// you’re reading...


Amitav Ghosh talks about his writing and his favorite books

Amitav Ghosh continues about writing, and his favorite books...

Amitav Ghosh talked a bit about his writing methods, too.
Writing itself was a solitary activity, requiring a lot of discipline and a constant effort of concentration over a long period, he said. The stretch between the door of his study and the chair was the hardest.
He tried to make his days as predictable as possible, entering his study by nine am, having a coffee break at 11, then working again, and stopping at 4pm.
He said his writing often started with a visual image.
Another point he made about writing was that he got side-tracked quite a lot, but that, in the end, writers were governed by their own sense of form. “One person’s side-track is another person’s worn path,” he said.
He said that as a writer you should trust your instincts and the reader, and if the book was interesting the reader would follow you.
During another session Amitav Ghosh spoke about political writing, saying he was against the idea that everything was political, and said this attitude was profoundly limiting to the novel.

He said he enjoyed the works of Anthony Trollope and C.P. Snow and the way they described political machinations. But he also talked about past political writers of Eastern Europe, eg Russian writers, with their interest in Iron Curtain issues of the day.
He said that once the Iron Curtain had disappeared, no-one was interested in the books of these authors. “Their essential subject had vanished into thin air,” he said.
Also not only the good guys wrote politically, and political writing had led to ethnic conflict. Advocacy was a useful thing but it happened on all sides, he said.
He said he was againt the “hyper-politicisation of our lives”, and that there was a danger of forgetting our own inner lives.
He said it was a narrow idea of writing to see it as purely political, and that it excluded human feeling. “That is what being human is all about,” he said.

During one of his sessions I asked him what some of his favorite book of all time were, and he said he liked authors more than books, and in particular he liked Balzac because his novels were a mirror of the world.

He said Balzac’s novels were full of details of daily life in France, like eating habits, and Balzac’s work was a great influence on his own novels.
Later he said that he thought every writer had to decide for themselves why they wrote. Of his own motives he said that the world filled him with wonder, that it was strange and interesting. He wrote the kind of books he liked to read, especially books that encompassed the world and pulled all things into them.
He said so many novels were limited. “I want to fill my books with all these elements of the real world,” he said.
Amitav Ghosh said he was a great admirer of Herman Melville, too, especially Moby Dick.
Also he liked Proust. He said Proust was very influential to him in the manner of structuring a story. He said his novel The Shadow Lines was very influenced by Proust.
As far as contemporary authors went, he liked Graham Swift. He said J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace was an “absolute masterpiece”.
And he said Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient was a very big influence on his own novel The Glass Palace.