The Three Rs: Nikesh Shukla

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nikesh Shukla is a writer of fiction and television. His debut novel, Coconut Unlimited was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011. Metro described it as ‘…a riot of cringeworthy moments made real by Shukla’s beautifully observed characters and talent for teen banter.’ In 2011, Nikesh co-wrote a non-fiction essay about the riots with Kieran Yates called Generation Vexed: What the Riots Don’t Tell Us About Our Nation’s Youth. Nikesh also produces a very interesting podcast, The Subaltern, which he describes as ‘the anti Q&A,’ but still found time to answer this very traditional Q&A.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I was halfway through performing an acoustic song about the secret identity of a superhero I had invented and how he had fallen in love with a girl and this was causing him some consternation once, at a gig underneath London Bridge, and I thought. This story is better than my inability to sing it. I have tried to be a rapper, a performance poet, a singer and it always came back to the word. I’ve written stories my entire life but it was this realisation, that I was distracting myself from the thing I was best at and I wasn’t very successful at it, that made me go away and stop rapping, stop singing, and just write. When I first knew? When I was 12 years old and realised I couldn’t draw, so I wrote a series of short story adventures for a superhero called Catman.


How does writing fit into your typical day?

I fit it around my dayjob. I get up early – 6am on weekdays, 7am on weekends and I write for two hours. I write during my work lunch break and because my wife is a teacher, she tends to be in bed earlier than me, so I then write from 10-2. I write best in the morning though. I’m sharper, more in tune with a freedom because of the dream world I’ve just been in and it’s quiet. There’s no email to respond to and no one I interact with is on Twitter, because, sensibly, they are asleep.

Do you type or write by hand?

I type. On whatever I can find. I’ve written parts of my novel on my laptop, on my iPad, on my phone and on Google Drive, in the cloud. Because I have to fit writing in around a dayjob, I need to access my book at all times and work quickly. I don’t believe in all this romantic BS about feeling the words at the end of your pen nib. That’s a bit wanky. For me, it’s about the volume of words, getting them down and then getting them right.

 What have you read recently that you loved?

I have read my friend Evie Wyld’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing, which is a really special book. It’s spooky, tense, sad, really bloody sad and peppered with the type of insight and description and sense of tone and place and person that makes a writer jealous as hell. I’ve also read the brilliant Sam Lipsyte’s new short story collection, The Fun Parts, which is his usual brand of funny loser doing horrible things to other funny losers. It’s hard work because everyone is flawed and nasty to each other and kinda pathetic. But it’s also brilliant. I recommend you read each story one at a time instead of mainlining them all. I’ve also read a draft of my other brilliant friend, James Smythe’s new as-yet untitled sequel to The Explorer, which amps up the tension, the sense of helplessness and the expanse of space, and the messes with your head. It’s brilliant. I think it’ll be called The Echo.

What are your all-time favourites?

My all-time favourite type of Indian bread is the thepla. It’s a chapatti fried with cumin seeds and dried fenugreek and turmeric. It’s delicious.

My favourite current author is Colson Whitehead because he is able to be free of genre, free of stereotype, and free of the shackles of literary fiction and still write about race with humour, imagination and breathless prose.

My favourite city is London. It’s the best city in the world.

My favourite person to hang out with is my agent Jamie because he makes me laugh more than anyone I know.

My favourite cool dude on the planet is Josie Long. She’s the most inspiring person I know. If I could be 10% like Josie Long, I would be a better human being.

My favourite writing partner is either Gavin James Bower or James Smythe. Because we write good things together.

My favourite thing to do with my dad is watch cricket.

My favourite song right now is The Recipe by Swami Baracus, because it’s old school rhymes with an old school conceit, why is rapping like cooking, and it’s consistent in its delivery of conceit

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Writing. Because there’s stuff in my brain that I can’t get by reading. I write because no one else is writing the thing that I want to read to tell me about myself. That’s why I do it. So I have something I know is just for me, the quiet, nerdy, brown underdog who is the sad clown.

What’s your third R, and why?

Raw chilli. I’ve been growing my own chillis and you can’t beat a fresh sting, one that tastes earthy and newly-plucked from the elements over ground and processed chilli powder. Grow your own raw chillis. Your curries will never taste the same again.


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