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Interview with Hari Kunzru

15 October 2009

Hari Kunzru is a British novelist and journalist, author of the novels The Impressionist, Transmission and My Revolutions. Of mixed English and Kashmiri Pandit ancestry, he grew up in Essex. He was educated at Bancroft’s School, Essex. He studied English at Wadham College, Oxford, then gained an MA in Philosophy and Literature from University of Warwick. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Hari currently lives in New York.

Hari attended this year’s Ubud Writers Festival with the backing of the British Council. During the Festival, he spoke at several events and interviewed Wole Soyinka as part of the Literary Lunch series. We caught up with him at the Neka Museum on Sunday and had a chat.

The contents of this interview — 20 Questions with Hari Kunzru — was broadcast via Twitter earlier today. We include the full transcript below, plus a bonus question.

UWRF: Who are your key influences?
Hari: I hate this question because they change every week. Pynchon, Ballard, Delillo, Dostoevsky, Nabokov.

UWRF: How did you get started writing?
Hari: Sitting alone in my room on the dole.

UWRF: Did you always aspire to make this a career?
Hari: I wanted to be a writer from when I was quite young. When I left university, I decided to take odd jobs and write a novel.

UWRF: What was the first writing you had published?
Hari: The first piece of writing was in a school magazine when I was 8.

UWRF: What was your first serious fiction publication?
Hari: A short story in an anthology after university.

UWRF: How long between the publication in the anthology and the publication of the first novel?
Hari: About 9 years.

UWRF: How did you find your publisher?
Hari: I eventually got an agent after many years of trying. He got an auction among publishers for my first novel.

UWRF: How did you find your agent?
Hari: He saw a short story & asked me if I had a novel. I showed him the first chapter of The Impressionist. He signed me up there.

UWRF: So your agent found you?
Hari: Actually I had tried to get him to represent years earlier with my first manuscript. He said it was not publishable, but keep in touch.

UWRF: So you have novel manuscripts that predate The Impressionist?
Hari: Yes, two, but they are unpublished.

UWRF: What is happening with those?
Hari: They are on my hard drive and that is where they will remain!

UWRF: What was your key break?
Hari: I think it was learning my craft through writing. I did various kinds of writing. Lifestyle journalism also teaches you to be interesting straight out of the gate.

UWRF: What inspired The Impressionist?
Hari: Partly family; wanting to understand where I came from & the colonial history that brought my parents together and made me.

UWRF: How long did it take you to write The Impressionist?
Hari: 2 years, maybe 3.

UWRF: Describe your writing work process.
Hari: On fiction, if I am writing not researching – 1,000 words a day.

UWRF: How do you work with your editor?
Hari: I only show completed drafts. I get comments from editor & agent & then do another draft. You always need another pair of eyes.

UWRF: How did you get the British Council to support you to come to this Festival?
Hari: In a way it’s a mystery to me! What usually happens is your publisher or the festival organizer contacts them.

UWRF: What are you working on now?
Hari: Another novel, set out in the Mohave Desert.

UWRF: Does it have the irony of the first 2 books or is it more serious like your most recent book?
Hari: I hope it has the best qualities of all 3! Probably not as broadly comic as the first 2.

UWRF: What’s your advice to other writers?
Hari: Learn how to kill your children. If you take 10 days to write a paragraph & it’s not working you have to cross it out.

UWRF: What’s your reaction to new media formats like blogs and twitter and their impact on literature?
Hari: I am very excited by them actually. We have a new literary culture happening. New forms mean new kinds of writing.

You can learn more about Hari by visiting his website: http://www.harikunzru.com

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