In Conversation with Murali Menon

Erudite and very well-read, Mumbai-based Murali is a senior journalist and has worked with leading magazines and newspapers for more than two decades. Murali is the author of The God Who Loved Motorbikes and currently works as Head of Content Strategy at Haymarket SAC Publishing. We had a brief opportunity to have a quick chat with him. Here are some excerpts.

What are you currently reading? What’s the most remarkable book you’ve read in recent years? What’s your favourite genre of books? Favourite authors?

I’m reading two books at present: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher, which is about pathbreaking literary inventions in the history of literature; and Breathless, by David Quammen, which tells the global effort to contain Covid-19. [Regarding the most remarkable book] Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. It is so effortlessly written that it’s a joy to read and re-read it. 

I don’t really have a favourite genre. It all depends on the first page and the author’s rhythm. My favourite authors are Mario Vargas Llosa, David Quammen, and Ted Chiang. Among Indian authors I thoroughly enjoyed Tony Joseph’s Early Indians.

How easy – or difficult – do you think it is for new authors to get published in India?

If you are not taking the self-publishing route, it is pretty difficult to get published in India, especially if you are writing a novel. Most publishers, at least, that’s what I’ve been told, prefer non-fiction, especially if they are about celebrities, self-help books and the like. 

How long did it take for you to write The God Who Loved Motorbikes? Was it easy finding a publisher? Would you do it all over again?

It took me about ten years to write the book. It should have taken me much less but I’m pretty lazy. I overhauled the manuscript several times and the manuscript that eventually got published was half the length of the first draft. But I’d like to think it’s all the better for it.  I didn’t really have to look for a publisher. After I’d written about three chapters back in 2010 I sent an email to Harper Collins, which was keen on knowing more about the book. But somewhere along the way HC lost interest and so I pitched it to Hachette who too were interested. Finally it took my redoubtable agent Kanishka Gupta to get Juggernaut to commission and publish it. Would I go through the entire process again ? If I’m possessed by an idea, yes, definitely. 

You’ve been a travel journalist in the past. So, who are some of your favourite authors for travel writing?

I think I made for an awful travel writer. As far as favourite authors go, it would have to be Robert Byron, Colin Thubron and Paul Theroux

Do you use a Kindle? Will Kindle-like devices someday replace actual books?

I do have a Kindle but I rarely use it. It’s mostly physical books. Yes, I do see books being replaced by more advanced devices but not entirely. 

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