Ashwin is an entrepreneur by profession but writing historical fiction in the thriller genre is his passion and hobby. Ashwin was educated at Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai, and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He holds a masters degree from Yale and is working towards a Ph.D. in Creative Writing. Ashwin lives in Mumbai with his wife, Anushika, and his son, Raghuvir.
Ashwin Sanghi’s first novel, The Rozabal Line was self-published in 2007 under his pseudonym, Shawn Haigins. The theological thriller based upon the theory that Jesus died in Kashmir was subsequently published by Westland in 2008 in India under his own name and went on to become a national bestseller, remaining on national bestseller lists for several months.
Ashwin’s second novel, Chanakya’s Chant, a political thriller with roots in ancient Mauryan history, shot into almost every bestseller list in India within a few weeks of launch. The novel went on to win the Crossword-Vodafone Popular Choice Award and UTV acquired the movie rights to the book. The novel has remained on AC Nielsen’s India Top-10 for over 18 months.
Ashwin’s third offering, The Krishna Key, a fast-paced and riveting thriller that explores the ancient secrets of the Vedic age and the Mahabharata. It was released in August 2012 and shot to #1 on the A.C. Nielsen all-India fiction rankings within the first week of its release.
1. You have successfully balanced the roles of a businessman and a writer. What was your greatest challenge during this transition?
There was no ‘transition’ because I did not really change roles… I simply decided to pursue a hobby rather passionately. Even when I wrote my first novel, The Rozabal Line, I did not know that my writing would eventually evolve into a parallel career. Although I have written three novels, I continue to work five days a week as a businessman. I only write in the mornings, on weekends and during an annual writing sabbatical. The challenge, if any, is to create walls between business, writing and family so that one does adequate justice to each element.
2. Your three books have been widely praised for their methodical research. Can you give us an insight into your research process?
Let’s take The Krishna Key as an example. The research was at several levels for this book. First, I wanted to examine historical material that could tell us that Krishna existed, not merely as a mythological character, but as a historical one. Second, I wanted to examine the events of the Mahabharata in order to interpret them in a contemporary frame of reference. Finally, I needed to study archaeological evidence in relation to Dwarka. I ended up reading over fifty books—including the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, and Kalki Purana—besides more than a hundred research papers and spent several weeks on travel. After having collected over five hundred pieces of historical material, it was very difficult to decide which ones would make it into the book. I eventually used only two hundred. That’s the nature of thriller writing, you can never compromise pace or plot even if you have very interesting material.
3. You have spoken of the importance of the plot in your novels. Can you describe your method to developing such interesting plots?
There are three things that make the novel—plot, plot and plot. I always start with the plot. Initially, the plot may not be too detailed but I will have an overall idea of the direction that the story is meant to take. Having developed a rough construct of the storyline, I then plough into my research. This may take several months or even a year. During this phase, I make meticulous notes and ensure that all the interesting material that will eventually be part of the story is filed correctly. Post-research, I revisit the plot in order to flesh it out with the knowledge acquired from my research. This entire process of plotting, researching and then plotting yet again can consume well over a year. Only once I have the entire book mapped out chapter by chapter in excruciating detail do I begin the actual writing. Characters are always incidental to my plot.
4. What is your view on the current scene in Indian fiction writing?
I believe that we are seeing the effect of one key demographic: the fact that over 35% of our population in India is below the age of twenty. We have a huge surge in first-time readers and their numbers are absolutely staggering. It is this young demographic that is fuelling the sales of campus romances, chick lit, and IIT/IIM inspired novels and novellas. On the other hand, there is an entire generation of Indian readers in its thirties and forties that had remained starved of commercial fiction written in an Indian voice. For most of my growing up years I had to depend on foreign authors for my dose of genre fiction. Most publishers were only interested in promoting either non-fiction or literary fiction. This has changed dramatically in the past decade and the result is a flourishing commercial fiction segment written by authors whose sensibilities and stories have some deeper emotional connection with Indian readers rather than the average foreign paperback. This is a wonderful development.
5. How do you deal with the constant feedback-both encouraging & discouraging that is the internet?
The only views that I always listen to are the views of my readers and fans. The problem, however, is that one can never create a work that will appeal to everyone. No matter how good your work, you will always find someone who didn’t appreciate it. That’s the very nature of a creative pursuit. I don’t discount readers’ opinions when they criticise, in fact, I listen to them very closely. But the ultimate decision on whether I wish to incorporate their advice into my next work is entirely mine and I would never give up that liberty. The day that the direction of your work is determined by assorted opinions you cease to be yourself.
6. Going forward, what themes are you looking to explore in your upcoming books?
All three books penned by me as of date have been in the historcal-mythological space. I do plan on writing a few books that stray from the historical element soon. My next two books will be pure fiction. One will be a business thriller and the other will be a crime thriller. I hope to complete both books by end-2013.
For more on Ashwin and his books visit his website http://www.ashwinsanghi.com