He is often referred to as the master of legal and crime courtroom and he has proved it again with his latest crime fiction The Mogul. With seven books to his name, author Vish Dhamija has made a mark in Indian fiction especially in the legal fiction genre. In this exclusive chat with Latha Srinivasan, Vish Dhamija talks about his latest book, his writing journey and even shells out advice for aspiring writers.
NewsX: The Mogul is your seventh novel, a legal thriller. What is it about this genre that fascinates you?
Vish Dhamija: I consider myself very fortunate that life has given me a second chance to reverse a past mistake. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I even went to study law, but dropped out after a year—call it a mistake, call it an error of judgement, but I’ve regretted not being a lawyer for years. Writing legal fiction keeps me close to the subject, makes me follow real legal cases, and read legal fiction, and gives me an opportunity to speak to lawyers across the world. So you could say writing legal fiction is the next best thing that could’ve happened to me.
NewsX: You are often referred to as India’s John Grisham.
Vish Dhamija: Legal fiction is predominantly American for some reason—you’d find very limited number of authors from other countries writing in this genre, which is bizarre. When I wrote the first one— Déjà Karma—and it went for reviews, one media person decided it was the correct parallel to draw. It stuck. The only similarity I can see is that both, John Grisham and I pen legal fiction, nothing else. Quite honestly, I have never propagated it myself, since I don’t like any sort of comparisons. You wouldn’t call baseball as America’s cricket, would you?
NewsX: You work in digital marketing so how much research on legal aspects do you do for your books?
Vish Dhamija: I read a lot. I read a book a week, sometimes more. I read fiction, I read real cases. I watch legal thrillers—both films and television series. There’s enough material in public domain to research on a macro level. Once I start writing a novel, it’s then that the research gets micro, which is vital to preserve facts. Like I mentioned before, I’m blessed with friends who are lawyers, and clarification on legal cases/court scenes, technicalities is just a phone call away. But yes, there can be a lot of phone calls until I finish writing the manuscript.
NewsX: What is the toughest part of writing a crime or legal thriller?
Vish Dhamija: The research is vital, as we’ve already discussed. Crime thrillers are the easiest to read since they start with some kind of a hanger — the crime — and once the reader is hooked they generally finish the book, if only to uncover the mystery —who or how or why? However, crime fiction (and I include legal fiction) isn’t simple to write. The initial hook has to be interesting enough to begin with, the characters need to be sketched out accordingly, and then one has to think in advance how the investigator (police, PI, advocate) will solve the mystery so that it is all logical. Add to it the complexity of sub-plots, the twists, the turns and it is upon the author to tie up all those loose ends. But the two most important aspects are: how will the crime happen, and how will the investigator solve it — those are the two things I work out in advance before I begin to write a story.
NewsX: You’ve said that these are also about human emotions.
Vish Dhamija: I write crime fiction, but like any book or film, it has characters who are supposedly real people in the narrative. And human beings have emotions — they love, they hate, they get greedy, they do evil things. If an author does not touch upon the human side of the characters I think the story would be flat. For example: readers like a character I created called Rita Ferreira. She’s starred in two of my books, but I was so touched by the response — people find her very real — that I’ve penned another on with her as the protagonist, which is due to release next year. In my mind, a good story is key, but characters are equally important; readers need to connect with some of the character’s persona and emotions.
NewsX: Any favourite Indian authors? Why?
Vish Dhamija: You’re putting me on the spot. It’s a difficult one to answer since more than just being Indian authors, they are my peers and most of them are now personal friends. Naming one would be like standing amongst a pride of lions and pointing out which one is the best looking. (Smiles) But OK, let me answer it for you in a way that everyone would agree with. I love Mr Surender Mohan Pathak’s books whenever he obliges us by writing/ translating them in English.
NewsX: Seven books. Any learning for upcoming writers?
Vish Dhamija: Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Edit. Edit. Edit. As they say, there’s no alternative to hard work. The more you read in the genre you want to write in, the more you’d know what the market is like, what others have already written, and how you could write something that would stand out in an already crowded place? And never give up.