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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Author Interview : Alex Rutherford, author of the 'Empire of the Moghul' series

I knew that Alex Rutherford of the Empire of the Moghul series would be one of the toughest people, I have ever interviewed. Not just because I had to deal with two authors, Diana Preston and Michael Preston but because the both of them had double doses of the intellectualism, imagination and creativity. Coming up with questions, was a little on the tougher side. 

The reason, I am putting this together and not in two parts is because I am so driven by curiosity. And I have no doubt, that my readers feel the same way about it. 

So, from reading about why ‘Alex’ to the huge amount of research and travel, the fiction/non-fiction discrepancies, and to find out what advice the two of them have for us, let’s read on…

‘Alex Rutherford’. How did you come up with that name and why?

We chose the name 'Alex' because we wanted something that could be both male and female. We selected Rutherford because it was the name of a famous scientist we admire and have read much about - also because we like it (and so did our publisher) because it sounded right with 'Alex'.

Between the two of you, you must have divided so much research, how do you two do it, and how do you put it all together?

When we research, we both read all the material to give each of us the fullest grasp possible of events, action, atmosphere, personalities etc.
When it comes to the writing, we work out what looks pretty much like a film treatment, breaking the story down into scenes which we divide between us to write.

We then read what the other has written and we debate and suggest and discuss in what becomes a pretty iterative process.

You have travelled extensively for these books. What kind of places gave you the material you were looking for?

We've always loved travel and have been very fortunate to see so much of the world. In a sense, much of our writing has come out of our journeying because the more we saw the more our curiosity was roused, the more we read and wanted to write ourselves to capture our own thoughts and feelings.

How do you think of the subjects for your books? (And not just the Empire of the Moghul Series)

The Empire of the Moghul series was inspired directly by our travels in India and growing love of the place.

Other topics have often come out of the blue - we wrote about the pirate William Dampier ('A Pirate of Exquisite Mind') after seeing his portrait and we wrote about 'Wilful Murder: The Sinking of Lusitania’ after seeing one of the ship's salvaged bronze propellers lying like a great dinosaur bone on a quayside.

In the Moghul Series, how do you come up with the names of the various books?

We choose the titles of the Moghuls novels to reflect what we feel to the essence of each of the novels - 'Raiders from the North' seemed to us to capture Babur's roaming life for instance. 

'The Tainted Throne' captures the deadly familial struggles within the Moghul dynasty that tainted Jahangir's relationship with Shah Jahan and the machinations of Nur Jahan, one of history's great characters.

While 'The Serpent's Tooth' - drawn from Shakespeare's King Lear suggests the ingratitude of and rivalry between siblings.

What is the difference between writing non-fiction and fiction? And the similarities?

We enjoy the fact that writing fiction and non-fiction are different processes though for both we do all the research we can.

Fiction allows you to exercise your imagination, to interpret the silences, to invent subsidiary characters and events to help convey the personality of the main characters to the reader.

In our non-fiction, we can interpret but not invent but we still find it immensely satisfying to try and get inside the heads of those we are writing about and to tease out the connections between what happened in the past and how it affects us today.

What was the most challenging part about writing a series such as this?

The most challenging part of writing the Moghul series has been the pace; writing a book a year.

At least before we started, we'd done a great deal of reading already though the research, and the travel to see places relevant to the story (like Burhanpur where Mumtaz died) has never stopped.

For book 6 about Aurangzeb we've given ourselves a little more time as we're going into what will be new territory for us.

How much of the series is based on facts and how much is fiction?

The main characters, main places and main events are all based on facts as far as we can discern them from the sources such as the Baburnama or Akbarnama.

But as we explain in an historical note in each book we sometimes fuse several people who really lived into one, invent new characters and condense or omit some events to maintain the narrative pace. 

But we always try to stay true to the main facts of history and we do believe the historical note is important to give the reader an accurate picture.

What are the most fulfilling parts till now, now that you have managed to release five novels?

The most fulfilling thing has been our readers' responses. We're in touch with readers all around the world whether, via the website empireofthemoghul.com or other means.

It's been great to know that people have enjoyed the books and feel we have captured for them what we see as a pivotal and compelling period of history.

What is your next book, and when do you see it released?

The next Moghul book - about Aurangzeb's inner and external struggles will be out in 2015, we think.

Which books are both of you currently reading?

We've been re-reading George Elliott's Middlemarch - one of the great novels.
Who are your favourite authors and why?

Our favourite authors – gosh; that's tricky. There are so many we read and admire but right up there are Margaret Atwood, Vikram Seth and Laurence Sterne (for The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy; Gentleman).

What else do you do on a day to day basis?

We like seeing our friends, cinema and theatre - and cooking!

What advice do you have for the young writers of today?

It's hard to give general advice - writing is such a personal thing - but it's important to write about what you really know and care about and not to rush but wait until you feel ready and once you start; to keep going and not worry or over analyse.

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