A Booker Bookshelf – Anuradha Roy, Marlon James, Sunjeev Sahota in conversation with Anjum Hasan

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As the three authors who made 2015’s Booker cut along with novelist, Anjum Hasan, walked up the stage to take their place; there was a sense of excitement amongst the audience.

As soon as they were seated, Anjum Hasan got the session started by telling Sunjeev Sahota that his book The Year of the Runaways disturbed her, she had felt a sort of “bleakness” in the story. She asked, “Does it say something about immigrants from here?”

Sunjeev Sahota replied that he intended there to be a bleakness in his story. He said that what an immigrant leaves behind is difficult for anyone to just comprehend. When an immigrant reaches a new place, a “door closes behind, never to open again. And this is passed down to their children.” Speaking from experience, he left that there was nowhere he could call “my land.”

He continued saying that while it was good for writers, it wasn’t such a good feeling when they had to grow up, especially for an adolescent.

Sahota added that there was a longing to call a place home. He also said that this theme would appear in all of his works.

Next it was the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James to speak about his acclaimed book A Brief History of Seven Killings.

When asked by Anjum Hasan on his usage of Bob Marley, he said that despite Marley being such a big name there were aspects from his life that were not well known. “One of the thing I wanted to capture was they tried to kill him in 1976. I cannot think of any other artist who had so many forces were out to destroy him. Some of those people were people he considered friends.” James recounted an instance when Bob Marley was asked, after he was shot, if he knew the suspects. He simply gave a nod and matter-of-factly said, “Yup.”

James said that this sort of intimacy when people you knew tried to kill you, was something people didn’t realize. This happened because of what Bob Marley signified. James added that he was almost prophet like. “I think he had a foresight when nobody else did. He fully understood the contradiction of Jamaican society.”

Continuing to talk about Jamaican society, James said that there was a disparity between the darker skin and the lighter skin Jamaicans. He also said that perfect English is an aspiration.

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Finally it was Anuradha Roy’s turn to speak. Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter was the only book by an Indian to be nominated for the Booker prize. She talked about how for her the most important part of writing a book was the character.

“Only after I finish then I can look back.” Said the author.

Roy said that there were two kinds of violence against women. An act of violence and an atmosphere of violence. She said that there is a lot of suppressed rage because of what South Asian women have faced for years. And that she uses this emotional linkage through her characters.

Marlon James who used Rolling Stones magazine reporter Alex Pierce to talk about the Jamaican slums, admitted that he was just aping VS Naipaul. He said that he believed you couldn’t take a photo of the “ugly” slums because the photo would lie. He added that you “cannot make the ugly aesthetic.”

He also said that travel writing about Jamaica was bad. Writers talked about how despite Jamaicans being poor, they always had a smile on their face. He said that this was just wrong.

With that the authors each read a passage from their Man Booker Prize nominated books.

Marlon James talked about his usage of many narrators in A Brief History of Seven Killings saying that he did not want it to be report, he said that classical writing had one voice but this way, the ranged increased and the knowing decreased. Jones said that he did not want his voice to be heard.

Anuradha Roy added that her readers have complained about the uncertainty that brings with this type of writing. She said that, “I wanted uncertainty that you get if you do not have authority in the writing.”

Finally the floor was open for the audience to get their questions in. When Sunjeev Sahota was asked which character was his favorite, he replied that it “childish” to have favorites. When the laughter died down. He said that while many thought it was Tarlochan, it was actually Avtar. He admitted that Avtar was just supposed to be a sort of a sidekick, but he liked the character more and more as he continued developing the character.

Anuradha Roy was asked what was important plot or the craft of the story.

She said that constructing a plot is important, but it should be invisible. Not apparent.

Marlon James added, “I draw the plot. I have books with drawings of plot, till I ignore it.” He said that humans surprise and that we should leave room for characters to surprise.

Sunjeev Sahota said that for this book he plotted heavily.

To end the session, Anuradha Roy said that a “strong narration is the thread to loop the reader along.”

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