Booktopia is so excited to be in an exclusive partnership with New South Books to present the debut novel of Arjun Basu.
If you’re a fan of twitter, chances are you’re a fan of Arjun Basu. Arjun has over 142,000 followers on twitter, where his 140-word short stories have drawn a huge following and a mountain of imitators.
We caught up with Arjun to chat about his new book, writing career, and spiffy tracksuits.
A: This is a long long story. So sit down. Throw another shrimp on the barbie (oh dear, I am so so so so sorry about that, I promise I won’t go down the sordid and silly road of national stereotypes again…). Waiting for the Man starts with images: a man on his steps. A man lying in tall grass. A road trip pit stop. And then these varied images started to coalesce. The first part of the book I ever wrote, a long time ago, is what we read at the end of the book. The last few pages. It was a snippet of a short story that I liked and filed away. And somehow the image within it kept coming back. And then one day I realized these disparate elements were all part of the same story. Did I answer the question? Are we still on speaking terms? I truly am sorry for the shrimp on the barbie thing. I think I had to get it out of my system. At least I didn’t say “g’day” right?
Q: What was it like to translate that idea into a full novel?
A: It is a long and drawn out process and involves quite a bit of drinking. And pacing. And the judicious use of hammocks.
Q: Waiting for the Man tackles some big issues about happiness, media, and celebrity culture. Would you say this novel offers some life advice?
A: I am not offering advice to anyone. Really. I don’t even take my own advice. This is not a self help book and I’m not a life coach. I can’t ever be a life coach because I look silly in a track suit.
Q: What would you do if you encountered the Man?
A: I would run in the opposite direction and I would never stop running. Unless I owned a really spiffy tracksuit.
Q: You already have thousands of fans on Twitter that love your “Twisters.” Can they expect to find the same wit and humour in your novel?
A: I hope so. Though let’s admit that we’re speaking of two very different mediums that are only connected by the use of words and punctuation. I like to think I’m funny, but that’s not really for me to judge. There is no bigger boor than the loud guy who laughs at his own (unfunny) jokes.
Q: Did you find it difficult to continue writing your Twisters while writing Waiting for the Man?
A: No. The Twisters are kind of mental therapy. Gymnastics even. They use a different part of the brain. Or I should say adjacent. The parts of the brain used for Twisters and for novel writing are like those hotel rooms with those locked doors that you hope are permanently locked but are probably opened up for large families, raucous bachelor parties and sales conventions.
A: First, the story was originally going to be set in Montreal. I think any Montrealer will recognize the idea of a guy sitting on his front steps as a very Montreal thing. The front stoop is a part of Montreal’s architectural vernacular. But then the story took over and it demanded to be set in New York. On one level, this novel is very American. But on a deeper level, it is a universal exploration of something very human, and very basic.
Q: Food is featured a lot in your novel, from mundane pieces of pizza, to home-cooked lunches, to saucy ribs. Does food have a special significance for the story?
A: Food does feature in the story. But quite a lot of human things are featured. I mean, the novel is populated with humans! Eating. Sleeping. Bodily functions of all sorts. The little things that make us what we are. I might be more food obsessed than a lot of people but I think our culture is pretty food obsessed right now. And has been for a while. I mean, for the longest time I thought the best magazines in the world were the food magazines coming out of Australia.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m writing. Another novel. I can’t believe I’m diving into this again, so soon, but I have this idea that I can’t let go so I’m going to see where it takes me. Interestingly, the main character is someone who came out of my Twisters. It’s grown to become more complex, naturally, but this novel, which is threatening to be quite a big one (much longer than Waiting for the Man) got its start in 140 characters. The door between the adjoining rooms must have been open. Perhaps for a raucous bachelor party.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
Follow Andrew: Twitter