An Indian journalist gets into political fiction

In conversation with Seema Goswami

political fiction
Seema Goswami – journalist, columnist, and author at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2022. Photo IPP

Correspondent Priyanka Tanwar talks to Seema Goswami – journalist, columnist, and author about her political fiction books Race Course Road and Madam Prime Minister, her column in Hindustan Times Brunch, writing during the Covid-19 pandemic, and much more. 

Indian Printer & Publisher (IPP) – Tell us about your two books 

Seema GoswamiThe first book in the series was called Race Course Road. It’s about the assassination of the prime minister of India and the power struggle that it sparks off within his family. Not to give anything away but his daughter ends up becoming the prime minister of India. She is a 29-year-old girl with a checkered history behind her. And my new book Madam Prime Minister is about her journey as prime minister, how she deals with a coalition government, how she deals with the pressures of family, and how she finds love in her personal life. I do hope you pick up a copy and read it.

IPP – Where did you get the idea for these books?

Seema GoswamiI have been a political journalist for a while and, in fact, I have been covering politics since 1987-88. There were lots of stories from politics that were like sloshing around in my brain. I thought when I would write a book of fiction, I would put some of these in my book because often these stories can’t be related as part of journalism. So, the ideas came from there but the story doesn’t really owe anything to journalistic happenings. It’s purely a book of my own imagination and the story is basically about how I think things are going around in a fictional world.

IPP – The political fiction segment is currently rising in India. Please share your views.

Seema GoswamiI haven’t read that many books on political fiction but I have seen a few web series. A lot of them are great fun but I don’t think they capture the milieu of Delhi and the political scene quite well because mostly they’re made by people from Bombay who don’t have that much of an inside view of how Delhi’s political world works. This is what I wanted to do with Race Course Road, which was to give people an insider’s view of how Race Course Road works, and how the various government departments function. That same theme has been continued in Madam Prime Minister and, hopefully, one day I will see a series made of that too.

IPP – You wear many hats – journalist, author, and columnist. Which one is your favorite? 

Seema GoswamiJournalist, columnist, author – I just see myself as a writer. I like writing, whether it’s books, fiction, non-fiction, or columns. It is something that I don’t think I could live without. I don’t think I could do anything else. It is hard to pick any one genre, let’s just say that it’s writing that I enjoy, it could take any form.

IPP – Tell us about your Spectator column in Hindustan Times’ Brunch.

Seema GoswamiI have been doing it for nearly 20 years now, and it is actually one of the highlights of my life because it allows me to make social observations, it allows me to write what’s on the top of my mind. There are no real restrictions on what I can write about. So, it is actually a very, very creative act for me and I really, really enjoy doing it, and I hope my readers like reading it too. 

IPP – Tell us about the process of finding a publisher for your book.

Seema GoswamiWith Race Course Road, I didn’t actually have to find a publisher because David Davidar of Aleph approached me and suggested that I write a political thriller for him. He said that I had been covering this area in my journalism, and I had a lot of inside knowledge, and he thought that there was a good book there. So, actually, it’s a publisher that came to me, and then I wrote the book. I have done the sequel with Penguin and then again they were the ones who approached me to take this book to them. I have been lucky enough not to have to go looking for publishers and I hope it stays that way.

IPP – Did you face any challenges for the promotion of your books during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Seema GoswamiYes, it was challenging, actually, because we are so used to doing in-person events and meeting people and interacting with readers and stuff like that. It’s very hard – we did a lot of Zoom sessions and interviews. I did a lot of TV interviews but somehow that human connect is not there and it doesn’t feel the same way. You don’t get to go to bookshops and do signings, which is always a high point of any author’s life. I am glad now that Omicron is over, and we are back to doing in-person events. It is great fun talking to readers and getting their feedback. Let’s hope it stays this way.

IPP – In your opinion, how the did Covid-19 pandemic affect the Indian publishing industry? 

Seema GoswamiIt affected it pretty badly. For instance, I postponed the release of Madam Prime Minister because I was hoping that the pandemic would be over and I would be able to do in-person things. But, unfortunately, by the time it was ready, Omicron happened and there were lots and lots of books that did not get the kind of publicity and the kind of reception that they would have got in a normal course because they came out in the middle of the pandemic. I tried my best to try and help out fellow authors by tweeting and writing about their books but it is really not the same if you can’t promote your book in real life.

IPP – Did the pandemic affect your writing?

Seema GoswamiActually, the pandemic was good for my writing because there were no distractions, there was nothing to do, especially during the lockdown. You couldn’t go anywhere, so you were stuck at home and all you could do was write. I actually finished Madam Prime Minister very quickly as a consequence. I should be grateful at least for that.

IPP – How do you use social media to promote your books?

Seema GoswamiI am not that active on Facebook but I am quite active on Twitter and Instagram. The two mediums are very, very different – on Twitter, everybody’s always angry about something or the other, and Instagram, people are just happier and more positive. I do a lot of promotions on Instagram, but not so much on Twitter. I do post a little bit, especially if people tweet about the book, I do retweet and reply but I do a lot of my promotion on Instagram. 

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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