How do great novels come up? Do they reside in the imagination of their writer only, awaiting time and opportunity to achieve expression, are stimulated by events, experiences and other stimuli in the creators’ lives or is there some other unique mechanism?
It differs from writer to writer, said an ecletic panel of five acclaimed authors drawn from four continents at a session entitled “The Art of the Novel: On Writing Fiction” at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018 on Sunday, citing inspirations spanning illness of loved ones to demands of work to an attempt to discover themselves in not only the subject, but the style and treatment.
Calling a novel a most distinctive human creation, Indian author Chandrahas Choudhury said that it “feeds a feeling for life, for language and a need to tell a story”, as he sought inputs on what it takes to create a novel, one page at a time.
Chinese-American writer Amy Tan, of “The Joy Luck Club” fame which deals with the mother-daughter relationship in Chinese American society, said that she had begun writing it when her mother had a heart attack scare, and it focused her writing on realizing the deeper characters of the mothers, and their authentic voices. She said that she wrote it “intuitively”, with no thought of publication, terming it a freedom especially important for the first-time novelist.
British author Helen Fielding of the hugely-popular “Bridget Jones’ Diary” series however had a different trigger. A serious journalist and novelist already, she was asked by “The Independent” to write a column on herself as a single woman in London and began it without her name so she could be more frank, but decided to disclose it when it began attracting a committed readership. It later metamorphosed into the series.
American writer Joshua Ferris, whose debut novel “Then We Came To An End” about the crisis in a Chicago ad agency in the wake of the dotcom industry crash, said he was inspired by his father’s habit of using the first-person plural ‘we’ to use the same in his book.. Citing his father, who decided to use “We voice” to lend himself authority given he was the only one in his work, Ferris said that “it seemed structurally accurate to tell the story” that way, and it was only as his story moves towards it end, he replaces “we” with “I” to compare this section with the earlier.
Nigerian author Chika Unigwe, whose “On Black Sisters’ Street” stories is about four female Nigerian sex workers, chose to make thir story not one of “victimization,” but rather, of their “agency” to make their own decisions. Having grown up in a conservative atmosphere, she said that on moving to Belgium she was flabbergasted with “the culture shock of sex being in the open”. For the book, she said she met Nigerian sex workers and talked to them directly to research her book, and unlearned everything she “had learnt about sex and prostitution.
On the other hand, Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet and Booker Prize awardee for his acclaimed “The English Patient”, Michael Ondaatje, believes that the “process of writing is discoverya. He revealed that he discovers the story as he writes it and acewelcomes in all the possibilities, the voices and the situations.a He equated encountering his characters as similar to the way “an archaeologist discovers bones” and then enjoys assembling them.