This is the second part of the Interview with Shamlal Puri Sir
We learnt a decent understanding about you in the previous section of the interview, but in this section, we would bemore inclined towards you, as an author.
BNI: What all you have written / published till date?
SP:I have written/published 16 books including Dubai Dreams: The Rough Road to Riches; That’s Life: Michael Matatu at Large; Triangle of Terror; Dubai on Wheels – Speeding Headlong on a Dangerous, Slippery Road; Axis Of Evil; The Dame of the Twilight.
Other works include Maisha Ya Kitubwinda (in Kiswahili language of Africa); 150 short stories. I am the co-author of the annual Africa South of the Sahara Year Book; Article 19 Press Freedom; The Socio-Economic Parameters of a Viable Independent Press in Africa published by the United Nations and UNESCO; The Influence of the Press in Rural Africa published by ASA San Diego University. For 24 years I produced the annual Press Freedom Review on Africa for The International Press Institute, Geneva and Vienna.
BNI: What inspired you to write your first book and or this book? SP:My latest book is The Illegals: Homeless, Visa-Less, Hopeless – Striving for the Good Life (ISBN 978-0-9552627-6-0).
I was inspired to write The Illegals when travelling on journalistic assignments in Asia and Europe I covered stories in the global media of young paperless migrants, including Indians, crammed in cargo trucks travelling by road across international borders on what is called ‘the donkey route’. I felt there is a story to be told of the sufferings of these youngsters who fall victims to people smugglers.
Locally settled British Asians call them “faujis” because they have fought through all odds to enter the UK illegally.
BNI: A 30 word tagline for your book
SP: The Illegals is about the travails of paperless Indians who sneak into Britain without a visa only to find their dreams of a cushy life are shattered as they end up in the streets hungry, penniless, jobless and exploited.
BNI: How did you come up with the title?
SP: The title tells the story of illegal migration to Britain and their travails.
BNI: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
SP: This book is aimed at readers of all ages, particularly the young who clamour to migrate to foreign countries by hook or crook using services of people smugglers. It is also meant for their parents who can hear the alarm bells ringing on what happens to them once they are in countries such as Britain. It is surely meant for libraries around the world and a wider readership.
BNI: Who is your favourite and least favourite character? What makes them so?
SP: The characters in this book are real people who have re-lived their painful experiences and spoken about companions who fell by the wayside before the end of their odyssey. All the names have been changed to spare them and their families the ignominy of social stigmatization. I will leave the readers to judge, love or loathe the characters.
BNI: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
SP: The main character is a young Punjabi called Raja. Again, I will leave the readers to make their judgement on what makes him special.
BNI: What was the hardest and easiest thing about your latest release? SP: The hardest thing was to gain the trust of the people I met and to encourage them to share their stories. In order to meet them I joined a local British charity and to get to know them before they opened up.
After that it was easy to communicate with them because we are compatriots and I spoke their language. They felt comfortable talking to me but sought anonimity which I have given to them.
BNI: Share some interesting story about the book writing/cover development.
SP: The first time I went to meet them under the M4 motorway bridge near Southall, west London or the suburb that is called ‘Little India’, a group of young Sikhs confronted me threatening violence. I managed to calm them down as I was carrying a supply of food items which they desperately needed and declared myself a member of the charity. From then on they felt at ease and it was easy communicating with them either on their mobiles or meeting personally. I found some of the men I met were from decent families in India.
The cover design was easy as I have experience in visualising and designing covers but at the end of the day, it is team work that makes a good cover. The cover of The Illegals depicts the famed Tower Bridge of London on River Thames, money for which they come here illegally, women whom they seek to romance, love and marry and obtain permanent UK residence.
BNI: Is there a message in your book/novel that you want readers to grasp?
SP: This book is a wake-up call for all those planning to enter Britain illegally only to find there is no cushy life here. If after reading this book just one family in India can prevent their child from entering Britain in this way, I would have succeeded in my reasons for writing The Illegals.
BNI: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events? Any plans in relation to this book?
SP: Yes I do. Some events are in the pipeline in the UK and possibly in India – but this depends on the Publishers.
BNI: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
SP: Yes I do. Most of them send bouquets conveying kind words but a few throw bricks – which is expected, understood and appreciated. I do not expect every reader to agree with my thoughts. Criticism is part of our lives as writers.
BNI: When and how did you decide to become a writer? Do you write full-time or part-time?
SP: I wrote my first book in 1976 when I was a young journalist working in East Africa. Over the years the interest grew. I am a full time journalist and so writing is a full-time job.
BNI: Which writers inspire you?
SP: Khushwant Singh, Andy McNab, Munshi Prem Chand, Ian Fleming, Wilbur Smith and Jeffrey Archer.
BNI: What draws you to this genre?
SP: I write on issues. All my books have a powerful social message. I am not into romance – I leave that genre to young romantics.
The Illegals is about the complications faced by paperless immigrants who find themselves on the streets – homeless, hungry, penniless and jobless after arriving in the UK in search of a dream of riches. In frustration they turn to drugs and live like tramps. They are exploited and used as cheap labour by their own compatriots settled in Britain. I have seen them sitting forlorn on park benches, eating left-over from the tins of dog food which they scrounged from rubbish bins. It breaks your heart. They may be in Britain illegally but after all, they are someone’s children and there are parents are waiting for their safe return home.
“The Triangle of Terror” is about how the slaughter of elephants and poaching of ivory are used to fund wars in the Middle East. This book earned the following accolade: “Shamlal Puri’s novel has out-scooped journalists and the intelligence community by unearthing how poaching in Africa is being used to rake in money for Jihad.”
“Dubai Dreams: The Rough Road to Riches” lifts the lid on the lives and travails of blue collar Indian and foreign migrant workers in the Middle East. I lived in the Middle East for a few years and saw at first hand the exploitation and abuse of these migrant workers.
BNI: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
SP: I am always bubbling with ideas and keen to contribute to literature. So, there are a few projects in the pipeline.
BNI: What has been the toughest criticism and best compliment to you, as an author?
SP: Readers are always kind to me and understand and appreciate the efforts I put in. Criticism? Well, that’s part and parcel of a writer’s life. You have to take that in your stride.
BNI: What will be your one favourite tip to get through the writer’s block
SP: Writers are also human beings! You have to be free from stress when writing. Even established authors suffer from the writer’s block. Books cannot be written in one-sitting. I stop writing for the day but carry on to think calmly on how to continue from there and then get back to writing the next day with a calm and clear mind.
BNI: What are your thoughts on book series? Would you like to have one for your latest book?
SP: All my books are on one-off subjects. They do not offer me the opportunity to write sequels but there is no harm in thinking there could be a series on the subject – as long as readers welcome them.
BNI: Any advice for writers budding or established?
SP: Story-telling is a gift and we, Indians are blessed with this great skill. I believe everyone has a tale to tell but whether they have the time, interest and energy to write it is a different story.
Established writers do not need advice because it would be like selling snow to eskimos in Alaska!
I can certainly address budding writers.
Have thirst for knowledge. Research well. Know your subject thoroughly before you put pen to paper.
Choose your publisher carefully, negotiate hard and work with the one you are comfortable with. Avoid cowboys in the publishing industry – publishers who expect you to fork out the cost of publishing your book, making you sweat and finally stealing what is justifiably yours in financial returns. They are the bane of the publishing industry.
Not everyone can be Ian Fleming, Khushwant Singh or J K Rowling selling millions of copies but we can all contribute to the wealth that makes literature. Years down the line someone will pick up copies of your book and read it in the local library. That recognition in part pays for your efforts.
Writing books cannot make all authors billionaires but contributing to the world of literature adds to the wealth and the knowledge bank of the society.
BNI: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
SP: I have had no difficulty in getting my first book published. The offer to write a book came from the Publishers and they kept to their word and released it on schedule. The book was well received at the time and translated into European languages.
BNI: How about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us?
Anger in Afghanistan
The group of Indians, who had arrived in Kabul illegally en-route Europe, walked briskly on the side pavement not far away from a white Toyota mini-bus carrying westerners.
The vehicle had stopped outside a busy supermarket to pick up bottles of water.
In the milling crowd, next to the Indians no one noticed a short woman, in a long-sleeved, loose-fitting, burqa, walk towards the mini-bus. If they had they would have noticed she was in her mid-twenties and seemed to be pregnant. Behind the meshed veil, her eyes were darting all over the place, and she was sweating profusely. She now crossed the road and stood in front of the white mini-bus, and raised her arm in the air.
Within seconds there was an explosion. What followed was mayhem.
BNI: What are your expectations for the book?
SP: I would like this book to be read extensively. The publishers are planning translation into several languages.
BNI: Do you think book cover an important role in sales?
SP: Yes. The cover has to be attractive and should grab the attention of the potential reader. You may have told the best story but it could easily be lost with a clumsily designed cover. An attractive cover should also have an equally attractive content.
BNI: According to you, what is the top most advantage / disadvantage of self-publishing?
SP: Self-publishing involves a financial risk but if you are confident of the success of your book and are prepared to go that extra mile to push sales, the world is your oyster and traditional publishers would not be able to grab a slice of your income from this venture.
BNI: eBook, pdf, mobi, kindle or printed hardcover book, what’s your pick?
SP: Printed hard cover or paperback is the first stop and then after a while you graduate to e-book or Kindle – on a commercial basis.
Thank you very much sir, for taking our time for us from your busy schedule. It has been honour for us to have you on the blog and learn a lot from you and your experiences.