Readers in India still prefer paper to pixels: Christopher C. Doyle
On being a best-seller and drawing from the Mahabharat, Julius Caesar and the Druids
Christopher C. Doyle has an interesting formula. He marries ancient history with mythology and science to create fiction set in the contemporary world. And Doyle’s teen audience can’t stop reading his books. The Mahabharata Secret and The Mahabharata Quest: The Alexander Secret, the first two books (with a mini sequel in between), opened the floodgates. The sequel to The Mahabharata Quest, The Secret Of The Druids, launched in late June, has already sold 13,000 copies, according to the publishers Westland. Edited excerpts from an interview:
According to your publisher, ‘The Mahabharata Quest’ sold 50,000 copies (in paperback). And ‘The Secret Of The Druids’, too, has done well. How do you account for this remarkable performance in an e-book era?
I will add here that the number of paperback copies sold is just 75% of the total number of copies sold, since 25% of the sales of The Alexander Secret are from e-books/Kindle downloads. Nevertheless, I am pleasantly surprised that a significant number of paperbacks have been sold for both books. I can only explain this by concluding that readers in India still prefer paper to pixels.
I will give you another data point to support this conclusion: In October 2015, I launched The Quest Club—my own reader community—where readers can read a mini sequel to The Alexander Secret for free as an e-book. While many readers did read the e-book, I was deluged by requests to publish a paperback version, which people were willing to pay for. Eventually, I gave in and we published the mini sequel as a paperback in March. It became an instant best-seller despite the e-book being available for free.
In an era of Google-based research, you visit libraries, poring over archival material. Do you recall any interesting incident from these visits?
When I was researching for The Mahabharata Secret, I visited The Asiatic Society in Kolkata. Not only do they have useful material, I also wanted to see the fragment of Ashoka’s rock edict from Girnar, which is housed there, since my book’s historical angle featured Ashoka the Great.
The problem was that only members of the society were allowed access. I had to discard my corporate image and jettison my ego in order to weasel my way in. Starting with the guard, the peon and all the way up to the librarian and the secretary, I told everyone about my research on Ashoka the Great and how I was writing a book on him and how little material there was available about Ashoka.
I cajoled, persuaded and even pleaded with different people at different levels and was finally allowed access to the library and the rock edict, without having to become a member. It was fun, now that I look back at it.
In ‘The Secret Of The Druids’, how did you draw the line through the Mahabharat, Britain, the Druids, Julius Caesar and a queen who lived 4,000 years ago?
There are so many unexplained mysteries in historical records. Julius Caesar mounted two invasions of Britain in 55 BC and 54 BC, in the midst of his eight-year campaign, to bring Gaul under Roman rule. And the second invasion was the largest-ever naval invasion in history until the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944.
No one can explain why he diverted military resources from the conquest of Gaul, which itself was a challenging task. It would have been less of a mystery if he had conquered Britain and brought it under Roman rule. But he didn’t. And the Romans left Britain alone for almost 100 years after his invasions.
Another mystery concerns the megalithic sites—the stone circles and burial mounds—of Britain. Who built them and why? The Druids are also a mystery that has never been explained, though theories abound. Who were they and where did they come from? What was the source of their power?
There’s also a mystery about why the Romans, in the first century AD, invaded Britain with the sole objective of exterminating the Druids. I like to create my own legends in my books, so I came up with an original though fictional theory that explains Caesar’s mysterious invasions by linking the Druids to the megalithic sites of Britain.
I also found some ancient myths of Ireland and Wales, which had very interesting links to the Mahabharat. I used these myths along with key facts about the Druids and then combined them with scientific facts to create a theory that also explains why the megaliths were constructed.
Similarly, for The Alexander Secret, Alexander’s return from the Beas river without conquering India is a mystery, as is the strange and convoluted route he took to get to India from Persia, followed by his mysterious death two years later. I used scientific facts to explain the myth of the samudra manthan in the Mahabharat and linked it with Alexander to create a theory that explained these.
M. Venkatesh is festival director, Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival.