Melbourne writer Nishant Kaushik on his books & a coveted deal

By Indira Laisram
Nishant Kaushik // Pic supplied

Melbourne-based author Nishant Kaushik is a prolific writer. You would wonder how writing literary fiction fits into his life being a busy father of two and an equally busy IT professional.  Not entirely a quandary for Kaushik. His latest and seventh novel Good Boy Joe came out this January. And right now, Kaushik is on top of the world having just teamed up with The Story Ink, one of India’s number one book-to-screen adaptation agencies for an exclusive representation of Good Boy Joe for screen adaptation.

“It is certainly a huge step towards any writer’s dream of seeing his or her written work manifest on screen. The Story Ink taking interest in my books has me overwhelmed with joy and gratitude,” says Kaushik, an IT professional.

Kaushik began writing Good Boy Joe in India and when he moved to Melbourne in 2012 ventured back to literary life and completed the book here. It finally saw the light of print this January.

Kaushik was born in Ahmedabad and spent his childhood and youth in various Indian cities. “Each place brought with it a trove of unique memories that I have indirectly represented in my stories,” he reflects. To date, he has written seven novels, which he says “have the warmth of a middle-class Indian household, the secret trails behind a residential colony on a winter afternoon, and the squabbles between best friends as they walk back from school. Slice-of-life elements from experiences that are common to me as well as my readers”.

In conversation with Nishant Kaushik.

Did you always want to be an author?

I was always fond of writing, but it was not until my first year of college that the thought of writing an entire book occurred to me. The idea felt bizarre then, maybe as I buckled under The Great Engineering pressure of Microprocessors and Bernoulli’s principle. But I did finally bring it to fruition years later, and am glad I did.

How did your first book evolve? How was it received?

As one of my beta readers (I did not know then that’s what they were called) put it back in 2007, the first cut read like an amateur’s diary. When publishers started rejecting the manuscript I saw merit in the critique, dissected the novel, talking to some of my well-read friends in the circuit to understand what I could do to make it better. Nearly a year after my last rejection, I found a publisher (Manas Publications, New Delhi) who released a print run of 5000 copies for Watch Out! We Are MBA. I must admit I was overwhelmed and ecstatic to see the love it got from readers: emails, Facebook messages and Google reviews that validated the writer in me. It was beautiful. Interestingly a few months later, a leading publisher who had first rejected the manuscript met me in Delhi and asked me why I did not approach them first, and were surprised to learn I indeed had.

‘Good Boy Joe’ book cover // Pic supplied
Let’s talk about your latest Good Boy Joe. I am struck by the name, tell us what the book is about?

The seed of this novel lies in my unflinching love for Bollywood and the utopia that surrounds the lives of the industry’s glitzy superstars. I often wondered what it would be like for a layman to spend a day in the house of, in the company of, a film star. How would the common man take to the complex characters of the film world? Would he be treated with the respect a fan expects, or will he go home disillusioned and disgruntled? At that very moment, I was oddly reminded of Hank Williams’ song Goodbye Joe that I hummed as a child. The song is where the title drew inspiration from, and therefrom was created my lead character Joe D’Costa: a jobless youth fascinated by his chance encounter with his celluloid hero whose day he is destined to save.

You started writing the book in India and finished it in Melbourne. Was it hard dredging up a story about India outside India?

I breathe India every waking moment of my life. In my years of living in Australia, I can’t think of a time I have not missed India, and more specifically Mumbai, sorely. Writing stories set in Mumbai thus gives me a vicarious feeling of still being somewhere in the cities and country I have grown up to love. So while creating the story outside India was not that hard, selling it to an international audience was definitely something I was apprehensive about because not everyone in the global market understands Bombay and Bollywood. I am thrilled to note, though, that it was received with love by Austin Macauley, my London-based publisher, as well as readers from overseas.

You’ve have seven books to your name. What is the process of writing a book like for you? How long does it take on an average to finish one?

I wish I could say I had a structured process! But with a demanding day job, inspiration comes in staccato measures which I have to treasure and leverage, in the moment. Hence depending on how extraneous factors of work, household management, etc., play out, a manuscript can take me anything between three months to two years. I find it important to write when and where I can, be it for ten minutes in the middle of a work break or for hours at stretch, late in the night.

Were there particular authors or books that influenced your approach to a story or your interest in fiction?

I don’t have one, or even a few, favourite authors. I have loved various books that I have read over the years. Surely, I have unknowingly fetched inspiration for a style from here or there, but the act must surely be too subconscious for me to put a name to it. But in general, I desire to keep reading more because that’s the only way I can improve as a writer myself.

Nishant Kaushik // Pic supplied
From writing a book to making it into the hands of a publisher? Can you share the journey/process?

Patience and luck are the biggest ingredients to this magic recipe. But even before we get there, it is imperative to sit down and write rather than worry about the publishing process. I often hear aspiring writers enquire about publishing contacts, and I always advise them to first have a manuscript at hand. A catchy logline that convinces yourself, and then the editor, of the mettle in the story. Thereon, if luck has been on your side, the vanilla version of your novel goes through several updates, sub-plot creations, character definition, editing before the paperback hits the store. This, ironically, is where the journey only just begins. Because here begins the never-ending struggle to stay relevant and visible in the heap of novels that fight for shelf-space in a bookstore.

As an Indian writer in English, what is your understanding of some of these fights around representation in the literary scene here and globally?

The cultural representation of a story plays a big role in ensuring likeability. Novels steeped in the Indian culture and its references can sometimes be hard for a person, say, in Australia to appreciate and embrace. Then there is also an unspoken bias that sometimes lurks beneath the surface, which tells you that a market possibly prefers content coming from creators who understand the ‘pulse’ of its consumer base better. But as I have settled gradually in Australia, I have largely found the writing community here extremely supportive and encouraging of my work. As well as that, I have also gained adequate experience of creating that fine balance between the Indian and the global palate.

What book is coming out next?

My next novel, Bhadresh Mhatre’s Slam Book, has also been signed up for publishing with Austin Macauley Publishers. I hope to reveal more details soon but I expect the novel to be out later this year.

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