Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What Authorz Coracle really means to me

When I started Authorz Coracle in 2011, I really did not know where it was headed. As the publisher of Gyaana Books earlier, I had been approached by several aspiring writers for help and feedback (especially, the rejects). I knew I wanted to help; I was confident I could, but at that time did not have the time or resources at my disposal. With AC I could address those people’s problems.

After a while I wasn’t publishing books any longer. I was already stripped of the halo ‘book publishers’ are often bestowed with – and it was apparent in people’s altered attitudes, words and body language. 

Initially, the idea of making Authorz Coracle a literary agency seemed appealing. Editorial services combined with representation made better sense. But I gave up the thought quite soon. I wasn’t cut out for it; it simply wasn’t me. I wanted to teach. I wanted to share what I had learnt simply because, as an aspiring writer I had been there, done that. I could identify with those writers. I had made exactly the same mistakes, done incredibly foolish things, learnt my lessons and moved on. Yes, of course it had been embarrassing for a while, but I proved to be good at two things: laughing at myself and forgiving myself (even if some others didn’t easily). I had learnt to recognize and embrace my flaws the way I recognized and embraced my qualities. Consequently, I had evolved – as a writer, editor, publisher, person. 

Even though AC was fully functional, I had decided against acting as an agent. I wasn’t going to represent authors to publishers and, despite repeated requests, stayed firm on that front.  I did not even bother to advertize my services properly. All I was offering was writing help and feedback to people who were willing to trust my judgement based on my own experiences.

Who would come to me?

Why would they come to me when there were so many other options available? More affordable? Better known?

What kind of a business model was this?

Relevant questions by well wishers, I cannot deny. Except that I had no answers then. I have none now. I did not compromise then. I do not compromise now. Perhaps I was counting on chance. I just knew I had to do it.    

I waited. I had to wait for a long time. The first client came through a friend’s recommendation. The second through another. And the third. It took a while. Months. A year. Two.

I was lucky with the clients who did come. They were not scintillating writers waiting to be ‘discovered’, but most had stories to tell – and they were serious about developing their writing skills. I knew I could help hone them. Few were worried about being published eventually, though of course each would have liked to get there. They simply wanted to write. And they wanted someone to read what they had written. I was willing to do that.

One of my first few clients was a not-so-young woman – an accomplished person in her own field (a scholar and professor), who was very keen on old Bollywood cinema. Unfortunately, the theatricality and histrionics of the films of those times reflected in her writing. She joked that she wanted to win the Nobel Prize for Literature someday. And to be quite honest, I seriously wished she would accomplish her goal.  The project took over a year. There was a great deal of back and forth. Sometimes she was diligent; sometimes childishly impatient. Sometimes I was well in control; sometimes rather brusque. We discussed, debated, argued. She would promise to do the rewrites and send back almost the same script all over again. Then we would go round and round in circles once more.

While she was still at it, her father fell seriously sick. The stories began to grow darker. They also acquired a seriousness that had been absent before. There was suffering, torment, misfortune. I could see a clear change emerging.   And then she vanished. For almost three months there was no word from her. But one day she wrote to say her father had passed away.

She returned to writing another month later – and completed her collection. Not all the stories were extraordinary. One, however, I distinctly remember, was. Not many were even closely enough related to be included in the same collection (speaking strictly from a publisher’s point of view), but I think writing for her had become a cathartic exercise. It was enough simply to be able to write. She talked a lot – about her father, her life, her experiences, agony and anguish. She said she would continue writing no matter where she was and what she was doing.

Over the years I have had several such experiences. Another young woman would keep writing to me again and again. She was a banker and very keen to write a novel with multiple women protagonists. She refused to slow down or compromise on the number of protagonists even though I pointed out the level of complexity it would require. Her novel had the familiar Indian clique most women can perhaps easily identify with: a married woman with childbearing issues; another married woman with marriage problems; a working professional with an ordinary life, and a single woman with her own troubles.

The author could certainly write if she put in the effort, but her mind galloped in too many directions at once. She could not maintain her focus. Humour came to her naturally. So much so that it became a problem. Sometimes, even the most serious situations came across as inadvertently funny the way they had been described. The arcs were scattered in every possible direction until we could streamline the plot and pin everything down.   

There were days when she wrote at top speed and delivered good chapters. There was much detailing. The characters were realistically drawn. At other times she wouldn’t write for weeks. Then she too disappeared without warning. When she emerged again, it was to inform me that she was going through her divorce and would be taking a break from writing for a while.   

Once there was a young woman who, while sharing a personal piece, revealed the story of her battle with her body clock and her deep dilemma and anguish at dealing with the consequences. It was an intense experience and an emotionally draining one.

It was a revelation the amount of their personal lives the writers invested in their writings and how cathartic the process of writing really was for them. It wasn’t simply a matter of writing a book and getting it published. Writing, to them, had much greater significance. And somehow I was playing an important role in that process: not merely that of an editor or instructor but of a friend, philosopher, psychotherapist and healer. It imbued the effort with much deeper meaning. It made the entire transaction far more worthwhile.  

Slowly I realized the difference between the writers who opted for editorial services and those who attended my creative writing workshops. The former were prone to be self-absorbed, reflective, even brooding. The latter were more firmly ensconced in the here-and-now, raring to go, looking for practical tips.

It has been about five years now. I still do not advertize my services actively, though projects keep flowing in somehow. Writers still come to me either through word of mouth or through the AC website they stumble upon (usually) by chance. Some connect instantly and form a bond; others take time to establish a rapport; yet others move away. I welcome those who choose to stay, let go of those who wish to go.

Only last night a very old friend from university reconnected online. At university, though we were friends we had never exchanged much information about each other. However, we began to talk and he mentioned a manuscript he has been working on. He had learnt about AC and wanted to take my help. Once he started talking about the project, perhaps some of his deepest thoughts, secrets and the most personal details simply flowed naturally. He never even paused to think.

I wonder – is this what the process of writing does to you? It seems to open up the ability and willingness to communicate and articulate the most intimate details about one’s life. And that’s a blessing.

It does not surprise me anymore. But it does amaze me.  With each new experience I too learn, grow, evolve as a professional as well as as a person. Authorz Coracle, though on the surface, is just an outfit that offers editorial services and creative writing workshops, but, at another level, is something much deeper, more substantial and rewarding  for anyone who chooses to form a connect with it.