Ahmed Faiyaz, Managing Director, Grey Oak Publishers and a prolific writer with a deep insight to relationships, as they exist today in the urban cities, shares his thoughts and views with BookChums.
Beginning with the mundane/clichéd question: When, where and how did the writing bug bite?
I’m not sure actually, to be honest. I guess being a voracious reader (as I am) is what pushed me towards writing in the first place. Back when I was 10 years old, I wrote an English composition for a unit test, a story where three friends and I ran away from home, roamed around the city and got back home at the end of the day as we were tired, had no money left, and thus had nothing to eat. My teacher who also happened to be our class teacher called me to the staff room and questioned me a lot about this little story. She believed it to be true though it was completely fictional. As a child I also made my younger brother dig up my grandparent’s garden telling him stories of little people who lived in a world beneath the garden. It was this little world I had created through stories and he believed me for a long time.
Your first book was “Love Life and all that jazz”. Would you like to share your experience of writing that one? What brought about the ideation? How long did it take to pen it?
I think it was a learning process for me as a writer. It is something I believed in and enjoyed thoroughly. The story built up in my head when I was living in Mumbai post my MBA and going through the quarter life crisis – confused about relationships, career and pretty much a lot of other things. The first draft took me a couple of months to write, but by the time I got to the final draft it was a year. The hardest part is editing your work and removing what didn’t fit in. I had written over a 100,000 words and was edited down to about 84,000 words.
Coming to your second book- “Another Chance” – the story is predominantly about a female (Ruheen) and her relationship with the men in her life. How difficult or easy was it to think from a female’s perspective?
You’re right, Another Chance revolves around a female protagonist and a lot of the story is written from her point of view. I guess as a writer I am influenced by what I see around me, what I read and of course cinema. I had to isolate myself and get into the skin of the character, to think and react from her perspective. Even some of the scenes where Aditya is in a pensive mood and is dealing with heartbreak were difficult, but here I had some experiences that I could relate to. Then again there’s a bit of creativity we hope to tap on and wish that it works. It was difficult to write some of those scenes in Another Chance. I was actually apprehensive about some scenes I had written about Ruheen. I had a couple of close friends, women of her age and income background and another writer friend read these, and honestly they completely loved these scenes and felt it was an accurate depiction of her state of mind.
People usually find it easier to pen their experiences. Was there an incident that inspired or provoked you to write “Another Chance”? How much time did it take to complete it?
Another Chance again was a story that built up over the years. The idea first came to me when I was sitting and sipping a cup of coffee in Amsterdam. I saw someone who looked strikingly similar to someone from my past, and I imagined what I would do then if it really was her. So I guess I let my imagination run wild and the story kind of evolved. Aditya’s love and pining for Ruheen is quite similar Pip’s love for Estella in Great Expectations and something like Jay’s love for Daisy in The Great Gatsby. I’m a big fan of the classics and I guess subconsciously that influences my writing, though I like to keep it contemporary and real.
It took me three months to write the first draft and six months to edit and fine tune.
We see both the books majorly focused on “relationships” and they definitely are “coming of age” as we say. Was this a conscious move (to write about relationships)? What is it about relationships that you, as an author, are trying to tell people?
I believe Love, life & all that jazz… was a slice of life coming of age story about these four youngsters and the people around them. It is about career, friendship and living your dreams for these characters and it is more than just about relationships. There are many fun filled moments in this book.
Another Chance is the morning after novel, it is my ode to love and life’s choices. Another Chance has more detail, it is fast paced and there is depth in characterization; it is more poetic and soulful and needed a well developed narrative style. Though different in their treatment, I believe both of them are quite visual and relatable in different ways.
How did you go about choosing Bruna Abdullah as the face of Ruheen?
I was sitting and sipping chai in the balcony of our hotel in Mussoorie. My wife and I were on holiday, a well deserved break after sending Another Chance out to my editor. Sunny Sara, a very good friend called and we got chatting about the book. I told him the story and explained how I wanted to get the cover right this time. I wasn’t too happy with the cover we did for Love, life & all that jazz’s 1st edition. He suggested that we get Bruna on the cover after hearing a short narration on Ruheen’s character. All thanks to him, she was onboard in July 2010 even before Grey Oak formally came into existence. It was nice working with Bruna; she’s a nice person and is someone I’m fond of. I had first met her at a friend’s wedding years ago when Sunny introduced me to her. I had no clue then that I would write a book and she would be on the cover. But the idea and the execution was Sunny’s idea and Nitin Patel’s too, the photographer.
In this age, we notice that professional and personal lives are messed up. What is it about our generation or work culture today that irks you the most?
I think what concerns me the most is many among us lack conviction in what we do and the lives we lead. We are submissive to material wants, pleasures and what society expects of us. The need to make an impression is only growing in our society. Look around you, celebrities who repeat a dress or a shirt are ridiculed and made fun of. Look at the number of magazines that talk about yachts, watches, first class travel and luxury cars. People are selling illusions and people are lapping it up. The guy or girl, working 14 hours a day in a job he/she hates but still does just to afford a certain lifestyle, is at the end of the day spending 2-3 hours on the road in a city like Bangalore or Mumbai. They splurge at an expensive lounge on weekends or end up paying a ridiculous amount to watch the latest movie. This is what most lives have become and it isn’t good. It affects everything – your health, relationships, equations with friends and family, and your state of mind. I’m glad I became a writer, today I’m close to a lot of people who aren’t a part of the rat race and who are doing what they believe in 100%.
Do we see a movie version of Another Chance in the making?
Inshallah! You know there’s so much interest, I’ve been contacted by quite a few people. I feel it is more easily adaptable to the big screen. I’m working on the screenplay now.
If you had to choose a celebrity to play the parts of Ruheen, Aditya and Varun – who all would you pick?
I would pick more than one person for each. For Ruheen I would say Bruna is a good option as she brings Ruheen to life on the cover. Chitrangda Singh, if this is a mainstream film. But Nauheed and Kainaz are equally compelling choices. They are strikingly beautiful women, they are wonderful human beings and more importantly two actors I’m fond of as they are dear friends. Ruheen has a very endearing character, she’s hopeful, she’s a fighter. She never gives up on life, she only emerges stronger. I see that whole positive spirit in Nauheed and Kainaz’s personality, it’s almost infectious and rubs off on people around them.
I think Aditya would be best played by Purab Kohli or Rahul Khanna, actors with a lot of range in their abilities and that knack to pull off the brooding underdog act.
Varun could be played by a lot of actors of our day and age. Maybe Sanjay Suri or Jimmy Shergill, both underrated actors who deserve to seen more on the screen. Neil Nitin Mukesh also has finesse and sophistication to pull this off. Unconventional choices but that’s how it’s always been for me.
Any aversions from critics (yet) that you did not expect?
With Another Chance it is too early to tell, no reviews have happened by the critics as yet. I guess one has to grin and deal with whatever the outcome is. All I can say is that it takes a lot to put yourself out there, a book is completely a writer’s baby, quite unlike a film where so many people are involved. So when people say they like my work it makes me grin like a fool all day and when they don’t, it isn’t a happy feeling. But as writers we’ve already put ourselves out there, and at the end of the day it’s a personal reaction. Its opinion and it differs from one to another.
With Love, life & all that jazz… I mostly got positive feedback and it made me extremely happy. The aversion of a few is well taken and in some cases is well deserved, they had a point and it only helps me introspect and grow as a writer which I did with Another Chance.
Certain books/authors usually leave an everlasting print in our memory. What book/author has had the most influence on you and your writing? What is your favorite genre when it comes to reading/writing?
I’ve been influenced by so many writers and so many books. Charles Dickens, F Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, Hanif Khureshi, Haruki Murakami, Nick Hornby, James Frey and back home there is RK Narayan, Amitav Ghosh and Omair Ahmad. These authors are outstanding storytellers and extremely honest and passionate about their craft.
I read all kinds of books, from Fantasy Fiction for young adults to Inspirational stories and travelogues. I like reading about people and places that are far removed from the world that I’ve grown up in. I read very little Indian fiction and most of this is of the literary variety. Among the mass – market fiction variety I’ve only read my writer friends’ books in the past one year.
What next do we see from the desk of Ahmed Faiyaz?
There are two novels and a novella planned for the next couple of years. Also, a few short stories for anthologies planned by Grey Oak. A collection of my short stories is also on the horizon.
Could you also shed some light on Grey Oak Publishers and your role in the organization?
Grey Oak is a recently set up trade publisher, focused on Indian writing. Grey Oak’s primary focus is to publish mass-market paperback Indian fiction aimed at a general audience under the flagship – ‘Grey Oak’ imprint. Besides this, Grey Oak also aim to publish a limited list of titles under the ‘Silverfish’ imprint, targeted at young adults (12-17 age group) and a limited list of contemporary writing on travel, self-help, inspirational stories and biographies under the ‘Chiron’ imprint.
I wear the marketing hat in Grey Oak. My focus is on marketing, building and fostering trade relationships. My focus is to build a brand for Grey Oak as a reputed, quality publisher in India.
What is it that you like doing the most, apart from writing?
I love to travel. I’m happiest slacking off somewhere in the mountains or on a beach. I’m a movie buff and enjoy watching all kinds of films, a lot world cinema.
A few facts about “Ahmed Faiyaz -the person” and “Ahmed Faiyaz -the author” that you’d like to share with our readers.
The person loves to read, he’s very introverted and is truly known by a few among his friends and family. He hopes to do what he truly believes in and wants to give time and support causes he truly believes in. I want to retire at 40 and just write and do non – profit work focused on education and the environment.
The author hopes to grow and write stories on a broader canvas and about subjects he truly believes in. He loves to hear from his readers and obsessively replies to every email in 24 hours. His wife hates this habit and has secretly tried to destroy his BlackBerry. She was a strong supporter of banning BlackBerry services.
Contemporary authors in today’s time who you think are doing a good job?
There are so many of them. Some of them are of my generation and are dear friends – Omair Ahmad, Mridula Koshy, Amitabha Bagchi, Paritosh Uttam and Rikin Khamar. I think Karan has successful at going mainstream. Then there are Deepak Dalal, R Chandrasekar and Sujit Saraf as well who are doing very well as writers.
Your advice to budding writers would be?
Write what you truly believe in and focus on editing as this is the most important part of writing – it’s taking out what you’ve written and re-writing which takes a while to get used to. Also understand who the audience is and write from their perspective.