Amitav Ghosh is that rare modern writer whose literary philosophy is contained almost entirely in his books. When he speaks or writes outside them, it is more often to comment on politics and current affairs, and, occasionally, on history.

With a new book due later this year – Flood of Fire, the concluding volume of the Ibis Trilogy – Ghosh made a rare public appearance, at the Kolkata Literary Meet. Here are five things he had to say about his writing and the world he writes in – and an afterword:

On why he wrote a trilogy
“Well, you know, I wanted to push myself. I had written quite a few novels and it was becoming predictable. I wanted a larger scale, I wanted to spend a longer time with my characters…in my head, they are as real as you or me, every time I have to end a novel and say goodbye to them it’s a wrenching thing.”

On writing
“I really don’t plot a novel. I just start with an idea I find interesting or a character and then I give myself plenty of loose threads that I don’t cut off, so I can pick them up again later as part of the story, if it suits. Sometimes the threads resolve themselves into the narrative and sometimes they just remain loose ends. It’s a mystery really, how the story evolves.”

On his narrative style
“One of the greatest compliments I have ever received is from my friend and wonderful author, the late Sunil Gangopadhyay, who when releasing a novel of mine, said, ‘E to dekchhi bangla boi, shudhu ingrijite lekha! [But this is a Bengali book, only written in English!]’ My narrative is very reminiscent of the Bengali novel of course. I think the Bengali novel talks to readers in a different way than the English one. It talks directly to the reader, it posits to the reader. When you read an English novel, it is a little like receiving a message in a bottle, the novel is not speaking directly to you.”

On promoting his book
“I am an uninteresting person. I sit in my study for days on end, writing, living in my imagination, surfacing only to meet my family. Sometimes I step out and realise  – oh there’s a sky! So that’s my life until the book is finished and out, then for two weeks I go and meet people. … I know there are writers out there who go from literature festival to literature festival talking about their book, but frankly, I find the thought exhausting. I mean, I don’t like it (this last, rather plaintively).”

On researching for his novels
“Well, for Bengalis, research is our jaat byabsha [family business]. What can I say? I like it. I like little factoids, trivia, unrelated nuggets of information, a collection of disparate facts. It’s the same quality that makes us quizzers or raconteurs. And what are you suggesting anyway, that we write books without doing any research?”

On Calcutta’s tremendous ecological vulnerability
“It doesn’t register to us...that Calcutta is incredibly vulnerable to climate change. It is so vulnerable that one of the UN bodies asked to assess the risks refused to do so, saying the risks are so great we can’t even compute them…This city is below sea level…There is a reason people didn’t build cities in deltaic regions in the olden days.”

By Fredericknoronha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons