I believe history is really a 'story' - Vijay Balan
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History buff and FinTech consultant Vijay Balan had been carrying the intriguing story of his grand uncle since long. Years of research and writing led to his debut novel ‘The Swaraj Spy.’ Read his story to find out more about the book.
On developing a story into a novel..
It takes a lot to conceive the threads of an espionage story; Vijay Balan has been doing it for years for this book.
Several facets of my being came together to create The Swaraj Spy: I have always been a history-buff, I love story-telling, and I lock away scenes, sounds and smells in my mind when I travel to different parts of the world. Those strands came together naturally to weave the narrative fabric of my book.
The protagonist in my book is my grand-uncle. My late father told me pieces of the story on and off in my childhood. It is an extraordinary story of intrigue, resilience and personal transformation. I had an epiphany one day that this unique story had to be shared with the world. That started me on an exciting journey.
I wrote the book over a period of six years which included research and travel, while I was running a FinTech consultancy. Creative writing and business strategy exercise distinctly different parts of the brain. I wrote in spurts, switching between these disparate worlds when I could.
‘The Swaraj Spy’ – Let’s get to know more about the book
The Swaraj Spy is a work of historical fiction based closely on researched facts. It reveals a little-known spy school run jointly by Japanese Intelligence and the rebel Indian National Army (INA) in WW 2; set up to help Japan defeat Britain and gain independence for India. It is also the story of how the savagery of war and the double-game of espionage transforms a human being. As well, it is the tale of a wife, who, in her own unique way, deals with the anxiety of having a husband trapped behind enemy lines.
“I like to focus on the effect of history on people..”
Even though it is a work of historical fiction, I chose not to write for an already informed scholarly audience. I also like to focus on the effect of history on people as opposed to the ‘bang-bang’ aspects of war stories. I see it as my duty to transport a reader who likes good writing, to a place and time very different from the present; can I get them to see, hear, smell and feel what my characters experience? I believe history is really a ‘story’, and thus lends itself to story-telling. But I choose subjects that have not already been written about extensively and may contain echoes of boring classroom lectures. I also take care to subtly knit the history into my narrative, so that the reader absorbs facts while enjoying a story. My inspiration comes from my readers – if I can move them in space, time and most importantly feeling, while sharing little-known facts, I believe I have accomplished my task.
Drama, locales and the birth of INA…
Every book has a clinching factor for its readers. We asked about the USP of ‘The Swaraj Spy’ and Vijay Balan came up with an interesting point.
I believe readers will enjoy my evocative story arc that takes them from Malabar paddy fields, to pre-war Singapore, the pagodas and jungles of Burma and back to colonial India. As well, the intrigue and drama of the difficult birth of the INA will interest and inform them. But most of all, I think the book will make readers reflect on the human condition and how people deal with adversity forced on them by factors way beyond their control. In the words of my editor Swati Daftuar at HarperCollins, “The Swaraj Spy…gives us a story that stays with us long after the last page is turned”.
“Take joy in the writing process..”
There is lot to know and learn from a writer who has invested seven years of his life in writing and research for a book. Presenting some tips and tricks from Vijay Balan, for aspiring writers.
Seeing the scenes in your mind is a fun journey in itself. The rest of the process can be challenging. Research and writing took me 6 years, but it took another 7 years to get it published (of course the pandemic played spoiler as well)! Unless you have a well-known personal brand, getting an agent and publisher takes a lot of knocking on doors and sheer luck. I don’t have a silver bullet here – just persevere. That said, use the time to constantly shape your work.
Run your writing by people who will give you honest feedback, and have the thick skin to take it. If the product is not right, no amount of pitching will sell it. Once published, make yourself available 24/7 to help move the book.
I do not have a writing schedule. My book was written while I was running a boutique consulting company. While switching between writing and your ‘day-job’, remember to account for the ‘ramp time’ to get yourself into the writing zone- like an aircraft, you need to speed down the runway to generate your ‘creative lift’ before words start flowing.
If you run into a block, walk away. I went for walks by myself to places of natural beauty.
As I said earlier, I lock away ‘videos’ of scenes in my mind. Imagining my characters in those vignettes sometimes helped jump-start the process. If the block is structural, you may need to give yourself time to re-think your approach and start again- unpleasant, but sadly unavoidable.
More information about Vijay Balan’s debut work The Swaraj Spy can be found at www.theswarajspy.com
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