From finance to fiction in India and Pakistan

NEW DELHI Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:06am EST

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NEW DELHI Dec 17 (Reuters Life!) - Finance and fiction seem like an unlikely mix, but a number of Indian and Pakistani novelists are finding their stints as finance professionals may have helped ward off writer's block.

While there is no direct link between mastering the markets and writing novels, a career in finance does seem to have had its merits for former Wall Street banker Anish Trivedi.

"I think once you've had to convince people to part with their money by giving them a cogent, compelling argument in as few words as possible, you learn to get your point across pretty rapidly on a page," says Trivedi.

Trivedi, who lives in Mumbai, gave up a seven-figure salary to pursue his writing dream. In "Call me Dan" he took a light-hearted look at arranged marriages and one-night stands in 21st-century India.

Some novelists who move from other careers to writing success mine their experiences for fiction. John Grisham has done this with law and Robin Cook, an ex-doctor, with medicine.

Yet the financiers-turned-novelists from the Indian subcontinent chose to set their characters in worlds far removed from dollar wars and hedge funds.

Private equity professional Sarita Mandanna wrote about star-crossed lovers in the period novel "Tiger Hills" while Pakistan's H.M. Naqvi, a former World Bank employee, explored a post-9/11 New York in "Home Boy".

Amish Tripathi, who works in the Indian insurance industry, found his calling with "The Immortals of Meluha", historical fiction set in 1900 BC.

Financial journalist Maha Khan Phillips made her debut with "Beautiful from This Angle", a satire set against the backdrop of honour killings in Pakistan, and thinks many novelist wannabes may be lurking in media offices.

"Financial journalism is cluttered with frustrated fiction writers," says Phillips.

"In fact, every boss I have ever had, every editor I have ever worked with, has had a novel tucked away."

Publishers aren't wary of novelists with a finance background. And there may be some positives for writers with a financial bent.

"I enjoy having conversations with them (publishers) about the workings of the business - the operating mechanics, the numbers and the accounting," says Mandanna.

But even after getting published, it's often too soon for writers to trade in finance for literary aspirations. Not everyone can be Chetan Bhagat.

Bhagat, arguably India's most read novelist, quit his investment banking career in 2009 to devote his entire time to writing. His first three bestsellers were written juggling his day job and the novelist's urge.

For Tripathi, the corporate life still "pays the bills" and he is happy to continue with both vocations.

But Naqvi, who lives in Karachi, has left finance behind.

"It doesn't matter if one has worked on an oil rig, as a dentist, a hairdresser or a banker," says Naqvi. "Writing fiction, a novel in particular, is difficult business."

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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