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World is at best indifferent to writers - Vikram Seth

JAIPUR, India (Reuters Life!) - The world is, at best, indifferent to most writers, but an author can get by with very little if he is convinced he has a story to tell, according to acclaimed novelist and poet Vikram Seth.

Seth, who famously received a hefty advance of about 200,000 pounds ($277,000) for his epic novel, “A Suitable Boy”, only earned enough money from his earlier verse novel, “The Golden Gate”, to enable him to move from the United States to India.

“Good books get praised, bad books get praised. Good books get ignored, bad books get ignored. The world is, at best, indifferent to writers,” Seth told a panel at the annual Jaipur literary festival, one of India’s biggest, late on Wednesday.

“I was lucky enough that my parents were supportive of my decision to abandon my PhD at Stanford and take up residence in their house to do my writing even though not just the neighbours, even the domestic staff looked on me with a puzzled contempt,” said Seth, who spent 11 years “not getting his PhD”.

Seth received more than 20 rejection letters from publishers for “The Golden Gate” before it was finally published in 1986.

He had self-published his first book, “Mappings”, a collection of poems, many of them translations of Indian poets, and move he does not regret.

“It is imperative to translate as many works of Indian writers as we can, not just for readers outside, but also for other Indian readers who don’t read these languages,” said the author, who also speaks Mandarin and several other languages.

Described by friends as a “gregarious hermit” during the six years he spent writing “A Suitable Boy”, Seth said he was too embarrassed to even tell his mother about the “ludicrous” advance he received for the novel.

But he advises aspiring writers to stay close to their parents.

“I approve of staying with one’s parents if you can pull that off,” he said. “A dressing gown, a hot water bottle and some whisky, if you can procure it, are really all that you need, they are the absolute essentials for a writer.”