‘Agent insight’ on Loyal Stalkers | Sunday Observer

‘Agent insight’ on Loyal Stalkers

23 July, 2017

Sri Lankan author, Chhimi Tenduf-La’s latest book, Loyal Stalkers, published by Pan McMillan India, presents short stories that have thematic resonance and plot linkages or extensions, if one may say, with one another. In that sense

it is not a typical collection of short fiction. In this article readers are presented with some perspectives from the man who had an active

hand in securing Tenduf-La, big league Indian publishers

- Kanishka Gupta

Gupta is a leading literary agent in India who is the founder of ‘Writer’s Side,’ which, having represented over 400 authors is now one of South Asia’s largest literary agencies. A writer himself, Gupta’s debut novel, History of Hate, was long listed for the 2009 Man Asia Literary Prize. He started Writer’s Side in 2009 as a manuscript assessment agency and extended services as a literary agent in 2010, and has since been the catalyst for over 500 publishing deals for his clients. In this Q & A via email Gupta offers some brief insight about his first Sri Lankan client whose latest work is faring well in the highly competitive South Asian fiction market.

Q: As a literary agent what is your level of exposure to and impressions about Sri Lankan fiction?

A: I hardly get any submissions from Sri Lanka. Chhimi is my only author from the country. I think in terms of breakthroughs we have seen Shehan Karunatilaka’s, Chinaman, novels by Romesh Gunesekera and Ashok Ferry. I have heard a lot about the rising star Nayomi Munaweera and plan to read her work soon. As an agent, I feel Sri Lankan literature is yet to witness a wave similar to the IWE wave post, The God of Small Things, and the ongoing wave of Pakistan writing in English ( I alone represent more than 28 writers from Pakistan). In short, I would like more submissions from Sri Lanka.

Q: What were your initial impressions about the manuscript of Loyal Stalkers?

A: I found it a racy, urban slice of life. He explores several dark themes in the collection, but none of the stories get weighed down under them. I did feel, like our in house editor Neelini Sarkar and his editor at Pan Macmillan, that the links between the characters needed to be clearer and more distinctive.

Q: As a literary agent did you make suggestions to Chhimi Tenduf-La about how to further improve the manuscript and work with him on it before you pitched it to a publisher?

A: The best thing about Chhimi is that he is open to suggestions and is not afraid of putting in hard work. The original draft of The Amazing Racist was novella length, but held the promise of a good novel. Chhimi worked hard on developing it and it yielded dividends. His second, and in my opinion, the best novel to date, Panther, also went through multiple drafts. His editor at Harper almost convinced a foreign publisher to pick it up. Loyal Stalkers came to us in a fairly good shape, and my editor and I helped him develop the stories and link them better.

Q: In your opinion, how does Loyal Stalkers standout as a collection of Sri Lankan short fiction?

A: I think it’s new, urban and contemporary. Chhimi is that rare writer with a literary sensibility who doesn’t alienate the masses. His prose and style are very distinctive. If one were to insert a paragraph by Chhimi in a book written by someone else, I’d be able to spot it.

Q: How is the response so far to the book, in the Indian market?

A: Chhimi sells well in India and Sri Lanka, but I still feel he is underrated as a writer, in that, some of his works, especially Panther, should have been published overseas and featured on the shortlist of prizes. I’ve yet to come across a negative review for any of his work.