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Neel Mukherjee

Neel talks about The Lives of Others, his new book availble throughout Heathrow

is difficult for most writers to say what the originating idea behind a novel is, especially after the book has been finished, since one sails farther and farther away from that very first germ of the idea that grows into a fully-formed creature, unrecognisable from its beginnings. Most writers tend to make up retrospective stories about the originary moment which may not be accurate but are truthful in other ways.

" What do we do when we read a novel? We enter into an imaginative understanding of fictional lives, lives of people who do not exist except on the page, and extend to them our sympathies, approbation, fears, dislikes."

Mine came with the desire to write not only about how we think of our place among others in the world we inhabit, but also about how we imagine those other people think about their own places, and ours. It’s not as confusing as I realise that sentence may sound. The key words are ‘empathy’ and ‘imagination’. What do we do when we read a novel? We enter into an imaginative understanding of fictional lives, lives of people who do not exist except on the page, and extend to them our sympathies, approbation, fears, dislikes. We enter those other lives in our imagination. This could be a good working definition of empathy, which is the beginning of the moral sense. We are moral creatures because we have the capacity to step outside the boundaries of our own needs and thoughts and think about what others might feel, need, want, think, imagine; putting ourselves in others’ shoes, in other words.

I wanted to take those notions of empathy and morality – always at the heart of the realist novel – and put them centre-stage in The Lives of Others, to make the story be about those ideas rather than leaving them unnoticed in the general matrix in which the majority of realist novels is embedded, imperceptibly, almost unthinkingly, informing the books’ souls. To do this, I needed to bring several contrasting, even downright clashing, worlds together. The book cuts through several such worlds at a given point in Indian history, the late 1960s, a time of immense political ferment, of unrest and idealism, of hope for change and the end of that hope. The Ghosh family lies at the centre of one narrative of the novel. Their well-heeled lives rest on the foundation of their ownership of paper-manufacturing factories. The other narrative, set in rural Bengal, features landlords, famers and wage-labourers. The lives of landlords in the Bengal countryside rest on ownership of arable land in which rice is cultivated, while the lives of rice-farmers and labourers depend on selling their labour.

Neel Mukherjee

History offered a readymade template for the collision of these wildly differing worlds. One strand of the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s, a Maoist revolution that attempted to end India’s appalling inequalities and iniquities by ‘armed struggle’, involved the participation of members of the ‘urban intelligentsia’, city-bred, university- attending women and men who spread out to the countryside – and did a fair amount of city ‘activism’, too – to help bring about the change they desired. In the novel, Supratik is the perfect amphibian: he is a scion of the Ghosh family, the eldest grandson of the patriarch and matriarch, but also a Naxalite revolutionary who wants to change the world. The challenge was to render each of these worlds, each of these lives, as truthfully as possible, with as much density of detail and three-dimensionality so that each time a reader opened the book, she or he was transported instantly into another time and other places.

fresh talent

Miranda Sherry
Black Dog Summer

Miranda Sherry grew up in Johannesburg in a house filled with books, and was seven when she began writing stories. A few decades, numerous strange jobs (including puppeteer, bartender and musician), and many manuscripts later, her latest work, Black Dog Summer, is being published by Head of Zeus.

Her first novel, Days Like Glass, was shortlisted for the EU Literary Award in South Africa in 2005.

Miranda currently lives in Johannesburg with her sort-of-husband and two weird cats.

fresh talent

fresh talent

Simon Sylvester
The Visitors

Simon Sylvester a writer, teacher and occasional filmmaker. He was born in 1980 and grew up in Scotland, England, Germany and Northern Ireland. He studied English Literature at Lancaster University and Film Production at the University of Bristol.

His debut novel, The Visitors, is published by Quercus Books. It was reviewed by The List as 'intoxicating' and 'enchanting'. He is now working on his second novel, which is called The Hollows.

Simon lives in Cumbria with the painter Monica Metsers and their daughter Isadora.
fresh talent

fresh talent

Hazel Gaynor
A Memory of Violets

Hazel Gaynor's 2014 debut novel THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME - A Novel of the Titanic (William Morrow/Harper Collins) was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.

Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of ten big breakout authors for 2015. She was a guest speaker at the 2014 Romantic Novelists' Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.
fresh talent
fresh talent

Ben Fergusson
Spring of Kasper Meier

Ben Fergusson is a writer, editor and translator. Born in Southampton in 1980, he studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University, and has worked for ten years as an editor and publisher in the art world.

His short fiction has appeared in publications in both the UK and the US and has won and been shortlisted for a range of prizes, including the 2010 Bridport Prize. Currently based in London, his first novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was written during a four-year period living and working in Berlin.

fresh talent
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