Introducing our Inaugural Writing Teacher: C Y Gopinath
Kelsey, Archipelago Communications
16th February 2017
It is our great pleasure to introduce you to our writing teacher, C Y Gopinath – or Gopi as he likes to be called – who will be facilitating our workshops from March 10-23. He is a seasoned journalist, novelist, and storyteller. Gopinath’s tales will transport you from your surroundings into cultures and personalities and events in far places.
An adventurer, a creator, and a writer – Gopinath is known for his dystopian political satire, and also his writing on his travels, on food, and investigative journalism. He is best known for his first person investigations, in which he entered marginalized communities incognito and wrote about their hardships by experiencing them for himself.
As a teacher, he believes that the most durable lessons are the ones we learn through experiences and teach ourselves. His teaching style is experiential – he will challenge your thinking, create unfamiliar frameworks for you to fit into, and make you discover your own resources within. Most of all, this course is not about discussing writing – it will be actual, hands-on, no-holds-barred writing itself. Lots of it.
I had the privilege of asking Gopinath several questions – all his answers showcase his skill in both journalism and creative writing.
What/Who inspired you to become a writer?
G: “I don’t think there was a moment when I said, I know! I’ll become a writer!! Like that Anthony Burgess!! It’s more a love affair with words and stories, following your nose, doing what you love doing, and having faith that one thing will lead to another. It’s all good in the end.”
An adventurer and traveller – we will learn a lot from Gopinath!
What is the main lesson you’ve learnt about the writing industry so far in your career?
G: “Like photography — which once used to be a specialised skill but is now a stress-free skill-free pro-mateur hobby — writing is within anyone’s reach. I know people who hate this, and there are some, like myself, who like the move away from elitism, but also dismayed at the lack of interest in skilled storytelling. (cf. 50 Shades of Grey, any of Chetan Bhagat’s best-sellers).
“My current big lesson is that writing well and still somehow selling it has never been more challenging, that the writer needs more skills than just writing, and that you cannot look down on your readers. You have to talk to and with them, not at them.”
Imagine morphing yourself into a new person – abandoning all comfort for the purpose of creating a story, for the purpose of enlightening others of the happenings of the margins of the world. Gopinath has written seven articles from the first-person perspective, which range from him disguising himself as a blind man in Bombay and being a shoe shine boy on the streets of New Delhi to living among Kenya’s poorest tribe without water and electricity to experience rock-bottom poverty and deprivation for himself.
“Finding stories, in other people, in situations, in travel, through first person initiatives, these are how I get my stories.”
You’ve written many articles through the point of view of the first person. Which was your most challenging experience? Your favourite?
G: “The most challenging was the one I’ve yet to write — when I spent a whole month living in a hut among Luo tribals along Lake Victoria in Kenya in a village without electricity or water — to experience rock-bottom, abject, dire poverty for myself. My favourite was when I dressed up as an Arab to see how much bullshit people would take from you if they thought you were filthy rich.”
Do you find many differences between writing an article or a novel?
G: “Of course. Reporting facts, and making up facts for a fiction novel, are very different. Also, the difference between 1st person and 3rd person narration is huge, a topic I would cover in the course. At a deeper level, and with today’s growing discussion about ‘fake news’, I must confess I find myself wondering if there is any such thing as non-fiction at all. I abandoned the concept of objectivity around the same time it disappeared from physics. And in today’s world of fake news, that distinction between what is real and what is not is coming down more and more to what a person believes is real rather than objective truth. As Trump would tweet, sad!”
Gopinath has three published novels – Travels With The Fish, The Book of Answers, and Hoyt’s War, with two upcoming works still in the writing phase.
Travels with the Fish is a creative narration on his own travel adventures, The Book of Answers, set in India, is about, “the madness of the extreme right ideologies that are dragging the world toward chaos,” (quote taken from Gopinath’s interview on Conversations With Writers). His recent satire, Hoyt’s War, written before Donald Trump stumbled into power, uncannily foreshadows the current chaos in America. The novel offers a frightening foresight into a future with President Barry Codbag implementing a tax on sex, decriminalizing rape, declaring America a monarchy, and banning the use of future and past tense. The style of the novel toys with humorous parodies that highlight the horrors of reality.
In 1972 Gopinath disguised himself as a shoeshine boy in New Delhi
“I would like to help participants examine storylines, create characters, play with words, raise their quality standards…”
“Travels With The Fish” is inspired by your own adventures? What was your writing like before you began travelling? Or did travelling inspire you to write?
G: “Storytelling is the core skill. Finding stories, in other people, in situations, in travel, through first person initiatives, these are how I get my stories. So it’s hard to find a black and white starting point for writing.”
What do you hope to teach the writers at the Content Castle?
G:“I hope to learn a lot from them — their stories. I hope to inspire them to write a lot during those two weeks. Three hours three times a week seems little. I would like to help participants examine storylines, create characters, play with words, raise their quality standards — and spend evenings on the beach under the moon discussing the world, and pain, and hope, and our futures, and how all those inform our thoughts and words.”
The stories of Gopinath are fascinating and we at the Content Castle are eager to learn from our adventurous and gifted writing teacher. Not only will our writing improve, but so will the way we think and understand our surroundings, other cultures, and people. Thinking of days spent honing our writing skills inside the vibrant Castle walls, and evenings spent below the sunset glazed sky, discussing the workings of the world with a talented writer, thinker, and storyteller is a dazzling, magical thought.
Learn more about our March speaker: