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My Friend Sancho

My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.


To buy it online from the US, click here.


I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.


If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho


Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.


And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.


Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: My Friend Sancho

Hachette on the Rise

Just back from the Galle Lit Fest, rested, and all set to resume blogging. Let me begin with the good news that my publisher, Hachette India, just a year old in this country, has already become the second-biggest publisher in India, ahead of Harper Collins and Random House, and behind Penguin. Here’s the full story: I’m most pleased that My Friend Sancho has been described as one of their flagship sellers here. Authors are supposed to have uneasy relationships with their publishers, but I get along really well with these guys, and their success is well deserved.

Also, in the UK, Hachette consolidates its No 1 position, which it has held for a while now. More power to them.

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In other book related news, I’ll be part of a panel at the Kala Ghoda Festival discussing “City Stories”. Anjum Hasan will moderate, and my fellow panelists are Chandrahas Choudhury and Lata Jagtiani. It’s on Monday, at 8pm; the full Kala Ghoda schedule is here. There’s also a panel on food writing at 6.30 pm featuring my friends (and India’s best writers on food) Vikram Doctor and Nilanjana Roy, and I’m looking forward to being in the audience for that. Hop over if you have time.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


Off to Galle

In a few hours, I’m off to the Galle Literary Festival. Blogging will be light till I’m back in town, and I don’t expect to be online much. But who knows, I may tweet salacious (and made-up) literary gossip if the fancy strikes me. Watch out for that.

If you’re at the festival, both the events that I’m part of take place on Sunday, January 31. At 10am, I will be in conversation with Shehan Karunatilaka, a Sri Lankan novelist who will be talking about his forthcoming novel, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. It’s a book set in the world of cricket, and we’ll talk about Sri Lankan literature, Sri Lankan cricket and Shehan’s own writing.

At 2.15pm, I will have a session to myself in which I will talk about My Friend Sancho, read out bits of it, and chat with the audience. If there is time, I may also read from an Abir Ganguly short story that I finished writing a few hours ago, and that will be part of an anthology of Indian writing that you’ll see on the stands later this year.

And ah, I promise at least one orgasm. So if you come, you’ll see me come. Promise.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


Silent Bestsellers and the Tech 100

It’s somehow appropriate for a lazy half-Bong to come up with a sleeper hit. Open Magazine‘s latest issue has a feature story titled “Silent Bestsellers”, and My Friend Sancho is one of the subjects of the piece.

There was actually a decent amount of buzz about the book both before and after it was published, so maybe it’s not so much of a sleeper. But it’s true, as the author of that story says, that “cocktail crowds don’t trip over each other trying to grab a photo op” with me. It is entirely their loss, I must say, for my company is more intoxicating than a Long Island Iced Tea spiked with Bhang.

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In other personal news, the December issue of the Indian edition of the magazine T3 has compiled The T3 Tech 100, their list of 100 movers and shakers in the technology world. Anil Ambani comes in at No. 82, Jimmy Wales is No. 83, and Amit Varma is No. 84. (This Indian list doesn’t seem to be online, but here’s a screengrab, if I may call it that.) Shah Rukh Khan is No. 86, and I hope this settles once and for all the longstanding debate about which of us is a bigger stud.

No, but really, it’s an interesting list. Stephen Fry clocks in at No. 4, ahead of Steve Jobs (7), Steve Ballmer (10), Barack Obama (18), Bill Gates (27), Tim Berners-Lee (36), Mike Arrington (58) and Jeff Bezos (63). Go figure.

The last time I made such an august list was in April this year, when Business Week named me one of India’s 50 Most Powerful People. The local auto drivers haven’t got the memo, though, and keep refusing to go where I want. Like, dude, do you not know who I am? I’m the juggernaut, bitch.

Maybe I should act in a Shah Rukh Khan film instead of him.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal | Science and Technology


MFS Comes To Pune

I’ll be in Pune this Friday, reading from my novel, My Friend Sancho, and discussing it with the writer and journalist Saaz Aggarwal. India Uncut and MFS readers are warmly invited. Now that Kamal R Khan has reportedly been kicked out from Bigg Boss, I’m trying to get him to come as well, but I can’t promise anything.

The details:

When: 6.30pm onwards, Friday, October 23
Where: Landmark bookstore, SGS Mall, Moledina Road, Pune
What: Amit Varma reads from My Friend Sancho, and discusses the book, as well as other matters of urgent national importance, with the writer Saaz Aggarwal.
And: Refreshments will be served after the event.
Also: There will be a Sherlyn Chopra lookalike contest, and the winner gets one year’s free subscription to India Uncut. Amit Varma is the sole judge.

Do come and create some masti.

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Saaz was one of the first people to interview me when MFS was released. Here’s that interview.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 October, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


My Friend Sancho Comes To Hyderabad

This notice is perhaps a bit late, and I apologize for that, but in a few hours, I’ll be reading from My Friend Sancho, and chatting with writer Sridala Swami about the book, in an event in Hyderabad. All India Uncut readers are invited. Details:

Event: Amit Varma reads from My Friend Sancho and chats with Sridala Swami.
Date: Saturday, August 29, 2009.
Time: 6pm.
Venue: Odyssey bookshop, Vikrampuri Kharkhana, Secunderabad.
Inducement: High tea.

Do drop in and say hello. As the book’s been out there a while, Sridala and I will talk about other stuff as well, such as writing in India and so on. The audience will be part of it, so do join the conversation.

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On another note, my publisher informs me that My Friend Sancho is the biggest selling Indian novel released in 2009. I’ve seen unofficial sales figures for this year’s releases from all the major publishing houses, and MFS is ahead by a long way. I’ll share MFS‘s sales figures for the year as 2009 draws to a close.

It’s already been on all the bestseller lists: India Today for June and July, Landmark for those same months, Just Books for a few weeks in that period, and all the Crossword outlets that I checked. (Each outlet has its own bestseller list.) Even better, a friend just sent me a picture of a pirated copy of MFS on a Delhi pavement. I’m not sure how my publishers feel about that, but I’m naturally delighted.

Much of this is word-of-mouth success, so all of you who liked the book and told your friends, thanks for that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


The Choices We Make

In the course of an email discussion, Udhay points me to this superb venn diagram by Bud Caddell on the subject of success and happiness:

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In the last couple of years, I’ve moved from “Learn to Say ‘No’” (journalism) to “Learn to Monetize” (writing novels)—which is problematic, because you can’t really learn to monetize in this field. Being a novelist is not like any other profession, and even publishers will tell you that they don’t really know what makes a book tick. You could write kickass books year after year and not have anyone notice; or you could be in the right time, at the right place, and be an overnight success. Unlike other professions, there’s no road map to success.

I made the choice that I did knowing the tradeoffs involved—I wouldn’t make anywhere near the kind of moolah I’d make if I stayed in journalism or went back to television; but I’d wake up every morning looking forward to getting down to work. I think that’s worth it—until my savings run out and I can’t meet the rent. Thankfully, MFS has sold well enough to ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. (15,000 copies so far, my publisher tells me, which makes it a huge bestseller by Indian standards—the benchmark for being a bestseller in India is 5000 copies.) My earnings from this don’t cover opportunity cost, of course, but they keep me afloat while I write the next one, and that gives me more joy than all the journalism I ever did.

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While on success, Udhay also points me to a lovely essay by Po Bronson on the subject. Here’s an excerpt that sums up my feelings on the subject quite exactly:

There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.

So do you love what you do?

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


Frequently Asked Questions About MFS

While I was on my MFS book tour, the same questions about the book and me kept cropping up in all the cities I went to, from journos and from the audiences at the launches. I thought it would make sense for IU and MFS readers if I collected some of them and answered them here as well. These frequently asked questions are collected on this page, which will be expanded as more questions come in. You can also check out my bio page, and this interview. Meanwhile, here on the IU Blog as well, here’s the first set of questions:

On Indian writing in English, and where MFS fits in

There is an unfortunate gap in India between popular fiction and literary fiction. Readers of literary fiction look down on popular fiction and think of it as infra dig; and readers of popular fiction are intimidated by literary fiction, by any indication of heft or gravitas or self-indulgence. An Amitav Ghosh reader won’t read Chetan Bhagat; and vice versa.

I’d like my work to appeal to both kinds of readers. Plenty of Japanese writers manage to bridge this gap in their country, and writers like Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami and Yoko Ogawa are both critically acclaimed as well as wildly popular. There aren’t any writers like that in India writing in English, creating compelling narratives that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope to fill that space with my novels. Whether or not MFS lives up to that is for readers to judge.

On whether I am a blogger or a novelist

I’ve wanted to be a novelist all my life—since I began to read, I wanted to tell stories, and I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. I did various other things along the way, procrastinating furiously. In 2001, I took some time off and tried writing a book, but after 10,000 words, realised that it wasn’t working, and that I wasn’t ready for it yet, either in terms of craft or maturity. I bided my time till I was ready, and then eventually did get down to it. My Friend Sancho is my first baby-step in my career as a novelist. I don’t see myself doing anything else, ever.

Some readers of IU see me as a blogger-turned-novelist, as if I became successful as a blogger, found that I had a readership, and then decided to write a book. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve wanted nothing else in my life but to write novels, and blogging was just something that happened along the way.

Two of the four publishers who wanted MFS didn’t even know I blogged. The blog was irrelevant in that scheme of things, and my book found its way into the world on its own merit. I hope that is also how readers evaluate it.

On how blogging made me a better writer

I think of the facility to write as akin to a muscle. Just as working out daily in the gym increases one’s fitness, regular writing makes one a better writer. Blogging amounted to exercising my ‘writing muscle’ every day. I used to be a frequent blogger, and for much of my time as a blogger, have averaged about five posts a day. (I once put up 22 posts in a day; yes, I needed to get a life.) That’s a lot of working out.

Blogging also taught me one of the most important lessons of writing: Respect your reader’s time. When someone is online reading your blog, there are a thousand other things they can do with their time. The whole world is just a click away. If you’re self-indulgent, if you waffle, if you use 10 words where five will do, boom, they’re gone. To build a readership, you have to keep giving your readers value for their time. Blogging made my writing crisper, more economical, and less self-conscious. I’d like to think that these values reflect in the other writing I do.

On why I gave up journalism

I felt that writing a novel needed me to devote myself to the fictional world I was creating, and weekly deadlines for columns and suchlike got in the way. I had to make a choice, and so I chose to give up journalism. The process of writing MFS confirmed to me that writing fiction was my natural domain, and I don’t intend to return to journalism now.

Also, writing columns and op-eds require a different mindset from tackling literature. In opinion pieces, one is expected to pass judgments on things, to paint the world in black and white. Literature gives us more scope to acknowledge the real world’s complexities, and to explore its ambiguities. I rather prefer the latter—you won’t find me passing judgement on any of my characters in MFS, or in future books. No matter who the character is, there but for the grace of the FSM go we.

On why my blogging and journalistic concerns are not reflected in my novel

I blog a lot about economics and politics, and my columns were also on those subjects. But you will not find me talking about these subjects in MFS. Indeed, reading MFS will tell you nothing about my ideology or my political leanings, which is as it should be. Literature is about human beings, and, to use a much-abused phrase with a pomposity alert, the human condition. A book that pushes an ideology is, in my view, not literature but propaganda. You won’t find any of that coming from me.

On whether MFS is autobiographical

My Friend Sancho is not autobiographical, and Abir Ganguly isn’t me. I’ve never worked in a newsroom, or as a crime reporter, and none of the events in the book have happened to me. As a person, Abir is quite different from me, though his sense of humour is a bit like mine.

Writers are often wisely told, ‘Write about what you know.’ I’ve lived in Mumbai since 1995, and love this city and know it well, so obviously I set the novel here. And I know a fair bit about journalism as well, so that was also a natural choice for Abir. That said, Abir has no more in common with me than with any Mumbai journalist.

It could be argued, though, that the character of the lizard is based on me. To begin with, we’re both unnoticed observers of the world with an unusual perspective. And then there’s the reptilian looks. Also… ok, I’ll stop here.

On the voice of the book

The book is a first-person narrative from the point of view of Abir Ganguly, this immature, 23-year-old, smart-alecky reporter given to glib wisecracks. The voice of the book, thus, is his voice. As the story proceeds, and he is taken out of his comfort zone by his attraction to a girl he would not have noticed in normal circumstances, he changes in subtle ways, and begins to see the world slightly differently. This change in Abir is at the heart of this book—it is a coming-of-age story.

Every book has its own voice depending on what it’s about, and pov. My second novel is a third-person narrative starring an IAS officer in his late 40s living in a city in Central India, and will read quite differently.

More Q&A will follow on the FAQ page. If you have any questions of your own, send ‘em in. I can’t promise to answer all the questions I get, but will do so for any that haven’t already been addressed, and that seem to be of interest to many of my readers.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 May, 2009 in Blogging | My Friend Sancho | Personal


I’m (Almost) Back

I’ve returned to Mumbai from the most gruelling book tour of my life, and I’m tired, tired, tired. It was fun, and I enjoyed meeting so many IU readers who have now become MFS fans, but the launches and interviews and early morning flights took their toll, as did the effort of dodging the many panties thrown at me by adoring readers. I shall, thus, resume regular blogging tomorrow.

Until then, be good. Read a book or something.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 May, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


MFS Update

I have good news for US readers of India Uncut who have been asking how they can buy My Friend Sancho. Although the book won’t be available on Amazon for a couple of months, you can buy it from here. I am told that the price you see there is inclusive of shipping.

I’ll be publishing links to other online outlets for readers in other parts of the world as I get them. Meanwhile, MFS should now be available in bookstores across India. I love the way the book looks—Hachette has done a terrific job of the production, and I’m most pleased. Now it’s up to you to tell me if the inside lives up to the outside.

Also, do join the My Friend Sancho Facebook group. And try to make it to one of the launches.

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The Mumbai launch on Saturday was quite well attended, and it went off well. I was terribly nervous about reading from the book, but I picked a couple of sections, read them out manfully, and no one threw shoes. I also achieved my lifelong ambition of doing in a bookstore what Meg Ryan once did in a restaurant. I shall repeat that act in all my other launches, and you’re most welcome to have what I’m having.

I’m off tomorrow to Delhi, and will be travelling till the 19th for the book. But I’ll keep the blogging going. Watch this space.

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Update: Just for you, an excerpt: here is Chapter One of My Friend Sancho (pdf link).

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 May, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


My Friend Sancho Comes To Town

I’m pleased to inform you that My Friend Sancho, my first novel, has started hitting the stores. We’re having a phased nationwide release, and the book should be in stores in Mumbai today (or latest tomorrow) by Saturday, and in the rest of the country before May 12. I’ll also be having launch events in five cities. All five events are open to the public, and India Uncut readers are invited to all of them. The details are below—as are links to the Facebook event pages to confirm your attendance:

Mumbai, May 9: 6 to 9pm at Crossword, Dynamix Mall, Juhu. (Basically, the Juhu PVR building.) Sonia Faleiro will be in conversation with me, and that will be followed by coffee and snacks. Here’s the Facebook page.

New Delhi, May 13: 6.30 to 9.30pm at Agni, The Park. Nilanjana S Roy will be in conversation with me—and there will be cocktails and nude belly dancers from Arabia. (Ok, no belly dancers. Sorry.) Here’s the Facebook page.

Kolkata, May 15: 6.30 to 9.30pm, Oxford Bookstore, Park Street. Anjum Katyal will be in conversation with me. Beverages and snacks will also be there, mixing discreetly with the crowd. Here’s the Facebook page.

Bangalore, May 16: 6 to 8pm, Crossword, Residency Road. Anjum Hasan will be conversation with me. Here’s the Facebook page.

Chennai, May 18: 6.30 to 9pm, Landmark Bookstore, Nungambakkam. Sharanya Manivannan will be in conversation with me. Coffee and snacks will follow, like demented stalkers. Here’s the Facebook page.

Do drop in for any or all of these events and say hello.

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Slightly disappointing news for overseas readers: Due to all kinds of complications, MFS won’t be available on Amazon etc for at least a couple of months. It’s a massive bummer for me, as many of you had written in asking when you could buy it in the US or UK. We’re hoping to fix that by July, and I’ll keep you updated.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


Preparing For Takeoff

The launch dates for my first novel, My Friend Sancho, have been finalized, and I’m pleased to share them with you now. I had earlier mentioned that the book would be out by the middle of April, but we had to delay that just a bit, and it will now be in bookstores across India in the first week of May. The launch dates:

Mumbai: May 9, Crossword, Kemp’s Corner.
Delhi: May 13, Agni, The Park
Kolkata: May 14 or 15, Oxford Book Store
Bangalore: May 16, Crossword
Chennai: May 18, Landmark

I’ll confirm all these details closer to the dates. Barring Delhi, all the other events are open, and India Uncut readers are invited to come and throw tomatoes. I’ll be in conversation with Sonia Faleiro at the Mumbai event, and with Nilanjana S Roy in Delhi. We haven’t yet finalized the details of the other events, so watch this space.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


My Friend Sancho Finds A Cover

I’m delighted to announce the result of the cover design competition for my first novel, My Friend Sancho. We received so many fabulous designs that it took us a while just to look at them all carefully, process them, and make a shortlist after considering all the parameters. Hachette India, my publishers, were awed by the range of designs we had to choose from—and I am deeply grateful that so many people chose to take part.

After much debate, we have a winner. Prem Kishore of Hungry & Foolish Creative Products walks away with Rs. 15,000 worth of Hachette India books. Here is his design (click on the image below for a larger image):

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There will be minor tweaks, of course, and the text and photograph at the back are dummy, just for the purposes of designing. But here it is.

Of all the other designers, I’d also like to mention Manish Sahu, a designer from Nagpur who also writes a pretty neat blog. Manish entered designs like Virender Sehwag hits boundaries, and more than half the shortlisted designs were by this one dude. My publishers and I felt awful that after all that work, he didn’t win, so we will send him a special Hachette hamper—and I’m certain he’s going to design many covers for many lucky writers. A couple of his designs, and other special mentions, below the fold:

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 February, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


The Results Of The Sancho Cover Contest…

... aren’t yet ready, and will be announced later. Many outstanding entries poured in after we announced the contest, and while I promised to announce the results earlier this week, we simply haven’t managed to pick one of them yet. The delay is not Hachette’s, but mine—I haven’t been able to make up my mind on this, and I apologize to all the contestants for keeping them waiting. This is my first novel, and its cover is a big, big deal for me, and I want to be absolutely sure before we pick one. So we’re still tweaking the entries in small ways, printing them out, seeing them from a distance, holding them up close—all of that stuff. To all the contestants—thank you for entering, and thank you for your patience.

Also, Hachette would like to send each of the entrants a token of appreciation, but hasn’t been able to get in touch with all of them—mails bouncing back etc. If you sent in a design, please write to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with your postal address. Thank you.

As to when the results will be announced, well, the book’s out in April and the cover has to be finalized by early February. So that’s the absolute latest we’ll take to decide—though we’ll try our best not to leave it so late.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


Sancho’s Got Clothes

Choosing what to wear is not such an easy matter, though.

The contest to design the cover for my first novel, “My Friend, Sancho”, is now over. To all those who entered, from me and Hachette India, Thank You!

We’ve been overwhelmed by the designs—not just the number of entries that came in, but the quality. As my editor at Hachette remarked, “Never has any book had so many great covers to choose from.” We’re trying to make a shortlist right now, and expect to announce a winner on Monday, January 19.

That said, announcing a winner will be heartbreaking, because so many of the covers are so good in different ways. Many factors go into choosing a cover: the subjective tastes of the people involved; inputs from production on how something that looks good on the screen will look as a book; the scope for effects such as, in my publisher’s words, “embossing, holographic stuff, texture, foiling, UV, etc”; inputs from sales on what will actually work in the marketplace. There are trade-offs involved: one cover may look beautiful and have just the right feel, but may have nothing to do with the book conceptually; another may be bang on in terms of suiting the book, and may not be the kind of cover that stands out from a distance in a book shop. It’s all very complicated.

For this reason, Hachette has decided that while it can choose just one cover and award just one prize, every single entrant will get a token of appreciation. If you entered a design, expect to hear from Hachette soon.

Meanwhile, I’m off to my ‘cover designs’ folder to get bewildered and overwhelmed. Thanks again!

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


My Friend Sancho Is Looking For Clothes

A reminder to my readers: the contest to design the cover for my first novel, My Friend, Sancho, is on until January 12. That leaves five days for you to enter. So do send in your designs if you’d like to participate—and tell your designer friends about it, in case they’re interested.

Some excellent designs have already come in, and I’ll showcase a whole bunch of covers that I liked on this blog when the contest is over. Sadly, we can only pick one winner—maybe that’s the one inside your head? Send it in!

PS: Also, if you enjoy reading India Uncut, do remember to vote for it in the Best Asian Blog category of the 2008 Weblog Awards? Readers are allowed to vote once every 24 hours, and the competition is tough. Voting is easy, and just requires a single click—so head on over!

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


Would You Like To Design A Book Cover?

As you know, my first novel “My Friend, Sancho” will be published by Hachette India in April 2009, and we’re getting it all together right now in terms of a final edit and production details. One of the areas I’m keen to get right is cover design. My publishers and I both felt that we needed a design that was different from the kind we see in our bookstores these days, and we thought of opening it up to a much larger pool of people than a publisher would usually have access to. And so, with the imagined sound of trumpets and applause in the background, Hachette India and India Uncut bring you:

The “My Friend, Sancho” Cover Design Competition

This is how it works: in the next few paragraphs, I shall share a synopsis of the book, and link to an excerpt that gives you a sense of the voice of the main character in the book. I shall also attach Hachette’s official design brief for the book. Based on that, you are invited to send in a cover design, or many if you want, for the book. If we choose to use one of them, you get Rs. 15,000 worth of Hachette books and cover credit.

(You may not have heard of Hachette before, but you would certainly have heard of many of the imprints it owns, such as Hodder, Orion, Octopus, Hamlyn, Little, Brown & Company, and Orbit. It’s the largest general books publisher in the UK, the second largest publisher in the world, and had more books in the New York Times bestseller list last year than any other publisher—so there’ll be much to choose from. Hachette has just launched in India, and “MFS” will be the first release of their local list. So if you win the prize, you will be bewildered by the choice of books available in their catalogues here.)

In case Hachette is unable to use any of the covers submitted, the first prize will not be awarded—but we will pick the design we like the most and award the designer Rs. 5000 worth of Hachette books, plus empanelment on Hachette’s roster of preferred designers. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, and some kickass designs come in. Needless to say, I will carry all the designs I like on India Uncut, and link to the designer’s homepage wherever relevant.

And now, about the book: “My Friend, Sancho” is a love story set in Mumbai. Abir Ganguly, the protagonist, is a 23-year-old, cynical, wise-cracking journalist on the crime beat of a newspaper. He is asked by his editor to do a feature story on Mohammad Iqbal, a man killed in a police encounter. As research for the story, he meets Iqbal’s daughter, Muneeza. An unlikely friendship forms between them, but before it can become anything more, certain matters need closure.

The first chapter of the book is here (pdf link). It will give you a sense of the tone of the book, and the voice of the character. But the book develops into a love story, not the gritty thriller you might expect from that chapter.

My own brief: The cover I’m looking for should be one that reflects the playful, young tone of the book. It should attract attention from a distance without being loud or gaudy. It should be classy, so when you hold it, you feel like taking it home with you. It should be minimal—I hate clutter, and there shouldn’t be too many elements in there.

What images from the book can you use? Well, Abir and Muneeza have black coffee and iced tea together a couple of times, and those are possible images. They meet at the food court of a mall a few times—but I don’t fancy either of them being represented on the cover. There is also a talking lizard in the book, and he could make an appearance somewhere, perhaps curling onto the spine. Feel free to use something abstract—for now, I’m more interested in the feel being right than the image being representative.

Important point: This might be the first of a series of books, so you could begin with a design template that can be extended onto future books. One example in Indian bookstores is the series of Penguin hardbacks of Amitav Ghosh’s books—they’re clearly part of a series, they’re minimal, with just one strong visual for each cover, and they’re powerful. Of course, they’re grim and convey gravitas, where the covers for the Abir Ganguly books need to convey youth and playfulness, but they work well as a series.

The publisher’s design brief is below, under the fold. It is entirely written by the dudes at Hachette, which I find important to point out, because I would never have the audacity to praise my own book. (Also, the blurbs are obviously a temporary filler.)

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 December, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


India Uncut Turns Four

There will be no birthday celebrations, but India Uncut turned four today. The first post of this blog was written on December 1, 2004, and since then I’ve written more than 6000 posts on this blog alone. Most of my blogging has been filter-and-comment, where I link to interesting or newsworthy pieces and comment on them, but I’ve also done a little reportage when I’ve been travelling on journalistic assignments, as well as op-ed kind of posts.

India Uncut has changed my life in many ways. I got much journalistic work because of this blog, including the weekly column with Mint that won me the Bastiat Prize last year. It helped me polish my writing skills, making my posts crisper, and less self-conscious and self-indulgent. I learnt more about the world while blogging, because writing a post on most things involves a certain amount of background research. I fell into many traps, and in the process became aware of them—such as the need to have an opinion on everything, or to have narratives that explain every event, and so on. (I will elaborate on this some other time.)

Many of my old posts make me cringe, either in terms of how poorly they were written, and how shallow the thinking behind them was. But they’re milestones on a journey I’m still on, and I’m thankful for that. Perhaps four years from now, the posts I write these days will also appall me. In fact, I hope they do—that will at least mean that I’m getting better, and there’s still a point to it.

The biggest thing I have gained from India Uncut is the readership this blog has. It baffles me sometimes—why would so many people want to read me? And I’m also deeply grateful for it. The biggest blessing a writer can have is a sense that people are reading him and engaging with his writing. I never had this sense when I wrote my column for Mint, or wrote pieces for WSJ, the Guardian or even a high-traffic website like Cricinfo. With India Uncut, I do—and feel immensely fortunate.

This blog has changed over the last few years—there are fewer posts per day, and since the time I stopped writing columns and op-eds to focus on being a novelist, less detailed commentary on economics or politics. Many of you have written in complaining about this—but I must confess that I never felt at home being that sort of a pundit. It wasn’t my natural ground; and though I’m quite pleased with many of the columns I wrote, and was getting better at the form as the years went by, I always felt that it was a compromise, and not what I would most like to do.

From the time I learned to read, I have wanted to be a writer of fiction, telling stories. Over the years, I have procrastinated, and eventually something had to give. It did this year, and I finally sat my ass down and wrote a book. Obviously I can’t say how good it is—maybe I’ll look at it a few books down the line and cringe, the way I do with some old IU posts. But I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and felt at home. That’s all I want to do from now on, and I’m reconciled to the relative poverty that implies.

That said, this blog was a happy accident. Once I got used to the medium, I began to enjoy it throughly, and I shall continue to blog for as long as I can. (Or as long as my broadband connection allows me to.) It’s immense fun—and with so much WTFness in the world, maybe it’s even necessary. (For me, not for the world, which won’t change because of a few puny blog posts.) The nature of the blog has changed a bit over the years, but I hope you won’t mind the trade-off once my books start coming out.

On that note, I must inform you that blogging will remain slow for another week. The deadline I mentioned here, for handing in the final manuscript of “My Friend, Sancho”, has been extended by my kind publishers by a week. And I’m still at work. I’ll put up a post tomorrow with some more thoughts on the aftermath of the attacks, and then take it easy. We go back a long way, I think you’d agree, and a few days don’t matter. No?

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 December, 2008 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Blogging for the rest of this week is going to be slow. I need to deliver the final manuscript of “My Friend, Sancho” to my publishers by November 30, and am rewriting a portion of it that I wasn’t quite satisfied with. So I shall go easy on the surfing and blogging for the next four days, though I won’t lay off entirely. Stay tuned—and subscribe to my RSS feed if you haven’t already.

And if the empty hours get too unbearable, make a list of five things you would do today if you were going to die tomorrow. And then go out and get started on one of them. (You can call this Paanchvidaniya.) Have fun!

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 November, 2008 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


Sancho Finds A Home

Right—I’ve finalized a publisher. I’m pleased to announce that my first novel, My Friend, Sancho, will be published by Hachette India in April 2009.

Hachette India is part of Hachette Livre, the world’s second-largest publisher, who had more books than any other publisher last year in the New York Times bestseller list. While they’re giants worldwide, they’ve just set up shop in India. They launched officially in a function in New Delhi last evening; my book will be the first release in their local list.

So all of you complaining about how I no longer write five posts a day will soon, I hope, see that it’s been worth it.

Meanwhile, the broadband connection of the friends I’m staying with in Delhi is down—I’ve cunningly managed to log on to a neighbour’s wi-fi just to make this important announcement—so blogging will be slow for a couple of days. But your patience will be rewarded.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 November, 2008 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


Congratulations, Miguel Syjuco…

... for winning the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize!

*

After Miguel’s book Ilustrado was shortlisted, he had told the Guardian that making it to the shortlist was “like someone coming into my dark room and throwing open the curtains.” That seemed like a perfect simile to me—writing is a solitary act, with insecurity and self-doubt our closest companions, and the room does seem terribly dark sometimes. This prize ensures that the curtains will always remain open on Miguel’s work, and I’m delighted for him.

Miguel and I had exchanged emails after we got longlisted for the prize, and we promised to send each other signed and inscribed copies of our books. Now I can’t wait!

*

And when will My Friend, Sancho be on the shelves? I’m going to Delhi this Sunday to meet all the publishers who have made me offers, and finalize a deal. Whoever I sign with, the release date is likely to be around the end of April 2009. I’ll announce it here within a week.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 November, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


The Man Asian Shortlist…

... has been announced. Your favourite blogger hasn’t made it there. My congratulations to the writers who did—I’m happy for them and look forward to reading their books, but if I ever find one of them walking in front of me on a promenade, and I happen to have a poison-tipped umbrella available, I don’t promise inaction.

Excerpts of most of the longlisted works are available here, and you can check out the first chapter of “My Friend, Sancho” if you feel like. I haven’t yet decided which publisher to go with—I have generous offers from three of them—but the book should be on the stands by the middle of next year.

Updates will follow.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 October, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


The Inside Story Of The Booker Prize

In a superb feature, “Tears, tiffs and triumphs”, The Guardian has persuaded “a [Booker Prize] judge from every year to tell us the inside story of how the winner was chosen.” Much fun—and much enlightenment: an observation that crops up more than once is that the judges come to jury meetings with their minds made up, and the rest is horse-trading. James Wood, a judge in 1994, writes:

[T]he absurdity of the process was soon apparent: it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins. I remember that one of the judges phoned me and said, in effect: “I know that you especially like novel X, and you know that I especially like novel Y. It would be good if both those books got on to the shortlist, yes? So if you vote for my novel, I’ll vote for yours, OK?”

That is how our shortlist was patched together, and it is how our winner was chosen.

My first novel is on the longlist of another literary prize, and even though I know that prizes don’t make a book better or worse than it is, I’ll be either ecstatic or heartbroken on the day the shortlist is announced. The rational part of my brain tells me to not think about it, to get back to that second book that I’ve begun, to write another 500 words, or 300, or even 50, before I head off to bed. But the roulette wheel spins, and I’m holding my breath…

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 September, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


Breathe Again

“My Friend, Sancho” is done and dusted, and I resume blogging now. Are you happy? Is this what you wanted? Huh? Huh?

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 August, 2008 in My Friend Sancho | Personal


The Boiler Room

In this great interview of (and about) Robert Gottlieb, Michael Crichton says:

In my experience of writing, you generally start out with some overall idea that you can see fairly clearly, as if you were standing on a dock and looking at ship on the ocean. At first you can see the entire ship, but then as you begin work you’re in the boiler room and you can’t see the ship anymore. All you can see are the pipes and the grease and the fittings of the boiler room and, you have to assume, the ship’s exterior.

This is from “The Paris Review Interviews, 1.”

And yes, I’m stuck in the boiler room, wondering if this ship will stay afloat. Such it goes…

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 July, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


The Longlist For The Man Asian Literary Prize 2008…

... has been announced. My first novel, “My Friend, Sancho”, is one of the longlisted books.

I should call it a novel-in-progress, actually. Authors were allowed to enter 10,000 words of their manuscript for the prize, and I made the longlist on the basis of my first three chapters. I need to submit my entire manuscript by August 1 to remain in contention for the prize, and I’m not quite done with it yet. Thus, for the next few days, I take a break from India Uncut.

I know this will be hard, but the rewards will be reaped by you as well, so hang in there. Also, if you’re desperate for WTF entertainment, there’s Lok Sabha TV. They outdo Bollywood, they do—and it’s all for real.

PS: I’ll write more on my book, and the process of writing it, in a later post—probably at the start of August.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal


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