NAW Interview With Yudhi Raman

wpid-tantalus-poster.jpg.jpegYudhi Raman is the pen-name of an author who is a managing director of a leading international bank in London. He was educated in India, Singapore and the UK and has also worked in New York and Mumbai. While in Mumbai, he was ranked by Business World as one of the top two dealmakers in India.

His stories draw on his varied experiences and deep love for ‘boy’s adventure tales’. He started writing adventure stories for his twin sons based on his travels in Africa. His first short story, Lionhead, is the genesis for this book. When not writing, his hobbies are sailing, adventure sports and distance running.

NAW- Tell us about your book, The Tantalus Redemption. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?

The Tantalus Redemption is a thriller set against the background of the blood-stained global trade in tantalum, an exotic metal used in all modern digital electronics. Without it, the 21st century as we know it would come to a standstill – no mobile phones or computers. Most of the world’s supply comes from mines in the Congo where warlords control the supply with armies of children who kill each other with Kalashnikovs. The profits from the trade fuel a civil war where over five million people have died – the largest human conflict since the Second World War.  In my day job I am a banker to both the digital sector and the mining sector and was amazed to discover this when I came across an “ethical” tantalum mining project in Africa. In many senses, the story found me – I just created the characters to bring it to life. A lot of it is based on real experiences but with artistic licence.

NAW- What drew you to the thriller genre?
As a child, I would read anything I could lay my hands on from Indian, Russian and Greek mythology to Westerns by Louis L’Amour and then Alistair MacLean, Leon Uris, Clavell, Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum, Lustbader etc. I grew up on a plantation in Malaysia with 20,000 acres of wilderness around me where I would lose myself fishing, hunting, driving Land Rovers – a real boy’s adventure tale! And boarding school – first in Ooty in India before going abroad – was no different. So for me, the adventure thriller is my natural element and when I write I’m creating an adventure that I hope appeals to all ages. I hope my sons will find it gripping today when they read it at the age of thirteen – and then read it again as adults and see a completely different dimension to it dealing with life, morality, philosophy and relationships. But at its heart, it’s a page-turner you can pick up for a three-hour flight and simply not put down until you get down at the other end. And if I can widen the reader’s knowledge, perspective and experience in the process, then that’s a bonus.

NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?
Well, the book is set around the gruesome trade in tantalum which is named after Tantalus from Greek mythology. I found the story of Tantalus fascinating. He stole the ambrosia of the gods and was cursed by Zeus to be trapped forever between a bountiful fruit tree and a pool of water. When he tries to eat, the branches move away and when he tries to drink the water recedes. It’s the source of the English world ‘tantalize’ – to be so close yet so far. The tale captured my imagination and I absolutely had to use it in the name. And the book is not just about revenge but the ultimate redemption that only comes from learning to forgive.
I wrote the first draft in about eight months and then it took another three months to find a publisher and two more months of final editing.

NAW- Tell us about the character of Jurvir Nair. How did you develop the character?
At one level, Jurvir represents the ordinary person from the modern Indian diaspora. He escapes hardship by starting work in an outsourcing company in India and then through hard work moves to London and becomes part of the global corporate world. At another level, I wanted  him to deal with many of the conflicts that emanate as Asia integrates with the West – at a personal level (revenge, morality, inter-faith relationships), at a professional level (corruption in governments, career setbacks) and at a geo-political level (the rapacious impact of the need for minerals on Africa, Asia’s quest for nuclear weapons etc.). I wanted his story to also inspire young adults, both in Asia and globally, that it is possible to live in the modern corporate world, particularly in my industry, banking, which has been overshadowed by scandals, and still keep a moral compass.

NAW- Tell us about the research you carried out for the book. How did you go about it?
A lot of the book is based on my direct professional experience but with a novelist’s licence thrown in. This has been extended by research, particularly on the legal side. I travel a lot between London, India, Africa and other fascinating locales on work which is one of the best parts of my job. I also meet a lot of interesting people in business and government directly involved in many of the things I write about. Through War Child, I was able to learn and hear directly from victims of child warfare, so that has given me an added perspective.

NAW- What can a novice reader expect from The Tantalus Redemption?
I promise you a bloody good read that you will never put down. There is lots of action, adventure and a spine-tingling plot combined with wonderful locales, vivid scenery and striking characters. And in the balance, also an insight into the tragic consequences our love for technology has on some of the most desolate places in the world.

NAW- Given that you have a full time job, how do you find time for writing?
Haha! I’ve always wanted to write, but never could find the time because of work and I’m not the kind of person who can sit down in one place for three hours every day and create a story. I wrote this book on a BlackBerry! Probably the world’s first B-Book! I wrote during my morning commute on the tube or sitting in a plane or in an airport lounge. I take inspiration from everything going on around me. I’ve got to have the full hustle and bustle of human life all around me, plunged deep into the madding crowd, to get my adrenaline pumping – and then the words just come out and I catch them on my BlackBerry. It’s full circle I guess, when you think about what the underlying story of the book is.

NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.
I was blessed to get in touch with Kanishka Gupta, my agent. I sent him a draft and I had been told to expect weeks before agents come back. But he pinged me back within minutes saying he liked it and wanted us to work together. Kanishka and his team at Writer’s Side helped me with many technical aspects of writing such as the phasing of the plotline, which parts of the story and characters to expand and which parts to drop completely. And then I was so lucky to have him send it to Manasi Subramaniam who is now my editor at HarperCollins! I spoke to her over the phone and saw we had the same vision for the book.  I can’t say how thankful and privileged I feel to be in the same stable as Wilbur Smith and Alistair MacLean – my two all-time favourite authors. It’s like finding a home. And I have to also thank my friends at War Child for partnering with me on this project as I’m sure the charitable side of it has had a positive part to play in my publishing journey. A share of my royalties on the book go to War Child UK.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
Besides spending time with my wife, Punam, and our sons, my main interests are sailing, adventure sports and long-distance running, all of which find a way into my writing. Our sons are now getting to an age when they can take part in some of these activities so family holidays with Punam and our boys are what I live for.

NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
In terms of inspiration, my grandfather was a well-known author of histories and biographies in Malayalam, so I always felt that writing would be part of my life. To be able to write full time would be a dream come true. My greatest writing influences are probably Alistair MacLean, Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum, Trevanian  and a whole host of westerns by Louis L’Amour, Max Brand and Frederick Christian that I grew up reading. But there is also a different side of me that loves mystical and melancholy writing like Kahlil Gibran and Tolstoy. I think my writing is predominantly driven by the thriller and western genres but I try to bring in an element of the mystical.

NAW-What are you currently reading?
Recently I have been reading a lot of histories on Genghis Khan, Timur, ancient Rome and the Mughals. At my bedside now are William Dalrymple’s Return of a King, An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris and The Way to Dusty Death – the only Alistair MacLean thriller I missed out on when growing up!

NAW- What will you be working on next?
I have one active project for Penguin which is a non-fiction work on the lure of gold through history and its relevance to India today. I’ve started sketching out my next thriller which will also include an exploration of the magnificent 2000-year-old history of the Jewish community in Kochi, my home in Kerala.


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