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Tuesday, 20 May 2014


While many may contemptuously flick history as tales of the dead and gone, it has in recent times emerged as the proverbial cow that thriller writers are milking away. The art of combining fascinating history with delectable mystery has been around for some years now and will continue to do so for a while. The recipe is not exactly a guarded secret. Take a historical event or an esoteric legend, preferably lesser known to keep the surprise element intact. Add a tablespoon of mystery. Throw in a pinch of murder, a dash of characters racing against time and a generous lump of twists and turns. Sprinkle conspiracies or riddles or a treasure hunt and finally garnish with an earth-shattering climax. Your bestseller’s ready, a potential one at least. Bon App├ętit!
Most Indian readers believe that it was Dan Brown and his damned codes that spoiled us all but the blame must also be shared by our own home-grown riddler Ashok Banker. Banker’s retelling of our mythological and historical legends along with his crime thrillers paved the way for much that was about to come. Tales of Atlantis and Lemuria have thrilled many. And so have mysteries like Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco that fused the Knights Templar with lost treasure or The Seventh Secret by Irving Wallace, that left many wondering about Hitler’s infamous suicide. Today an Ashwin Sanghi or an Andy McDermott stands on the shoulders of these giants. So what gives a history meets mystery novel such seductive prowess?
Fundamentally we humans are suckers for tales of kings and princesses and knights and fairies. Larger than life stories replete with sights and sounds of a bygone era have charmed generations for decades and our fascination for them may well be imprinted in our DNA now. So when a mystery novel employs historical figures, it turns all the more thrilling. History becomes the plot and its legendary personalities become characters. And somewhere in this amazing transformation, we become a part of history, witnessing it unfold through the pages.
If history raises a mystery notches above commonplace, then a mystery can lend boring history excitement and animation. Drop an intense, intriguing thriller and even the biggest history hater will find it hard to resist the book. Like Mary Poppins would sing, ‘a spoonful of mystery makes the history go down.’ And in doing so, a well-researched mystery fiction perhaps educates and enlightens a lot more than a pile of history books. For example more people might have learned about Jesus and Mary Magdalene through Da Vinci Code then they would have through a historical treatise. How reliable that information is can be debated upon but it at least familiarizes one with the past while vastly entertaining.
Novels where the mystery is placed in a contemporary setting, offer a plot structure where past and present run parallel. It’s an interesting dialectic where one time zone acts upon the other and the action constantly shifts to and fro. Indeed caught in this vortex of flashback and flash-forward, the reader experiences virtual time travel from one era to another. It creates layers within the narrative that collide to give the novel depth and excitement. Parallel tracks also serve as an interesting comparison to measure how far we have evolved. Or are we evolving at all? Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant is a fine example.
Finally when past history leads to a present day mystery, it tells you that some stories never end. You see a continuum that has remained alive for centuries. The tale may keep going on forever. Or time may have come after all these decades to right a wrong. Seal the ancient crack. History becomes a context, a cause leading to action. Such a cycle of events, offer an interesting sense of fulfilment to the reader.  

In an interview Ashwin Sanghi predicted that the trend of history meets mystery will soon die its natural death. Critics of this genre also point out that such fictional retelling forces one to draw unnecessary comparisons with what you already know. So if you are planning to write a history meets mystery tale here are a few pointers. Make sure the mystery you create is not simply for the sake of doing so, but a natural extension of the history you are exploring. There’s nothing uglier than yoking history and mystery by mere illogical force. Treat historical characters with care. Artistic license is fine but keep in mind that these are real life legends and you can’t tamper beyond a point. Research the period well. This will not only give you great perspective but also help you recreate the era as perfectly as possible. And have loads of fun. You can’t thrill others unless you are thrilled yourself, can you?   
                                                       (This was written for STORIZEN LITERARY MAGAZINE)

Satyarth Nayak is author of the national bestseller 'The Emperor's Riddles'. A History meets Mystery novel, the book has been acclaimed by Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi and has entered several Bestseller lists like Asian Age, Amazon and Crossword etc. The novel has outrun its first print run within two months of release and has now gone into Reprint. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014


My path to becoming a published author was probably paved the day my grandfather taught me my first alphabet. Like a benevolent sorcerer, he cast the spell of the written word and I knew I was bewitched for life. Then my mother flung the doors of literature wide open and I made friends with Dickens and Twain and Wilde and Tagore. From the rugged folk tales of Ukraine to the lush tea-party in Carrol’s wonderland, the stories asked me a gentle question -‘Can you carve a universe out of words?’ And a macabre universe at that, for the genre whose siren calls were quietly seducing me was the MYSTERY THRILLER!!!

Throughout literature classes in Venky and Stephen’s, one was enthralled with the wit of Chaucer and the metaphysics of Donne. The agony of Lawrence and the nostalgia of Wordsworth. The bravado of Eliot and the absurdity of Beckett. And yet on dark nights, the infernal howling of the hound of Baskerville would fill me with awe. The climactic revelations of Hercule Poirot would leave me kicking my grey cells for not spotting the obvious. Poe’s pit of morbid terror would slice me like that murderous pendulum. And then came Dan Brown with his damned codes and ciphers and I had found another messiah. Thrillers by Irving Wallace, Suzanne Collins, Lee Child and Ashok Banker have all been text books I have craved to emulate.

Then one random day during one random hour, I stumbled upon this historical legend that absolutely bamboozled me. So staggering and so prolific were the details, that my instinctive reaction was ‘There’s enough matter here for a book!!!’ And before I knew it, I was writing that book. The legend had somehow lured me into giving it a virtual shape and form on my laptop. It was whispering plot points, characters and intrigue and I was merely recording it for posterity. Was that how Lord Ganesha had felt while Vyasa dictated him the Mahabharata? Draft #1 was ready in six months and I had actually carved a cosmos out of words. A cosmos of murder, history, sci-fi, mythology and riddles. Cryptic riddles. The conceit every writer suffers from is the cocky self-assurance that his masterpiece is worthy enough to be shared with others. So my magnum opus was clamouring for an audience now.

The merciful thing about publishing in India is that most publishers are open to unsolicited submissions. In the West where publishing houses will not touch your manuscript unless you have a literary agent representing you, the situation here is friendlier with the agent culture still in its infancy. So all it took was logging on to publishing websites and mailing my mystery thriller. Some asked for an initial synopsis & sample chapters. While sending your work is relatively simple, most unsolicited matter goes to the slush pile where scores of manuscripts lie waiting to be picked and read. Unless you can network around, there’s precious little to do but wait. Soon feedback started knocking on my laptop. Some declined while some asked for changes. FYI no publishing house will ever give an elaborate analysis but only a few pointers to rework. Some of this early feedback made a lot of sense and shaped much of the present structure of my book. The tide turned when two publishing houses wrote saying they love my thriller. It turned again when Red Ink became my literary agency.

From then on it was a process of negotiations, discussions, consultations and submissions until we finally zeroed in on Amaryllis. Though contracts drafted by publishing houses are pretty straightforward, it helped me to have an agent who made sure I got the best possible deal. One also needs to be prepared to see one’s manuscript go through various rounds of edits to make it even better. Red Ink’s brilliant editorial team further sharpened my thriller following which Amaryllis editors did their round of editing and impeccable proof-reading. Finalising the cover took longer than I had imagined but then it was all perfectly destined to hit the stands at the Delhi World Book Fair 2014 this February.

As I mentioned, the agent culture is still in its fledgling stage in India. There are only a handful of genuine literary agencies in India like Red Ink, Writer's Side, Jacaranda etc. The international norm for agents is that they make money only when your book makes money. Genuine agencies generally don't charge for their services like pitching your book to publishers, editing your manuscript etc. Ideally they demand their commission only after you sign a book deal with a publishing house. In case you don't land up with a literary agent to represent you, don't lose heart. Be relentless and keep pitching your book to as many publishing houses as possible. Don't make the common error of going only after the big ones. Smaller publishing houses often are a better bet, especially for debut writers and can end up giving you greater attention and exposure. Finally if nothing works out, there's always Self-Publishing. This phenomenon has become really big in India in recent times and you will find a zillion sites ready to help you out. Even Amazon's legendary Createspace is now available in India now, albeit be informed that this route is all about financial investment and promotion effort from your side.  

Your first book is always precious. My thriller’s out now and there’s lots to be thankful for. It has made it to several Bestseller charts...rave reviews in the media...praise from authors like Amish Tripathi & Ashwin Sanghi...tweets from Gauri Shinde.....Reprint within three months,,,,,Bollywood interest in converting it into a film....But perhaps the greatest joy is that, my gentle answer to that gentle question is ‘I can. And so can anyone who loves to write.’   

Satyarth Nayak is author of the new national bestseller 'The Emperor's Riddles'. A History meets Mystery novel, the book has been acclaimed by Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi and has entered several Bestseller lists like Asian Age, Amazon, Crossword & DC Books etc. The novel has outrun its first print run within two months of release and has now gone into Reprint. 




Tuesday, 4 March 2014


For Oedipus, the riddle of the Sphinx may be a matter of life and death but for us lesser mortals, a good, juicy riddle is nothing short of absolute joy that one can suck on with delight. Yes, the answer eludes us at first. It hides behind our back making finger horns over our head. Ducks into a hole snickering in mirth. But then the epiphany comes and we drag the answer out of its hiding by its hair. A tiny victory. A vast joy.

Riddle have been around for ages galore. The quirky tales of Vikram Betal are some of the oldest Indian conundrums. We have the Greek hero who saw through the puzzle of the Sphinx and slayed the monster who butchered numerous wayfarers. Then again Samson outwitted the Philistines with that lethal riddle of the lion and the beehive. Norse mythology is replete with posers featuring the almighty Odin. The Sumerian Riddle of the Blind reflects how high education featured in the civilization's scheme of things. So whether it's the poetic paheliyan of Aamir Khusrao, the Mad Hatter asking 'Why are ravens like writing desks', Albert Einstein's iconic Fish Riddle or the more recent Tolkein's White Horses and Dan Brown's codes, riddles continue to entertain, exemplify and educate. 

So why do riddles seduce us so easily? Interestingly Aristotle thought riddles significant brain fodder to be included in his Rhetoric. His mentor Plato seemed to venerate them a lot more as he believed that a good riddle expressed that which cannot be otherwise expressed literally. Sounds awfully similar to Christ's Parables or Aesop's Fables one may say and the fundamental point being that riddles describe the ultimate truths of our universe in an entertaining and informal way making us wiser. They teach us cosmic laws without taking the pulpit. They enlighten us while frolicking with us. It is this oxymoron that keeps them forever relevant and bewitching. 

Another point most people miss is how riddles grasp our imagination and stretch it far beyond limit. Many enigmas are deliberately clothed in the classic Double Entendre or double meaning. A multitude of meanings that unconsciously introduce us to the possibility of multiplicity. Infinite realms. Parallel universes. The riddles make a silent appeal to our senses to discard the monochrome and embrace the infinity. An appeal to ventilate our mind with the thousand possibilities and probabilities that co-exist in the cosmos. To become an exciting polygon.  

But for me their greatest appeal lies in the fact that they show us how every problem actually contains its own solution. You may wander through the words of the riddle in abject confusion thinking this is the end of the world. But then you pull a thread and the entire edifice unravels itself. unveiling the answer you seek. The revelation you crave. And so is it with life and all the million post-lapsarian dilemmas it's riddled with for us to overcome. For each time you crack a code, you know you can go on with life for another day or two. 

Satyarth Nayak is the author of the latest Indian fiction thriller ''THE EMPEROR'S RIDDLES''. An exciting mystery of ten riddles with elements of Ancient Indian history, sci-fi and Buddhist mythology, the thriller is already carrying quotes from celebrated mystery writers like Ashwin Sanghi & Amish Tripathi on its cover. The book hit the stands at the recent Delhi World Book Fair 2014 where it was a top seller and is now available on Flipkart,, Infibeam & Crossword.