Novelist returns to non-fiction
His hair graying and receding, his gaunt and weathered face creased with laughter wrinkles, Narayan Wagle looks out over the city from his 8th floor newsroom and pours out his exasperation of trying to juggle journalism with fiction.
After two novels in 14 years, the editor of Kantipur has returned to non-fiction with his new book, Koreana Coffee Guff that employs the chatty style he developed in his newspaper columns, but written from his experiences in Korea. After trying to use fiction to get closer to the truth, and hit by writer’s block on his third novel, the journalist seems to have come a full circle.
“The characters in my new novel were not behaving the way I wanted them to,” Wagle says, breaking into easy mirth. “If they are saying things I do not want them to say, then I could not take the plot in the direction I wanted to.”
So, Wagle put his characters into hibernation and turned to non-fiction. The journalist in writer was inspired by his sixth trip to Korea to make that country the backdrop for his narrative. Even though there are over 70,000 Nepali workers in Korea, he did not interact with too many of them, and they do not figure in his book.
Wagle used to have a popular column called Coffee Guff during his first stint at Kantipur in the 1990s, and he has reverted to its meandering conversations interspersed with monologues and philosophical observations in Koreana. Even though it is an account of his travels in Korea, Wagle says it is not a travelogue but ‘creative non-fiction’.
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“Every day I deal with the ins and outs of news, which has a limited writing style, but there is a creative writer in me that seeks release, and that is why I combine them in creative non-fiction,” Wagle explains.
Wagle does find ways to be creative in journalism as well, but says that is only the surface. Actually, he is always curious about what is hidden between the lines. That takes him to explore different facets of life through other writings. But since journalism is a hectic job in itself that sometimes takes more than the normal 8-hour workday, he is left with little time to write. But there is always time to read.
“To be a good writer, you must read as much as possible, which is what I try to do when I have time left over after deadline,” says Wagle showing the translated books that he carries around in his bag. “It is important to read world literature, I am intrigued by how people express their thoughts in creative ways in different languages.”
In his novelist avatar, Narayan Wagle shot to fame in 2005 after winning the Madan Puraskar for his first novel Palpasa Café, which is set during the war. His second novel Mayur Times was not as well receivied, stranding him in a mid-career crisis for almost a decade.
Palpasa Café has been translated into four languages, but most Nepali literature is not known outside Nepal because of the lack of translations. Wagle, however, thinks Nepali literature must first try to be world class to be taken seriously by the world.
“Rather than thinking of where we are on the world stage, I think it is important to develop our own voice first. Once we focus on developing a strong reading and writing culture, and on creating literature that represents the diversity of Nepal, only then can we think of taking it outside,” he says.
Wagle can often be seen commuting to work on foot, taking gangly steps along the dusty sidewalks of Patan. It almost seems as if he is searching for the lost characters of his next novel so he can get them to behave themselves again.
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