Member of the quartet S&G Escapes, Nalin Singh, talks about ‘Café Morgan’, the groups latest foray in the world of collaborative writing
The writing quartet of Bharti and Sunil Girdhar & Aparna and Nalin Singh currently finds itself in a very unique space in India’s literary scene. As collaborative fiction writers, the Girdhars and Singhs have so far written three novels viz ‘Triptease,’ ‘Mooncircles,’ and ‘Café Morgan’ under their pen name ‘S&G Escapes’. While Bharti is an interior designer and entrepreneur, Sunil is an engineer by profession with more than thirty years of experience, having worked in leadership positions for top MNCs.
Nalin is an entrepreneur, filmmaker, author, life coach, and a business strategy mentor with over 25 years of experience, Aparna on the other hand is an academician and an administrator. Their latest novel ‘Café Morgan’ is a spy thriller and a historical fiction set in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala.
In this interview, Nalin Singh talks about ‘S&G Escapes’ and their latest novel ‘Café Morgan,’ their writing process and the possibilities and challenges of collaborative fiction, and what can be expected from their next novel.
Tell us about your new novel Café Morgan. How did you conceive the idea?
We have been travelling to McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala for several years. We were all together there during the end of 2019, when we visited this popular restaurant Morgan House. There we got talking to a few young locals. The conversation led to an interesting narrative about the two earthquakes that sowed the seed of our story. We headed back home on the eve of the New Year, weaving a plot around the café, the earthquake and the characters. We had been thinking of writing a spy thriller. McLeod Ganj where His Holiness Dalai Lama resides offered a perfect geo-political locale for the setup and Café Morgan became pivotal to all the mysteries, thrills and relationships.
How did S&G Escapes come into being? Tell us about your other three collaborators.
There are four of us, two couples i.e. Bharti and Sunil Girdhar & Aparna and myself. The four of us have been friends for 20 years. We love to travel together. Pre-pandemic, we used to find opportunities to take a break from our work schedule to escape for leisure time together. That could be a weekend getaway or a day’s outing or for just a meal. S&G is taken from our last names–Singhs and Girdhars. We actually called ourselves as S&G Escapes and that became our Whatsapp group’s name. When fiction writing happened, the name just felt apt for that. Now, we have also registered a LLP company in that name, which owns our works.
What are the biggest challenges of writing fiction in collaboration with a bunch of other people?
Story writing is a creative process, where a writer perceives something and pens down in his own way, style and pace. And the output is a piece of art. On the other hand, collaborative writing is a methodology that requires a blend of science and art. All authors have to visualize and agree on one artistic end-product and then apply science to divide and conquer it together. And that is the biggest challenge in developing a piece of fiction collaboratively. Luckily for us, we have cracked that and as a result have produced three works in three years.
How do you look at the current state of collaborative fiction?
Well, collaboration is common and has been there for writing textbooks, management, science books. However, it is sparse and rare across the globe for fiction writing because of the reason mentioned earlier.
Interestingly, Bollywood has managed this quite well; we have seen collaboration in script writing, lyrics and music composition. It is doable. The basic premise is that all have to give up their individual egos and own the product ‘together’ and with that feeling the development happens. In India, to our knowledge, currently we are the only collaborative fiction authors.
Compared to your last two novels where the four of you had the liberty to physically meet and brainstorm ideas, ‘Café Morgan’ was mostly written during the pandemic with you all stationed at different places. How challenging was it?
We did miss each other’s company and our escapes and vacations, but it did not have much impact on ‘Café Morgan’. We had the plot and end product sorted in our mind and as told earlier, we have cracked the method to collaboratively develop the fiction. So lockdown was not an issue; the development of the book was like any other professional work carried out remotely. In a way, the lockdown helped with it – ‘Café Morgan’ was our go-to in the time of distress. We argued, fought, bickered and laughed over the zoom calls. And we continued to write and develop it. And, we have succeeded… it’s out in the hand of our readers, all developed remotely.
Does Cafe Morgan share any thematic similarities with ‘Triptease’ and ‘Mooncircles’?
Yes and no. It is of an entirely different genre. ‘Café Morgan’ is a spy thriller and a historical fiction, whereas the earlier ones were mystery thrillers. Similar to ‘Triptease’ and ‘Mooncircles’, this one is also fast paced and full of unexpected twist, turns and has support of real life incidents (albeit fictionalized) to make it more interesting.
Are you open to film and series adaptations of your novels? Do you have anything specific in mind pertaining to the same?
Yes, we are open to our work being converted to appropriate reel form. In fact, our readers of previous books have said that they are keen to see the stories in cinematic form. And we are hearing the same for ‘Café Morgan’ from our early readers.
‘Café Morgan’ is just apt for that. It has a wide span of 50 years. It has all the elements that a screen adaptation would require—multi-cultural, multinational characters, romance, passion, relationships, tears, accidents, separation, death, revenge, politics, patriotism, thrill, action, etc.
What are your upcoming writing projects?
We have started to define the plot and characters of the next book. But I can’t say much at this time except that it will be again a thriller for sure.
(Cover: S&G Escapes – Bharti and Sunil Girdhar with Nalin and Aparna Singh)