Storyteller: Fiction Author – R Venkatraman, PGP 1988
A good book is the one you cannot stop reading, the one you read time and again. In the genre of books, Fiction is one category which is the most popular. A good story can make the reader live through the book as if it were true.
R Venkatraman aka RV Raman’s books has the same effect on its readers. His style of writing is fast, thrilling, gripping and action-filled. The narrative of his books keeps the readers guessing until the end. He is fondly compared to the likes of Dan Brown and John Grisham by his fans.
Raman has written several books across different genres like corporate crime thrillers, murder mysteries, short stories and even fantasy (Shinmah Series) written under the nom de plume of Kevan Dinn. He never fails to surprise.
A sneak peek into RV Raman’s journey as an author, his new book series – A Will to Kill and a dose of nostalgia.
Please tell us something briefly about yourself.
I am from the PGP 1986-88 batch of IIMB. After graduating, I had a long innings across four global management consulting firms, which took me to several countries before bringing me back to India in 1999. For a decade and a half after that, I had the pleasure of visiting the IIMB campus at least twice every year for recruitment (summer and final placement).
I had decided pretty early on that I would slow down after reaching 50. Of course, that is so much easier said than done, given how much we underestimate the strength of those golden handcuffs. Happily, after an internal struggle for 3-4 years, I finally managed to break free. I left AT Kearney and turned my mind to other things I wanted to do, including teaching and writing.
I now teach strategic consulting at IIM Trichy and serve as an independent director on several boards. I live in Chennai. Tired of extensive physical travel, I now prefer less punishing mental excursions into fictional worlds of my own creation.
When and how did you get interested in writing books?
I began writing as a hobby when I was approaching my 50th birthday. Having decided to slow down, I was looking for something that would keep me intellectually occupied. Writing fit the bill admirably, even though my writing in the previous decade and a half was largely limited to emails and PowerPoint slides.
I began with writing fantasy for my kids, with no thought of ever publishing it. However, it took a life of its own and ended up becoming a four-book series that I self-published on Amazon under the pseudonym, Kevan Dinn.
I then turned to writing crime fiction, a genre I have hugely enjoyed reading. Christie, Conan Doyle and other giants of detective fiction had been staples earlier in life. Unfortunately, none of their stories were set in India. That made me want to set my stories in India. I now have five such books, which I write as RV Raman. More are on the way.
Can you share the creative process that is involved in writing a novel? Where do these ideas come from?
I am not sure if I have a creative process – it sounds much too formal! I tend to keep my hobby unstructured, as structure makes it feel like work, not a hobby.
Having said that, the approaches required for detective fiction and fantasy are quite different. The former requires every clue, action and motivation to fit neatly with each other. That requires some planning. I first sketch out the motivations and actions of my main characters (victims, killers, others), the plot and the modus operandi of the crime. Once this is done, I have my high-level blueprint. I then start writing and deepen the story as I go along. Unsurprisingly things keep changing and the blueprint is soon outdated!
Fantasy, however, is very different. I can start with a vague idea of the world, its magic system, and of the main characters. Thereafter, it’s a journey of exploration along as my characters move through the fictional world. I start writing and see where the story takes me. It’s great fun, as many unexpected things happen and the world throws up surprises.
When it comes to the actual act of writing, I am pretty undisciplined. Sometimes I write like a man possessed; sometimes I don’t write for weeks or months. The idea is to enjoy writing and not feel pressured to write.
Where do the ideas come from? I know it’s an unhelpful answer, but, ideas are everywhere! Here are some examples. A casual conversation about an editor’s independence from the owners of a newspaper became Conspirator. Another chat about some CXOs making money on the side by insider trading led to Insider. The notion that bots can hugely inflate an e-retailer’s web traffic grew into Saboteur. All of us have read about multiple bank frauds. That’s what Fraudster is about.
You mostly write crime fiction, what is it about this genre that excites the author in you?
I’m not sure. The main reason is probably cerebral, as detective fiction is about puzzles. Writing a murder mystery represents a challenge of creating a new puzzle that is plausible. It’s about clues, actions, motives and events hanging convincingly together and about taking readers on an intriguing ride without letting them guess the answer to the puzzle. At the emotional level, the attraction is probably about dispensing justice at the end of a story. As that doesn’t happen very much in real life, crime fiction probably fills a gap.
This doesn’t mean that writing fantasy or science fiction is any less enjoyable. Building worlds and speculating about future science is fun too. Each has their own attractions.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Honestly, I view it as a fancy term for the hurdles you face in any creative pursuit. There are times when you feel like writing and there are times when you don’t. Sometimes things come together nicely and you write a great piece. Sometimes the proverbial pen just doesn’t move. It’s no different from painting, sketching, singing, composing and the like. But we don’t talk about painter’s block, poet’s block and musician’s block, do we?
How did your corporate experiences help in your journey as an author?
My first four crime fiction books were ‘corporate thrillers’. Each is set in a different sector and deals with different, sector-specific white-collar crimes (in addition to murder). The material for these came from my consulting background. Working across multiple industries in different countries gave me a valuable repository to draw from. So, my experience in the corporate world definitely gave me a leg-up in writing crime fiction.
Can you tell us more about your latest novel series – A Will to Kill?
A Will to Kill is the first book in a new series featuring Harith Athreya as the sleuth. He is an ex-IPS man who retired early because he felt that law and justice are two different things. He is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken person with a vivid imagination.
The Athreya series is string of domestic murder mysteries set in different places in India. This first one is set in the misty Nilgiris. The next is in Bundelkhand, near Orchha. I have tried to model this series on the Golden Age Mysteries that I enjoy immensely. They are clean (no sleaze/profanity) and cerebral.
The Indian edition of A Will to Kill was published in 2019, and the US edition is due this month (Oct/Nov). A UK edition might come next year. The Indian edition is available as a physical book as well as an eBook at most bookstores, Amazon and Flipkart included. Readers in the US would be able to get it November onwards.
Any fond memories from your days at IIMB.
Lots! Firstly, I met my would-be wife at IIMB. That itself would suffice for a truckload of memories. Secondly, I was lucky to be a part of a really terrific batch (1986-88), some of whom I count among my best friends today.
Of course, some memories stand out. For instance, fifty of us went to IIMA for an inter-IIM event, where B, C & L ganged up against IIMA. It was such great fun that we talked about it on our WhatsApp group the other day – 33 years later! I also remember an inter-batch cricket match in our first year, where I took 3 wickets for 24 runs. I remember each of the three wickets as if it were yesterday! Don’t remember the runs I gave away, though! And, of course, MK in the then-wilderness of Bilekahalli was a memorable oasis!
The best thing about our stay at IIMB was the camaraderie and friendship among us. We helped each other whenever we could. There was no competition for grades or placements. The stakes were not as high then – the most coveted jobs offer paid Rs 3,000 per month!
More information about Venkat’s writing is available at www.rvraman.com