Ahmed Faiyaz was born in Bangalore, lives in Dubai and loves Himachal Pradesh. He runs Grey Oak Publishers, has written two best-sellers and various short stories. A qualified chartered accountant (as if being an author-cum-publisher wasn’t enough), he talks to dfuse.in about his upcoming projects, favorite books and all that jazz…

Lipi Mehta: Before we talk about you or your books, tell us a little bit about how the idea of starting Grey Oak came about.

Ahmed Faiyaz: The idea of Grey Oak grew out of my first publishing experience. Love, life & all that jazz… was published by a small Delhi based firm that had very little market reach and limited capabilities in sales and distribution as well as editing and creative design. After the first run I took back the rights and brought the book out myself with support from trade partners. This helped build and foster relationships. I got to know printers, distributors, leading bookstores and online retailers. A few like-minded people and I got talking, and after some hesitance, we decided to take the plunge and set up a publishing house that supports and nurtures credible talent, preferably within India.

LM:  Is it true that Grey Oak focuses on books written only by young authors who write on modern-day issues?

AF: This, I would say isn’t true. Among what we publish, we do have books and stories by young authors who write on modern-day issues but we also have a lot of other writers – experienced novelists and journalists such as Bishwanath Ghosh, Malathi Jaikumar, Oswald Periera and Jhangir Kerawala. You’ll see more from these writers in 2011. Oswald’s crime drama on the media – Politicians Nexus and Jhangir’s racy thriller, JFK, are among our next releases. We are also supporting newer voices that were previously unrepresented. The first among these is Smile Please, Dr Ranjani Iyer’s journey of a young dentist, drawn from her own life and experiences. We see dozens of books on the IIT experience on bookshelves. What about dentists? Accountants? They also have interesting stories to tell…

LM: Grey Oak has done exceedingly well with its venture of Urban Shots. Next in line is Down the Road which seems like a very interesting read. What is your take on books like these that bring out various contemporary issues in light using simple, short stories?

AF: Urban Shots came about when Paritosh (editor of Urban Shots) and I got talking. We had both written short stories and we spoke about the lack of a medium to publish an interesting collection of stories. We pooled a few in from people we happened to know and Urban Shots took shape. The idea here was also to bring new talent to the world of publishing, and 7 of the 13 writers made their publishing debut with Urban Shots. With Down the Road, again we have the same intention. We want to bring fresh, contemporary stories, but we also want to support young voices. So you have 5 young writers making their debut with this one, and stories by many of those featured in Urban Shots. We believe these stories cut across genres and will appeal to the young and old alike. In India, off late, there’s been a perception that short stories don’t sell and publishers don’t encourage these titles, even by popular writers. We want to change that perception and believe that there is room for both. If people are reading Roald Dahl and Chekov’s stories and when Ford County by John Grisham is a bestseller, who says that people don’t read short stories?

LM: How has the transition from being a writer-publisher from being a writer been for you?

AF: At Grey Oak, I’m more involved in the marketing and creative side of the business. The publishing side is managed by Jaya Nair, our Publishing Director. Her team evaluates manuscripts, edit books and manages author relationships. For me, the roles are very different, being a writer is a lonely process and it takes isolation and self – introspection. While marketing keeps you grounded and connected to readers. It’s an interesting combination…

LM:  What is your take on the fact that people’s interest in ‘literary fiction’ is dying away as more and more readers are taking a strong liking to books that are more ‘informally written’?

AF: I don’t believe this is true. People who read literary fiction haven’t stopped reading this genre. In fact it has grown with the size of the market and growing affluence. See, the market for literary fiction has always been limited to serious readers. In the past, publishers allocated disproportionate resources to literary fiction, and often the focus here was the readers outside India looking to understand our life and times. Today, post – liberalization and the mushrooming of chain bookstores across the country, reading habits and tastes have developed among those who never read. They do today, as they are aspirational and want to see themselves as modern and no different from the West. Writers and a few publishers have done their bit by bringing stories that are relatable and that young readers can identify with. Having said that, there’s considerable garbage being brought out in the name of popular fiction. This is priced at Rs 95, printed on cheap paper, and is often unedited and is filled with grammatical errors. Readers would do well by staying away from such books…

LM: Having said that, which is your favourite book and why?

AF: The one book that stands above everything else is – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I have read it over ten times and it has moved me and inspired me like nothing else has. It was in fact a novel we studied in school in class XI. I remember sitting in class captivated by the story as it was read out and discussed chapter by chapter. Norweigian Wood by Haruki Murakami and Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones come close. I’m also inspired by Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and the works of Mitch Albom.

LM: Your books, Love, life and all that jazz… and Another Chance both are simple, light reads and have appealed to almost every reader who has read them. What is next in store for your readers?

AF: Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad Love, life and all that jazz… is successful. Its success was surprising. I thought we’d sell a few hundred books, and never imagined that this would become a popular bestseller. Post its success, I believed I could do a lot better as a writer, and Another Chance happened in quick succession. Another Chance‘s success has made a place for me in the minds of the reader. I’m delighted by the response and it couldn’t be better. My next is a satire called Bestseller in Jan 2012. After the emotional drama in Another Chance it’s time to make people laugh. I’m yet to start writing this one and have been busy with Down the Road. I also have a novella called Lost Souls in the works, but this will wait till after the release of Bestseller. You’ll also see a few stories in Urban Shots – Reloaded, the next edition of Urban Shots that comes out in Nov ’11. Love, life and all that jazz… is also going through the next phase of development and you’ll see a new and improved edition on bookshelves soon.

LM: The books that you’ve written or published seem to portray a special affection for college life. What do you have to say about that?

AF: This is a nice observation. For many of us, we meet our best friends and life partners in school / college. Although Love, life and all that jazz… begins in college, the story actually is about the 7 years after college in the lives of the four protagonists. The four of them share a special bond that goes back to their friendship in college. In Another Chance, Ruheen has a connection with Aditya from college where she was his junior. Both the books had a flashback from college life, while many of the stories in Down the Road, are essentially ones set on campus. ‘Setting’, is about a chance meeting with your soul mate on campus, ‘Well Placed’, is a hilarious take on the politics behind campus placements in a business school, ‘Down the Road’, is about a young boy’s first crush and a chance meeting the woman many years later. There’s also ‘Reason’, ‘Time’ and ‘Remember Me?’ that should make you smile and look back at the wonder years.

LM: Finally, what advice would you give young authors who feel that their writing isn’t read as much they would want?

AF: I feel many people are capable of becoming writers; everyone has a story to tell. But, in my opinion writing is not for everyone. It takes a lot of dedication, patience and sacrifice. It absorbs you in ways that an office job cannot. I also believe that reading is important, one can learn a lot from the works of other writers in terms of how characters are developed, the flow of the narrative, dialogues etc. But I do believe that everyone develops a style and voice of their own while writing. To sum up, I would request them to write from the reader’s perspective. And read voraciously.