Zac O’Yeah is the author of popular comic thrillers Hari, a Hero for Hire (2015), Mr. Majestic! (2013) and Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan (2010), plus ten other books. His biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma! (2008), was short-listed for the August Prize for the best Non-fiction Book written in the Swedish language. He has been translated into several other languages. Earlier, he worked in the theatre and music business in Sweden until he retired early, at 25, to come to India. His books range from bestselling detective fiction to history and travelogue, and he has also translated Indian literature into Swedish. As a veteran travel writer, he is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveller magazine, and he is also a columnist with The Hindu BusinessLine and an influential literary critic.
What inspired you to start writing?
My dad’s handwriting was so terrible that I realized I must learn how to write myself. I was about 5 years at the time and used to dictate my stories and get him to write them down. It just didn’t work. I started writing my own stuff when I was about 7 years old as it took some time to figure out how to write.
What did you like to read when you were a boy?
Around the age of 10, I was heavily into writers like Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean. Before that I had finished off all the mandatory Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle books. Then later I read Salinger and Kerouac when I was about 13 years old, and tried to become a serious writer for some time, until I realized that my heart was with Fleming and MacLean.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
Coming up with a good idea is tough, since there is already millions of books out there and most topics have been covered. Yet, astonishingly enough, if one puts one’s mind to it, one can still write original books that take people by surprise. The rest of the work – writing, editing and so on, is a breeze in comparison. The other thing about writing books is that it often takes upwards of three years to complete one, so keeping one’s focus for that long is also a challenge. It helps if your book has a good, original idea because the toil becomes an interesting exploration into that idea.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
It takes about a year to plan a book, including researching the background facts. The facts don’t necessarily ever enter the final book, but it is good to know what you’re talking about even if it is only fiction. You can use the facts to flesh out the action and the plot, so it helps if one has done one’s research well.
What motivated you to write the book “Hari – A Hero for Hire: A Detective Novel”?
If I hadn’t stepped off the train in Bengaluru in 1992 and checked into the cheapest lodge in the “Majestic” area, a neighbourhood where practically all the cheaper hotels are located, I don’t think I would have been a novelist today. It takes a bit of luck to help us find our true calling. Another reason why I chose to write my book about the fictional detective Hari Majestic is because until fairly recently, detective fiction used to be dominated by Anglo-American locations and concerns, but nowadays you have globally bestselling detective novels set in places like Botswana, Thailand or Sweden. So why not Bengaluru? I strongly felt that every self respecting city should have a shelf full of detective novels dedicated to it. A detective in a novel is something of an urban explorer, so writing or reading a detective novel can ideally be a way of getting to know a place better. So for me, Hari Majestic, the private eye, became my key to unlock the city and chronicle it. And at that point, when the idea came to me, it felt like so obvious! Why hadn’t I thought of it much before? I doubt I could have imagined the character Hari Majestic without Bengaluru, the city where I’ve lived for the last fifteen years since leaving Sweden. So far I’ve published two books about Hari Majestic: ‘Mr. Majestic! The tout of Bengaluru’ (2012) and ‘Hari, a Hero for Hire’ (2015). A third one is in the pipeline, might come out after a year or so.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “Hari – A Hero for Hire: A Detective Novel”?
Over the years, I’d seen plenty of Kannada action movies, which are mostly made in Bengaluru and many of them set in the Majestic area, and I had become a fan of Real-Star Upendra, the king of local cool and one-liners. After all, Indian cinema follows a different logic from its Western counterparts… while Western cinema remains more uniform (a thriller is a thriller and not a romantic comedy), a classic Indian film is invariably a masala mix of action, comedy, romance and musical. I therefore set out to write a romantic tragicomic thriller in Bengaluru. It seemed like the most logical thing to do.
How did you come up with the idea of writing crime fiction genre book?
I think I was always meant to write detective novels.
Who are your favourite authors?
RK Narayan, James Ellroy and Anjum Hasan in no particular order.
How much time do you dedicate to writing on a daily basis?
The whole day. I rarely write at night.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Read a lot before you open a blank document in your laptop. Think about what you’d like to write, before you start writing. Be prepared for hard work before you reap the rewards. Take all editorial suggestions very seriously. Despite the hardships, try your best to enjoy it – if you enjoy the writing, the readers will be able to tell that this is one writer who loves writing books.
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