Managing professional work and authoring a book together is something which needs some special talent. Very recently I came across one such talent who is a perfect example of balancing work and passion for writing.
Yes, its none other than author Atul Koul Randev. I am glad to share with all the chit chat session I had with him about his journey and life as an author and beyond.
Welcome to the platform of Indiacafe24. Atul, please share a brief about yourself, your education, and your family.
I’m a writer during the weekends and the occasional weekday evenings. During the weekdays and the occasional weekend, I work for a technology company called Signicat leading the Strategy, and Mergers & acquisitions team. I have an MBA from HEC Paris.
I’m Indian/Norwegian – I was born and brought up in India, I live in Oslo, Norway with my wife Anshika. My parents still live in Meerut, and Anshika’s parents live in Gurgaon. All retired.
I love books, food, traveling, and cricket. I love to cook. I’m partly a Stoic, partly a hedonist. I go about every day trying to be a kind, fair and empathetic person, I don’t always succeed, but I try.
How writing came in your life and what was the first writing piece of yours that gave you the feel that you can write?
My mom, Neeraj, introduced me to books. She was a librarian before she retired and brought me in touch with all sorts of amazing books. I was scribbling little poems at the age of 10 but got into writing stories a little later. My mom has been a fan of my writing forever, but you know how mothers are. I participated in some competitions at school and got some external validation when I did well there. I kept plugging away over the years, putting out some short stories and a couple of Novellas on social media, and my blogs, and got kind and encouraging feedback from my friends. All of that planted a belief somewhere that I had a few books in me.
How far I got to know that there is a connection between your mother and your love for books. Can you please elaborate on this?
The connection runs deep. She calls me her Abhimanyu when it comes to books. Just like Arjun speaks to Abhimanyu while Subhadra is pregnant with him and teaches him how to break into the Chakravyuh, my mother was reading classics to me while she was carrying me. At least that’s what she tells me. 🙂
She used to be a librarian, and I spent all my summer vacations roaming through the halls and picking up and reading whatever caught my fancy. I was introduced to all the great Enid Blytons, the abridged versions of the big classics, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Robert Jordan, you name it. I had a nearly endless supply of books, which was quite a privilege growing up.
In general, we get to see that boys are more inclined to technical studies and careers. But you remained an exception in that case. What made you fall in love with Literature without compromising on your professional front?
To be honest, I think I’m quite typical that way. I studied to be a Mechanical engineer and worked in Tech for a long time. Did an MBA and then moved to the strategy side. The one thing I’ll give myself a little credit for, if I may, was just persisting with writing a little by little over the years. There were long periods when I couldn’t move my book forward, but I broadly managed to come back to it and continued developing it until eventually, I was able to bring it to other people.
Enid Blyton- how this name created an impact in your life?
Everything I love about books starts with Enid Blyton. The ability to weave little tales out of nothing but the strength of one’s imagination. She would take a little story in an English village, and throw in the wily gnomes, wise elves, and the naughty pixies. In her stories, you could climb the magic faraway tree and enter a new world every time, you could jump onto a wishing chair and end up someplace similar. Four kids could be stuck on an island and had to fight smugglers to get back to reality. All of it was the stuff of dreams for a little kid growing up in Meerut.
The Hundred Million Bet… is your first book… please tell me something about it and how it happened?
The hundred million bet is a crime thriller, where Caesar has won a 100 million euros in a poker game. The Mafia boss he beat at the game wants a rematch and he has abducted Octavia who is Caesar’s sister to motivate him to come back to the table. Caesar refuses to play and flees, and it triggers a set of events where we use his journey as a means to dive deeper into the meaning of life. The book references a few influential essays and concepts from great thinkers like Spinoza, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Epicurus, and Seneca to name a few, I’ve tried to rewrite the key messages from them in the context of the story and add my perspective to it.
Regarding the plot, the idea of basing the book on a high-stakes game came to me during a trip to Italy. I had been living in Paris for a few months and I was traveling with a friend to Milan. On the way, we crossed Campione d’Italia, which is a small Italian enclave that is surrounded by Switzerland on all sides. The little enclave has a casino on it. This site was the first trigger, and then somehow other chunks of the rest of it came to me while walking through the streets of Milan that week.
Can you give us a brief, as to what encouraged you to work with a genre like thriller? Any story behind this?
Funnily enough, writing a financial thriller wasn’t my main ambition. I wanted to achieve two things with the book, i) recount a few influential philosophical essays that I loved and make them more accessible through a story and ii) I had built a simple framework that guided my day-to-day living, and I wanted to communicate this framework through the story.
The thriller was the means to build a story that helped me reach those targets.
Money Laundering- A sensitive topic to write a thriller story… What level of research do you need to do for this novel?
My day job actually helped me a fair bit here. Signicat provides anti-financial crime software solutions, and during the course of my work with the company I’ve become fairly exposed to how the industry works. That said, I wasn’t very exposed to the ways people launder money, so I had to rely on a lot of googling on that side of things. It is worth mentioning that in the book, I do not go deep into the mechanics of how it works, so I could get away with keeping it at a fairly high level.
As an author what’s your opinion about the growth of Indian authors in the international book market.?
We are sorely underrepresented, aren’t we? There seems to be a bit of a one-way flow of books and authors in my limited knowledge and humble opinion. A lot of foreign authors are distributed in India, while there are only a select few Indian authors who get the same exposure outside the country. I’m not sure why that is, but it is definitely not a quality issue. It is possible that there is limited interest in reading fiction based in India amongst readers outside, international readers may pick a book or two here or there, but they likely do not consume 10 books set in a foreign market, unlike Indian readers. It is also possible that while trying to fit the tastes of the very large Indian market, we end up making our books, in some way, unfit for more international readers. It is hard to say, but I’m definitely looking forward to trying and cracking the code.
Writing, be it of any form, needs inspiration… who is your inspiration?
In my humble view, inspiration can come in many forms. I just try to expose myself to creative things. This can be great books, fantastic movies, traveling to new cities to see new sights, or going to great restaurants. Good conversations, hearing about my family’s life experiences, any little thing can trigger a thought. Other than that, I feel that writing, at least for me, is also a lot about the process. I need to have the discipline of showing up for 100 days straight, 98 of which would involve writing average prose, that is then carefully and painstakingly improved, and those 2 days of relative brilliance.
Is there any scope or possibility that in near future, we will get to read more works of yours in other genres?
That is the ambition. I’m working on a couple of other projects right now, that would likely come to life in one form or another over the next couple of years. I’m working on a short non-fiction project with my wife right now, that we’ll hopefully be able to drive forward rapidly. In addition, I’m in the very early stages of writing my next book, which would not be a crime thriller but would hopefully be a thrilling book anyway.
What are other passions in your life?
I love cricket, food, and traveling.
Who is your favorite author and also name one book which is very close to your heart?
It is very difficult to name a single favorite author. But if I could mention one author, and 1 book that I really like – I’d say Talking it over by Julian Barnes. He writes quite exquisitely and tells complex stories very simply. You might mistake this one to be your regular run of the mill love triangles, but his characters are very real, and Barnes captures emotions that most books and movies on the topic fail to do.
Who is the best critique of your work?
I’m fortunate to have a lot of friends and colleagues who gift me their time on things that I write. But the first person who reads anything I write is my wife, Anshika. And she is brutal. Though her feedback is always on point and without exception catches weakness in plot or prose that I had either missed or had been a little lazy with fixing.
Any Suggestions for budding authors?
I AM a budding author, so I don’t think that I’m accomplished enough to give anyone advice. But I can recount/paraphrase a couple of tips I picked up from reading ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Ann LaMotte –
Write as much as you can, as often as you can. If you have a full-time job, it is important that you carve out some time every week if not every day where you go in and put down those 500, 1000, 2000 words
Perfection is the enemy of good, focus on finishing before fixing. I’d suggest that almost never go back to re-read or edit a chapter as long as there are new chapters to write for your first draft. It is super easy to get stuck in a perpetual cycle of editing the same 3 chapters over and over again and getting discouraged at the lack of progress
Define Atul Koul Randevas an author in one line
I want to write fun and thrilling stories that readers relate to, which helps them make sense of a little facet of their life, and occasionally gives them a small learning that stays with them even after they put the book down