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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Author Interview: Chhimi Tenduf-La, author of 'The Amazing Racist'

Chhimi Tenduf-La
An incredible book, 'The Amazing Racist' to read over a weekend. And an extremely interesting author, Chhimi Tenduf-La, to read about this weekend. If you can understand, some of the things he says and means, then you have achieved it. I will not write anymore, as I think the review said it all. But, this contains only the first part, for the second part, you should catch my blog, on Friday.

So, here goes the Interview : Part I. The Review is right here and also, you can Buy the Book, right here, as well.

How did ‘The Amazing Racist’ happen? Could you describe the journey? 

I wrote a 40,000 word novella in about two months, with very little planning. When I sit down at my computer, I just type away and then read back my work that evening to see what I have said. If I like it, I keep it, if I don’t I trash it. 

In March of last year, I sent in a draft to the great agent, Kanishka Gupta and his publishing consultant, Neelini Sarkar who advised that I lengthen it and make it less rushed. We worked together for a few weeks and then it was sent in to publishers. By May, we had a few to choose between, but ultimately we went with Amish Raj Mulmi at Hachette India because he seemed most passionate about it. I then did an edit with him, which was enormous fun.

In fact, the whole process has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding and it’s now wonderful to be appearing on your fantastic blog.

How did the main character, Eddie Trusted come about? How much of you, was in there?

He shares a number of my experiences, my job, my love of my daughter and some of my hobbies, but not my personality. I think, if I had based him on myself, I would have been cagier about showcasing his weaknesses.

What according to you is different about your book?

I wanted to write a book accessible to people who are not always big readers; short, snappy, humorous and not overly descriptive. I am not saying I succeeded in this, but that was my aim.

I also wanted to write a book that would feel familiar to people in this part of the world; everyday places, everyday life. A number of reviewers and friends have told me they read it in one sitting. That makes me feel good, because I am a big movie fan and wanted this to be an experience, like that.

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?

Thilak. Although he is ostensibly racist, sexist, manipulative, flawed and unable to express love, he has heart.

Also, he uses humour as a defence mechanism, which is something I am accused of. Yet, the reason I feel close to him is because his good parts are based on my late father who I miss greatly, especially since my daughter never met him. So, this is maybe, why the relationship between Thilak and his granddaughter is so central to this story.  It is as if I subconsciously wrote about what could have been.  I know my father, if he were alive, would have wanted to spend all his time spoiling my daughter.

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it?

I wanted to write a fish-out-of-water story. A foreigner thrown into an alien culture and family. Yet, although I am a foreigner in Sri Lanka I have been here so long that I feel like an insider, so this is maybe why Eddie fits in quite easily.

Ultimately, this was meant to be an odd couple story; two men who should hate each other but bond because they share one common love. I see this as an analogy of this incredible country. There are factions within the country who think they should not get on, but they share a common love for the country and thus should be on the same page.

What was the most challenging part about writing ‘The Amazing Racist’?

I didn’t find anything particularly challenging, as I loved the whole experience. I write for fun, so I honestly do not see anything as a challenge. If I thought something was not working in the story, I was thrilled and excited about trying to fix it. After all, it’s not like I had to fix this for anyone but myself initially, so there was no pressure.

I think I would have been stressed about writing another book if Kanishka didn’t sell two of my novels at much the same time. That gave me some breathing space.

How did the political and social background of Sri Lanka affect your writing?

I tried to avoid the war because that pops up in most Sri Lankan fiction. I wanted to show the uniqueness of the country and its people beyond the war, but ultimately I found it impossible not to make mention of the troubled times.

My intention was to give a satirical insight into the political situation; the ridiculous number of cabinet ministers at that time, the bribery and corruption and also the obsession with skin colour and what others think. These things are common to all societies but more obvious in this part of the world.

Could you tell the readers about your experiences and how it was related to what you wrote?

I am half English, half Tibetan (both my parents were born in India) and married into a Sri Lankan family – who, by the way, are not racist. I have a mixed race daughter, I help run a school, and my father suffered for a long time from cancer. All of these things are in the book.
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