Sunday, December 30, 2007

Davidar's Recipe for Success

I really enjoyed interviewing David Davidar in Singapore recently. (The piece appears today in Starmag's Reads Monthly supplement.)

The interview just turned into a lovely chat about books with someone who shares the same tastes ... although it did rather boggle the mind to think that he is the guy who had actually formed those tastes in me because he had published many of the authors - including Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Arundahati Roy, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro, Hisham Matar, and Rattawat Lapcharonsaep - that I love most.

But Davidar won't take the credit for having actually discovering any of the names he's published:
Sure, there’re all these horror stories of neglected geniuses and so on, but they’re exaggerated. ... There are some very good publishers in the world and if there’s a great book, it will be published, it will be noticed. So I can’t claim to have discovered them, it would have happened regardless. ... All you can do is provide an opportunity to get their work out to a readership. And if it isn’t you publishing the work, it would be somebody else, if one is being absolutely honest.
And he gives a piece of advice local publishers could do well to heed - if you want to succeed, you need to build a quality list of authors and not compromise on that quality:
Writers like to keep company, they don’t want to be published in a list that is mediocre or not ‘quite there’. Your imprint is only as good as the writers it publishes. ... And you have to be consistent, and you have to keep finding new talent to add to the list. That I think is something that distinguishes some publishers from the rest.
He reckons too that it doesn't matter where in the world you live or where you're from:
Today there are writers from all over the world, Somalia, Thailand Botswana – the world is hungry for stories, you know. It doesn’t matter what the author’s nationality, race or religion is. ... And all you need is talent, and the discipline to produce good work and you’ll find publishers wherever you are.
He also talked to me about the writing of his new novel, The Solitude of Emperors, which he described as is a very personal search for answers about one of the most pressing issues of our time - the misuse of religion.

(Shakeel Abidi reviews both Davidar novels in the supplement but it's a great pity he does not have space to explore the broader issues in Solitude which is very much that old fashioned thing - a novel of ideas, and yes, an idealistic enterprise.)

Davidar's humility and sincerity and ... just general niceness impressed me. Our tea-time chat to the background of Chritmas carols in the hotel lobby went on long after the tape recorder was switched off (this really is the perk of the job!). And it was also really nice to have a chance to chat to his colleague Jo Lusby of Penguin China who put to rest for me that horrid rumour that Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem has been held back from publication just so that it could be entered for the Man Asian Prize. For the record it was due to internal snarl-ups in the company - the book was "orphaned" twice when employees left the company.

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