How to Write a Novel

Amitava Kumar in The Hindu:

I BEGAN writing my novel Home Products in the summer of 2003, a few weeks before my wife gave birth to our first child.

But even before I began work on the book I bought a black hardcover sketchbook. In its pages, I started writing down whatever I liked in what I happened to be reading. Among the earliest journal entries is the opening line of a review that had appeared, in the New York Times, of the film “The Hours”. This was also the opening line of a novel by Virginia Woolf. I cut it out and pasted it in my journal. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

There are no notes around that neatly cut out quote but I can imagine why it had appealed to a first-time novelist. You read Woolf’s line and are suddenly aware of the brisk entry into a fully-formed world. No fussing around with irrelevant detail and back-story. And I began to write various opening lines.

In my mind there was an image of a man sitting in a room in a prison near Patna. When he gets out, he would like to make a film. But nothing I wrote promised a swift entry into a fictional world that already existed, and I went over the same lines for at least a fortnight without any success.