I'm just back from two weeks cycling through South West India – from Mysore in Karnataka, through Tamil Nadu and into Kerala.
Here's some of what I thought about, as well as some pictures from the trip.
Write in order to live, but also to live in order to write
Since September 2011 I have been making a full-time living as an author, speaker and entrepreneur. I love my work, it's my passion as well as my income and I write because I love it, as well as to pay the bills.
But we all need inspiration and time for an Artist's Date (an idea from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way). I'm also a visual writer and setting is incredibly important to me. I find my inspiration in places, from architecture and culture, in religion and myth.
Traveling has always been central to my life, my husband even says I have ‘itchy foot syndrome'. When I worked as an IT consultant, I needed to go on holiday, to escape, a few weeks to forget how much I hated what I did. But now I love my work and my life, travel is for my soul, my creative spirit, the compost of my mind. I need to live hard in order to write, so trips like these will continue to be part of my journey.
I also crave change and variety, I need to push my comfort zone so I will generally choose a new place, or a new activity in order to learn while on the trip. I've been to northern India before (the opening scene of Pentecost is set in Varanasi), but this was my first time in tropical, southern India.
Active meditation. Get in touch with the body again.
As writers, we spend a lot of time in our heads. We are supremely in touch with our thoughts, feelings and emotions but sometimes, we forget the physical body.
On this trip, I cycled almost every day. In hot sun and almost monsoon rain, under stormy clouds, sprinkled with ocean spray, battered by the wind. Through the high pine forests of the Western Ghats and the protected national park forest of Bandipur, where wild elephants roam; through eucalyptus forests and tea plantations, down into bamboo, rice paddies and coconut palms; on pot-holed roads filled with tuk-tuks, wandering holy cows, pedestrians, bikes, buses and cars, the ever-present hooting and organized chaos of India driving.
This was active meditation, in that the only thing you could concentrate on was avoiding the obstacles, whilst pedaling and trying to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous/interesting surroundings. There was no time or brain bandwidth to think about anything else.
I have a Brompton bike in London, a small-wheeled, folding bike and I used to have a ‘sit-up-and-beg' when I was at Oxford. I have never done a serious days cycling in my life, so this was quite a change for me. A 27-geared mountain bike, 60+ kilometers a day on varied terrain (although there was a support bus, which I'll admit to using!) on variable roads … it was a challenge.
With this focus on the body, I also have to admit to my first bike fall and injury. It was the last day, the final afternoon and I knew I was tired but I wanted to do the final kilometers. In a coastal village, just after a downpour of rain, I misjudged a pothole and ended up with a lot of impressive bruises, a hole in my knee and a dent in my pride. It could have been a lot worse, but I cried like a baby. A good reminder of how fragile we are …
Need refreshment of the mind? Try a digital fast
I spent the 15 day trip with no internet, no cellphone, no social. This was entirely by choice as India is a highly connected nation, but it was a decision to focus on the moment and give myself some head-space.
Before I left, I was exhausted, ready to give up on social media, the blog and anything that didn't just let me write and sleep.
But all I needed was a break!
I love you guys, my blog readers, I love my podcast interviews, I love my twitter fun and everything I do online actually has a purpose, as well as being enjoyable. But I need to make sure I don't burn out. There's a vibration, a speed at which we rev up to when we spend too long immersed online. It's addictive, exhilarating, awesome fun – and I believe it's necessary – but it's not mandatory all the time.
Of course, I knew this before!
I removed email from my phone about a month ago and that helped a lot. I am also now tracking my hours on a timesheet using OfficeTime app on the iPhone (an idea from the guys on the Self Publishing Podcast – language warning). This helps me monitor the time I spend online vs creation. Now I am adding in at least a digital Sabbath every week, and perhaps a whole week off now and then.
In between the bouts of physicality, I had a lot of time for deeper thought, for hand-writing my diary, for focusing on the spiritual side of life that I always need to return to. These things will emerge in my fiction for sure, and I am brimming with new ideas for stories!
My impressions of books and publishing in India
This wasn't a business trip and I didn't even do any official research (although of course the ideas are flowing!) But I did have some thoughts on books and publishing based on my brief impressions in south India and chats with my marvelous Indian guide, Vishnu.
- Print dominates the market and book shops seem to be mostly independent, choosing surefire Western hit authors to stock the shelves along with Indian authors. The mix of fiction and non-fiction in English is impressive and even the small bookshops I visited had a good selection.
Many Indians read and speak English and there are (at least) twice as many English speakers in India as there are in the UK (perhaps unsurprising in a population of over 1 billion). It's the language most used for signs and also for communications between Indians across the states as there are so many languages, they need a common one. Literacy is high in India and there is a rising middle class based on a booming economy. So India is a big potential market for writers in English, hence why Amazon has recently opened a store there …
- However, Amazon is barely known as yet, ebooks are a blip on the radar and I can't see the rise of ebooks until the internet is a faster speed which will in turn proliferate smart phones, e-reading apps and smart-phones. BUT/ given the pace of change in India and the economic growth, I would see digital becoming important in the next few years. As self-publishers have generally been making more money through ebooks, I would see this as the most likely source of future revenue. However, there are some self-publishing print on demand companies – I have known of Pothi.com and CinnamonTeal.in for a number of years. Now Author Solutions (Penguin) have moved in under the brand Partridge Publishing as well – so if you're considering publishing in that market, please do your research first.
- I love India and I want to spend more time there. I want to write books set in India and use the rich culture, mythology and religion in my work. And yes, I want to reach that market. So I am definitely going to keep an eye on things and try to grow my online fan-base at least. For now, I am going to sort out my pricing in rupees on Kindle – the print books I saw were around 150 – 499 rupees for fiction. You might want to check your pricing on Amazon.in too.
- You can see some more photos from my trip here on Flickr – all Creative Commons. If you like the look of the trip, we went with Exodus Travel: Cycle Kerala and Tropical India.
- In case you're interested, here's my reading list while I was away – soon to be reviewed on Goodreads: One night @ the call centre – Chetan Bhagat, Arranged Marriage – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Rozabal Line – Ashwin Sanghi, Travels – Michael Crichton, Never Go Back – Lee Child, The Blood Whisperer – Zoe Sharp, The Sacred History – Jonathan Black.
Right, back to business as usual … please do let me know your thoughts in the comments. And, Indian readers, I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on the market in India, and how authors could start connecting/learning more. I'd also love to give away some review copies of my books for the Amazon.in store, so please leave a comment if you're interested.