Manu Joseph is the editor of Open magazine and a columnist with The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times. His first novel Serious Men is the winner of The Hindu Literary Prize and the PEN/Open book award and was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Bollinger PG Wodehouse Prize for best comic fiction.
· Soaring into the heaven moment?
Several times in the three years that I took to finish the book. There were these stretches of time when things just fell in place, breakthroughs came when they were not sought and the prose flowed for no good reason, and I even suspected I had taken literature to the next level. Most of these moments were delusions and I had to delete thousands of words. When you are writing your book and you feel you are soaring into heaven, you must immediately suspect that you are probably writing rubbish.
· That infernal fire time:
As I do not trust anything, especially computers, I always email myself all that I write, several times a day, and this becomes some kind of a historical record of the novel’s progress. In the first twelve months of the novel, as I can see, I had written less than 4000 words. It was a horrible time for the novel, though everything else about my life was joyous as always. I had never been happier but somehow the novel was just not moving. As a journalist it shames me to realise that I took one year to write 4000 words. But then I was helpless. I am someone who writes reasonably fast and I believe that the writer’s block is the myth of the amateur. But I struggled for months to find the tone of the book probably because I wanted the central character to be a nice person and he just would not allow himself to be formed that way. Every novel has a pre-destined beginning. If you try to tamper with it you have to pay for it.
· The purgatory point:
So, three years after I started the novel, I finish it. I email it to my agent and publishers. They reply saying they are very eager to read it. Then there is this silence. For several days.
· …….years, …….drafts and ……….words thereafter, would you do this differently and again?
What I think is, if you don’t write a book at a particular point in your life you will never write it. You will probably outgrow it, or it will become stale inside you and rot and you will never see its beauty. I know that is true of Serious Men. I would not have written that book now. But this novel is too biographical, too real, I think it would have survived for many many years inside me. And, of course, I would have written it differently if I were sixty.
Desire the most?
Apart from quick unambiguous glory, I want the world to read my novel the way I intended it to be read not how their psychiatric conditions dictate.
Hate the most?
The exclamation mark.