By Swapna Peri
Ashok Ferry is an author, a mathematician and a personal trainer. He writes short stories and novels. He studied mathematics at Oxford and worked in London on construction sites before returning to Colombo. He is an author of four books and after a long gap of five years, his new book, titled, ” The Umarriagiable Man” will be hitting the stands next week.
Dear Ashok, Congratulations on your new book, ‘ The Unmarriageable Man ‘. Though this will be my first book of yours to read, a little research about your author work told me that you had written the new book after a big gap. Can you share with us if there is a reason?
This is my first book in 5 years. Actually it was ready to go out when Covid struck, and I was disappointed about the delay. But you know what? In that intervening year and a half, I made a couple of radical changes to the script. I hope it’s a better book now!
I have read one of the interviews you gave to a website. One reply in a 2019 interview was about book publishing and especially the books in English in Srilanka. This intrigued me very much. Can you throw some light on this?
Sad to say, not much has changed since I made those comments. In India you have a huge reading public, so there is a critical mass of readership. This allows the publishing industry to thrive. Here, our (English) readership is very small. Added to that is the fact that many young people today do not read books. Then we have what I call our ‘island mentality’: the living is so good and so easy on this fabulous island that there is no motivation to improve, let alone excel! Sadly, this allows mediocrity to flourish.
You are a writer, a trainer, an architect, a lecturer and a host. Which of these is your favourite role, and why?
They are all my favourites, they are all my children! But I must stress that I am not an architect, just a common builder. Jack of all trades, master of none is my motto! I have never been formally trained to do any of the things I do. I foolishly imagine I might be good at something, and attempt it out of sheer ignorance – whereas a wise man might say, ‘I can’t possibly do this, it’s too difficult.’ But sometimes it pays to be foolish!
From all the books that you wrote, including the latest one, which is the most difficult one you found writing? Is it because of the plot or the characters?
The most difficult part of writing a book is to reach inside your soul to extract the truth, squeeze it out and hang it on the line to dry – for all the world to see. By this measure, this new book was the most difficult. There’s a lot of personal stuff in there that took me twenty years to re-visit.
While writing, do you use storyboarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct?
I do map it out, but in my mind. I take a long time planning, and only sit down to write when I can no longer keep it all in the head. So when I do, I know where I’m heading, but don’t precisely know how I’ll get there.
In the book’ The Unmarriageable Man ‘, the plot seems to date back to the 1980s and focuses on the then lifestyle. What kind of research went on to develop the story-line?
The research for this was very easy. I spent most of the 80s doing precisely what Sanjay does, in that same area of London. It was an extraordinary time – there was so much money floating around – there were young kids in stripey blazers straight out of college, driving red Porsches with the money they had made in their first year at work. In the meantime I was driving a battered old Ford Escort van, in my dungarees with holes in them. I believe I was the only Asian builder around, a rare species at the time! They could have put me in a zoo and people would have paid good money to come and see.
The book blurb says, The Unmarriageable Man is about grief. Will the book have a sad ending?
No it’s not sad, but definitely bitter-sweet! It is my take on how life needs to be faced and lived.
Sanjay de Silva, the grief he goes through looks very realistic. Is this character inspiration from someone you know?
When my father died twenty years ago, it was a very traumatic time. In fact it was precisely this trauma that made me, all of a sudden, take up writing. But his death was the one subject I was not up to dealing with till now. Then halfway through writing this book my mother passed away. So I was having to re-live the grief all over again. A lot of the stories I write have an awful way of coming true after I’ve written them . . . this was one of those.
Many of your readers are waiting for the new book. It is a few days that it will be launched. How much are you waiting for the feedback?
Every writer values feedback. But the truth is that the publication of a book is only the tail end of what has been an extremely long process, lasting many, many years. And by then you are so weary, you are almost beyond caring what people think. You actually do care, but you are so mentally exhausted that it ceases to affect you. You are punch-drunk, lying on the floor, and the referee is standing over you, counting. You don’t have the will to get up – though you know at some point you have to, to face the crowd.
Does criticism affect you? How do you compose your thoughts when you face negative feedback?
Ha! I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t affect me. Luckily I am not a creature of the internet. Even my mobile (a Nokia from the 90s) is switched off every day between 1 and 3pm! So I am usually the last to know . . . I do have a friend, though, who takes great delight in ringing me at 7 in the morning to say, ‘Have you seen today’s papers? Are you going to sue?’ Sadly (and cunningly) he calls me on the land line, so I’m forced to answer!
As an experienced writer and person, what is your opinion on today’s young and new authors worldwide? Do you read new age authors’ work(s)?. If yes, whose work did you like and why?
It’s wonderful that there are a lot of young people who are taking to writing – and this is one thing we can thank the internet for: it allows a potential writer to put his work out there, to see if there is a resonance. Sadly, because I have two or three careers to juggle, it doesn’t leave me enough time to read the many wonderful new authors there are.
What is that one thing you always wished to do but could not?
During my childhood in East Africa, my parents briefly toyed with the idea of sending me to boarding school in Eldoret, in the Kenyan highlands, where many runners go to train. Years later I discovered by accident that I had something of an aptitude for long-distance running: who knows, there may never have been Ashok Ferrey the writer, but you may have seen Ashok Ferrey the runner!
How is Ashok as a person? What are his likes and dislikes?
Ha, you’d better ask The Wife! Actually, I have this unfair reputation for being a comic – because the writing is humorous, I suppose. In reality, I’m quite a miserable old cuss.
Is there a message through the book ‘The Unmarriageable Man’ you want to give to the world?
You can’t talk your way out of grief. Face it squarely, rise above it, move on. But don’t kid yourself: it’ll always be there, that bitter sediment lying at the bottom of your coffee cup.
If I ask you to suggest which book of yours should I read the first, which one will it be? And why?
I suppose you should read Colpetty People, my first. Because it’s Ferrey Lite, ha ha!
Ashok’s previous books: