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Like the rest of the literati, and significant portions of the glitterati, I too have been cruising literature festivals: Kolkata, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai. Undeniably, the Delhi Crime Writers’ Festival in January was the high point of my tour—and there’s much that both beginners and established writers can learn about the craft of writing at these events.

For example, Mukul Deva told me an astonishing fact regarding his research process. Known for his gung-ho macho protagonists, he has lately been introducing credible female characters. When I asked how he pulled it off, he said that to understand how they would react differently from men he interviewed 50 women. Can you beat that?

In a workshop, Ashwin Sanghi emphasized the importance of craft over art: the need to plot well, write an outline and finish research before starting writing. He uses Excel sheets to organize this material and plot the book chapter by chapter, a method that I might try out myself. He is now a seasoned writer, but he revealed that his first novel was rejected by almost 50 publishers. Maybe they are regretting it now.

Surender Mohan Pathak, the undisputed king of the Hindi crime novel, had a devoted fan following at his event in Delhi and lads even wore T-shirts with his photograph. He spoke about how he doesn’t know any language perfectly—he is a Hindiwallah, an Englishwallah, knows Urdu, and is Punjabi by birth. So his innovative approach is to write in a mixture of all these languages. He is sensitive to feedback as well: Whenever his fans tell him they’re bored of a character, he creates a new hero. Despite his success he never chucked his day job, instead writing most of his nearly 300 novels on Sundays, his only day off: He’d wake up early, be at his desk 5 minutes later and spend the day there.

An interesting tip on how to get the creative juices flowing was shared by French writer Caryl Férey. Whenever he has to write a new book, Caryl travels to a new country. Apparently, French readers love experiencing new places through his books, so much so that nowadays he can afford to travel with his own orchestra—yes, he invites musicians along so as not to get bored. The question I forgot to ask him is: Now that he has been touring here (albeit without his band), perhaps he’ll set his next thriller at an Indian literature festival?

But perhaps the most valuable advice I got was from Håkan Nesser, one of the kings of Swedish crime fiction. His top tip for writers: “Simple, never ever trust another writer."

Zac O’Yeah is the author of Once Upon A Time In Scandinavistan and Mr Majestic: The Tout Of Bengaluru.

Also Read: Zac’s previous Lounge columns

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