Home >mint-lounge >features >I am scared about writing another novel: Akhil Sharma

Akhil Sharma won The Folio Prize in March for his semi-autobiographical novel Family Life. The starting point for this novel is an accident involving his elder brother soon after his family moved to the US. He dived into a swimming pool and hit his head on the cement bottom, resulting in brain damage. The story, told through the point of view of a young boy, is about the shattering of dreams and the collapse of a family as they start to take care of his brother. Sharma took almost 13 years to write this novel, slipping into depression himself as he tackled the emotional subject and condensed 7,000 pages into the 224 that were eventually published. Sharma is the second recipient of The Folio Prize, which was set up as a reaction to the perceived dumbing down of The Man Booker Prize, and aims to “celebrate the best fiction of our times". It comes with a prize money of £40,000 (around 37 lakh). Sharma speaks of the “pureness" of the award, his fear of writing another novel and what makes him happy. Edited excerpts from an interview:

You aren’t new to book awards. So how does it feel to win The Folio Prize?

Winning The Folio Prize is extraordinary. This is an award intended to reward excellence without taking into account issues of demographics, gender, or subject matter. Because of this, the award feels very pure.

Is it different, or more important, considering that your story was so intensely personal?

All books contain elements that are autobiographical. Anna Karenina and War And Peace contain autobiographical elements. For me, the benefit of this prize is that it will help my brother and my parents live in people’s imagination.

Was the experience of writing this novel a form of catharsis? Did you feel you had to tell the story?

It was a catharsis in that I was forced to think through certain issues, which, in many ways, I had just chosen to ignore. To me, part of living a healthy life had been to look back, but to not stare. The book forced me to stare and there were some important benefits in the staring.

Do you think the best stories you tell are the personal ones?

My first novel (An Obedient Father) has nothing autobiographical about its plot. Many of my short stories have nothing directly connected to my life.

I believe your parents haven’t read the book. Are you relieved? Do you fear their reaction if they do?

Before I wrote the book, I asked my parents’ permission. My mother has read it and she said that she was surprised that some things were true and others were not.

You’ve written short stories and two novels. Which form do you prefer? And which have you chosen for your next work?

Both are wonderful. The benefit of the short story is that you can abandon one that is not working and not feel too great a loss. My next book is going to be a collection of short stories.

Thirteen years dedicated to writing and rewriting one novel. Any apprehension about taking up the novel again?

I am scared about writing another novel. I hope it isn’t as devastating a process as the one that just occurred.

These 13 years, you obviously had incredible family support. What has your wife had to deal with in these years?

My wife says that to a large extent it was like any ordinary life.

When you take so long to write a book, do you have to deal with a sense of despair?

I always worried that the book would not get done, that even if it did get done, it would vanish and so the work would not have been worth it.

What makes you happy?

My friends and family are the thing that consistently make me happy.

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