Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Stephen King on Writing

No two persons write in the same way. And this is what makes writing a difficult craft to teach. However, if you have been a successful fiction writer for many years, it’s likely that the net of your knowledge would be so vast as to cover varied grains of thoughts or be based on methods which have produced results time and again. 

That’s why Stephen King’s book on writing – Stephen King on Writing, A Memoir of the Craft – makes lot of sense regardless of which school of thought you come from. In the first half of the book, King takes you through his life, his growing up years and coming of age as a novelist and then the book becomes a writing manual where King provides you with his views on novel writing he has framed based on his experience as practitioner of storytelling for several decades now.

King comes from an American lower middle class family comprising a single mother and brother. King grew up in a small town of the US and started dabbling in writing at a very young age. He ran a newspaper with his brother from their garage which eventually closed down. He wrote for his school magazine and offended a teacher so much with his writing that she held it against him and denied him an opportunity many years after the writing was published in school magazine.

He wrote short stories for various magazines and received more rejection notes than acceptance letters. But gradually the rejection notes started arriving with small pieces of advises and sometimes ‘submit again’. In the meantime, he did odd jobs trying to make ends meet after he got married with the girl he had met at a writing seminar, Tabby, who continues to be his Ideal Reader (or first reader, critic) for all his works. The publication of Carrie – King’s debut novel – marked the end of King’s struggle as a writer (and also financially).

When I started reading the book, I expected it to be a writing manual but King surprised me by starting the book as an autobiography and then digressing (or mainstreaming) into the craft of writing. But later, after covering a long sweep of the book, I realized that the autobiographical part was to inform the reader what makes King the writer he is and the book confirms that later.

As much as it is difficult to explain how to handle something which is largely a matter of instinct and imagination, King has successfully detailed the nuts and bolts of the craft without going into its theories. He provides a primer on grammar. Towards the end of the book, King presents the reader with a raw manuscript and its edited copy in the subsequent chapter.  He presents a list of books that, he says, have helped him.

What makes the book touchy is that King had put it on hold for sometime because he met with a truly horrifying accident and had very slim chances of surviving it. And many months after his release from hospital when he started writing again he resumed this book and finished it.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Chowringhee - romantic nostalgia of 60s Calcutta

When I saw the English translation of Shankar’s Chowringhee for the first time, it reminded me of another book I had read long years back on the same topic – Arthur Hailey’s Hotel. However, many years later, in fact a few weeks back, when I started reading Shankar’s Chowringhee, I found it very different from Hailey’s Hotel – in fact, the two share almost nothing except a broad topicality in common: hotel. Hailey’s Hotel had a particular plot whose setting was a hotel. Shankar’s is about life in a hotel.

Chowringhee is the second book of Shankar and a linear sequel to his first novel, The Great Unknown (the English translation of Koto Ojana Re). The book starts where the previous one had got over and the plot progresses into its central setting – Shahajahan Hotel – as the narrator – the young boy who worked as a court clerk under a British barrister in TGU – finds an employment in the hotel (on Chowringhee Road where the book gets its title from) by a quirk of fate.

And a range of characters flits in and out of the novel, taking the reader through various sides of life in a hotel. I found some similarities as well as dissimilarities with his The Great Unknown. Like The Great Unknown, Chowringhee also is told through the eyes of a wonderstruck kid who has found himself in a world which is awe-inspiring and beyond the scope and span of anything he has seen so far, especially coming as he does from a small town of Bengal.

The other similarity is that it’s just recording of life and experience in a workplace. Still another one is sentimentality – and there is a lot of it. You will also find flat characters in both of them. But the difference I noticed is that in Chowringhee Shankar has successfully brought in strokes of humor – and some of them are really funny, unlike TGU which was arresting but dour.

But despite these apparent shortcomings – expect humor – why did I read Mani Shankar Mukherjee again? For various things. The first book had left me moved despite these deficiencies – its characters and settings and recreation of the Calcutta of yore had left me yearning for a similar experience again. And Chowringhee recreated that experience for me.

The characters and their travails everything coalesces to form a moving experience – that’s what kept me interested in the book. The book shot to success after its publication (in 1962, predating Hailey’s Hotel by three years) and was turned into a movie by the same name.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...