Author Zac O' Yeah on writing, theatre and what he plans to do at The Hindu's Lit for Life workshop.
Zac O'Yeah used to work at a theatre in Gothenburg, Sweden, the harbour town where his detective novel Once Upon A Time In Scandinavistan is set and tour with a pop group until he retired early at 25 and came to India, where he now lives. Since then he has published 11 books in Swedish, many of them bestsellers. He is currently working on a new thriller and a film project. His other tags are a literary critic, cultural feature writer and columnist. Zac O' Yeah will be holding a workshop in Chennai on October 29, as part of The Hindu's Lit for Life conclave. Excerpts from an exclusive e-mail interview.
It's been a very busy time for you, with this year's calendar marked by numerous events. There have been literature talk shows, travel and travel writing ... “Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan” is doing very well ...
Yes, there's been a lot of running around, but that goes with the job. If you publish a book, you would obviously like to meet the readers and talk with them. Measuring the success of a novel through reviews or sales alone, no matter how good they are, doesn't really give you the full picture, until you also meet some of your readers. So this year I went to the Jaipur Literature Festival and did events in Kolkata, Delhi, Goa, Mumbai and other places, but haven't been to Chennai yet … not in connection with any literary activities. So I'm quite looking forward to Lit for Life.
The summer seems to have been action-packed for you ... a writer-in-residence programme, hiking and a cultural exploration of sorts. Your insights.
I always like to take a few months off from desk work, to travel around the world, to look for story ideas. And one of the privileges of being a writer is that you can take off without being fired by some unaccommodating boss, and you can be a writer-in-residence some place along the road, so you don't just have to live out of hotel rooms. I spent a couple of interesting weeks in Athens, which is a city going through some turmoil as we speak, and then travelled across all of Turkey up to the Syrian border, which was a fabulous trip and involved a bit of climbing mountains, and then I did a tour around Egypt, which again was a very interesting experience as it happened just after their revolution.
There's the impending publication of a collection, with your essay “In the Buddha's Shoes: A Search for Exact Spots and Complete Truths” for Pilgrim's India. What are you looking at here?
Actually this is going to be a very interesting anthology. It is edited by the writer Arundhathi Subramaniam and has different authors sharing their experiences of pilgrimage. She invited me to contribute with one of my own stories and so I'm sharing a travel piece which I once wrote, and which has turned out to be very popular; about going to Bihar and looking for any tracks that the Buddha may have left behind.
At the Lit for Life workshop, you will be “discussing the nitty-gritty of writing and reading fiction.” What would you have to say to your audience? There is also the use of resources and technology for writers ... the ‘yWriter' for instance...
Generally when I've done workshops, I try to address issues that are common for many writers, and so it might be about the techniques and technology. For example, since you mention it, the importance of using the right software. I personally find that the ‘yWriter', which has been developed by an American sci-fi novelist, is a very suitable tool for constructing fiction, and it is also downloadable online for free. So it is not as if I am promoting a commercial product by recommending people to try it out.
Or the workshop might turn out to be a discussion about the larger concerns of a novel, the things that one needs to keep in mind – the dramatic qualities that are based on conflicts between the characters that will result in inevitable tragedies, hopefully only for the fictional characters and not for people in the real world. Writing is full of pain, and strategies for how to deal with that pain, and so that's why I thought it would be appropriate to think of this as a “Tragedy Workshop.” Reading can be painful too … and one needs to discuss reading and writing together, as a composite subject.
You are also into translation especially with a Swedish audience in mind ...
Well, I've always felt that it is important to connect, and a good way of connecting is through reading the literatures of other people. So over the years, whenever I've had a few minutes to spare, I've translated some interesting pieces of Indian fiction, non-fiction and poetry into my native language, Swedish, and published it there.
… and a cultural consultant for exchange projects.
… I've tried to bring together artists, writers and performers from Sweden with their colleagues from India. Some of the projects have involved translation work supported, for example, by the Sahitya Akademi. Other projects have had to do with theatre for children and young people. Here, in South India, a lot of work happened at the Rangayana Theatre Repertory in Mysore and Dharwad, over many years … There's been some plans to start collaboration between a film school in Bengaluru and a film school in Gothenburg.
Some of these involve developing theatre for children and young people. There is a vibrant theatre scene here. Any ideas for Chennai?
As a matter of fact, in Chennai, one project has already involved literature for children and young people, with the publishing house Tulika. The idea has been to bring together writers and artists from both Sweden and India to write and illustrate books jointly, thus creating truly multi-cultural experiences for children.