I Had My Own Share of Adventure With a Literary Agent: Anees Salim

Fairy tales – Believe in them? Aren’t they are stuff little girls with frilly dresses believe in? 

A college dropout who went on to become the creative head of a high-profile advertising agency and when he decides to write novels top-of-the-game publishers line-up to publish not one but four of his works. And to top that his debit title is attracting some rave reviews all over. Anees Salim‘s story turns you a fairy tale believer, notwithstanding you wear frilly dresses or not. The Kochi based wordsmith who says the unhappy child that he was gave birth to the writer in him, gets inKonversation with us about  reading, the writer in him and The Vicks Mango Tree. Read on:

 Congratulations on the debut book Anees. A very interesting title to debut with – The Vicks Mango Tree. What is it about?
The Vicks Mango Tree is my way of interpreting the Emergency. The story happens in a fictional, erstwhile princely state called Mangobaag which is famed for its mango orchards and mangoes of fifty-four varieties. The year is 1975 and the civil liberties have just been suspended, and the book traces the lives of people living in an old apartment block. Most of the story is narrated by the tenants of this crumbling block and among them is a young journalist called Raj Iyer, who writes a well-disguised obituary lamenting the death of freedom. As police promptly turn up at his door, Raj Iyer vanishes without a trace, and soon after the Emergency is lifted, which is about twenty-two months later, he makes his appearance as a bronze statue in a corner of a park. But the book is also about people whose lives are hardly touched by the Emergency.

Yes, I agree the title is somewhat strange. In fact, the novel features a tree that bears mangoes with the smell of Vicks Vaporub and taste of throat lozenge.

Tell us about the Anees who is not the storyteller – what had kept him from the literary scene so far?
I am an extremely private person with a small set of skills. Writing has always been important to me. Even as a schoolboy I wanted to be a writer. And I have chosen advertising as my profession because it lets me write, though it is a different kind of writing and it goes through a different type of editing process.

I was an unhappy child growing up in a house full of people. And I think that’s why I started reading and, later, writing. But the road to getting published was a long one for me. After finishing my first novel, I held onto the manuscript for the fear of rejection. When I could finally gather courage and send it out to publishers, I was flooded with rejection slips. I kept on sending manuscripts to publishers and they kept on sending me letters of deep regret. And nothing worked until I was represented by a literary agent, Kanishka Gupta of Writer’s Side.

Getting a publisher’s nod is generally quite an adventure for most of the debuting writers. Do share with us your adventure (or misadventure) in the run-up to be on a book cover.
I had my own share of adventure with a literary agent not with a publisher. I had been querying literary scouts in England for some time without success. Then I decided to try my luck with an Indian agent. But this time I pretended to be one of my characters, a young Muslim girl who is employed at a vending machine in an airport lounge, and sent in the submission as the opening chapter of her autobiography. It worked. I won an agent in a matter of minutes and he had two offers for the book in less than a fortnight.

A big question today for most newbie Indian writers after they complete that masterpiece manuscript is to go the literary agent way or not. What’s your take on that?
I think it helps to have an agent. It helped me a great deal.

How much of a reader turned writer are you? Your favorites – Genres/ Books/ Authors?
I read quite a bit.For me it is important to read as I have never attended a creative writing course or anything that is supposed to teach you writing – I am not even qualified to be a part of any such programme. I mostly read literary fiction. I like Orwell, Naipaul, Graham Greene, Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Gabriel García Márquez, Julian Barnes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Roddy Doyle, Coetzee….

As a first time author what role has social media played in easing the journey? Do you think its role is overrated?
I kept myself totally away from social media until I had the book deals. I didn’t want distractions. But now I am active on facebook and it helps me promote my book. I don’t have a blog. I will never have.

You seem set to bombard your readers with those interesting stories from your pen (or laptop) with some more titles readying for publication soon. Let us on some news on that front.
I have three more titles coming out in 2012-13. Next in line is The Blind Lady’s Descendents (Amaryllis) which is the story of a young man who sits down to chronicle his family history and ends up writing a long suicide note. Tales From A Vending Machine (Harper Collins) is about a young Muslim girl employed at an airport vending machine and her string of adventures. Vanity Bagh (Picador) sketches the picture of a tiny Pakistan inside a big Indian city against the backdrop of a serial bomb blast.

Your words of wisdom for newbie writers.
Write, write, write.

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