growing up made their mark on me.

Take us into “The Girl from Nongrim Hills”
It’s a noir thriller set in Shillong and has a guitarist in a local band as the protagonist. He must deal with a seductive and dangerous woman, a group of militants, the police, and a crooked minister even as he attempts to recover 50 lakh rupees to save his elder brother from a sticky situation. It’s a fast-paced novel that, within the confines of a thriller, attempts to portray the city of Shillong as it is today.

Your novel paints a brilliant portrait of an angst ridden city, Shillong, with passing references to arms deals and issues with migrants. Tell us more about Shillong and North-Eastern India and what makes them such wonderful settings for an absorbing thriller.
The North East has a different sort of society compared to mainland India, and it has always been a bit isolated. As far as locations go, the city of Shillong (like other urban areas in the North East) has an interesting mix of shabbiness and beauty. Then there is the presence of sundry militant groups in the North East, some of whose members land up from time to time in Shillong. All of this taken together, I realized, would provide an interesting setting for a noir thriller.

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Your typical day of writing
I find the early morning, when there are no distractions around, the best time to get writing done. I do some writing later in the day too, along with some reading, and research if required.

What is your process of writing a book? Do you plot them meticulously or let them evolve? How do you do your research?
It’s a combination of both: you need to have a basic plot in mind, especially while writing a crime novel or a thriller, but you also have to be flexible enough while writing to allow for changes in the plot and additions or deletions. The inspiration comes from the society around me, from the life that I see around me. As far as research goes, I haven’t yet written a book that requires in-depth research, and the internet is a great source of information. However, for the thriller set in Assam that I’m planning to work on now, I will have to meet people and go to places to find out things. The best way to deal with so-called writer’s block it is to sit down at your desk at a given time every day and not get up till you’ve completed at least one page!

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Your perspectives on the Indian publishing industry and what have you learnt about it.
It’s still evolving; the market for crime novels and thrillers and other genre fiction is starting to grow. Romance is very popular, and mythology to some extent.

Your views on two gamechangers in the publishing world – self-publishing and eBooks. 
I think you still need a publisher on your side to back you up. Of course, the way things are nowadays, no one has much time to spare for you, especially if you’re a first-time writer, so you need to work a lot yourself on the promotion of the book. E-books are slowly getting popular here as well, though it’ll be a long time before they reach the sort of usage levels one sees in the US and UK.

What advice would you have for writers who are trying to get their first novel published?
Speaking from my own experience, people tend to get very attached to the first draft of their first book. Don’t get too attached to anything you’ve written; you should be able and willing to delete and rewrite any part of it, or even the whole, to make it a better book. Study the market, both in India and abroad. Try and get in touch with editors at publishing houses. And while you’re waiting for your first book to get accepted and then published, keep writing. That way you’ll have a second book ready by the time the first one comes out.

What are you currently working on?
I have just finished the first draft of a crime novel set in Delhi and featuring a private detective. After this I start work on a thriller set in Assam. Westland is bringing out my third novel Red River, Blue Hills later this year: it’s a thriller set in Delhi and North East India.