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To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.
– Herman Melville
Tony V Francis has done just that. He has chosen a mighty theme in exploring eighteenth-century Calcutta through the eyes of a schoolboy. The plot visits the renowned but fallen San Souci Theatre, and follows the boy, also named Tony, as he stumbles upon history that has long receded from recollection. As he wades into this 150-year-old mystery, he is accompanied by Vinny, a spirited young Anglo-Indian beauty who is mute. The story unfolds as an array of characters comes out of the boiling pot; mired in bankruptcy, the theatre is shrouded by the death of an actress who adventitiously burns while performing! Making the story even more gripping is the revealing of a secret relationship between an English lady and a Bengali actor. Eager to share the stories and truths that Tony has discovered, he comes of age and falls in love! What ensues is a mirthful account of his and the theatre’s journey, from its rise to its demise.
With a happy sprinkling of anecdotes and autographs, the book traverses through India in the 80s and 90s. The author Tony beautifully illustrates the importance of autographs in our age of selfies.
On Saturday 28th October, the Bangalore Literary festival commenced with the launch of this dramatic and time-transcending book to a thunderous applause. Receiving unequivocal praise from the panel and the crowd, much has already been penned in his favour by those in the media.
One such review sums it up:
“Francis has put together a heady cocktail of enchanting school age romance , mesmerising nostalgia of the 80’s and 90’s , earthy experiences in the City of Joy and has flavoured it with the autographs of personalities who dominated that era .
He has got a creative , sensitive , entertaining and a brutally honest mind .”
— B.Surendar, COO Sun Network (Suryan Fm/Red Fm 93.5)
But who is Tony V Francis?
Perennials asked Tony a few pertinent questions to quench its’ curiosity revolving around the journey of writing, the inspiration and the lessons.
Besides being a first-time novelist, Tony is a media professional on a regular day and a sought after public communicator on the Bangalore circuit. He was a charter member of Star Network’s Radio City when private FM came to India and the force behind Bangalore’s launch of 93.5 Red FM’s Hindi Music format. He is now a Senior Director at WPP, the world’s largest Media Investments group.
Tony began his writing with plays in college, when he discovered theatre, particularly the street-play format in college. The next step was writing Toastmasters speeches, which has now given way to his book of more than a lakh words.
He continues with his day job, moonlighting as a writer and public communicator, currently believing he can do a lot of things at the same time!
What inspired him to conceptualise this story? Growing up in Calcutta, structures at every corner had traces of the Colonial past, but what got Tony intrigued with the subject was a ‘First day Cover.’
When he got hold of it, he did some digging and what he found had him fascinated. It was a story he had to tell but in an interesting way and The Autograph Seeker was conceived.
Tony’s journey as a Writer
He believes that a compelling story will have an audience regardless and that the setting is incidental. Having based The Autograph Seeker in two time lines…India in the 1800s and India in the 80’ies and 90’ies, it is the characters that Tony has invested in, and his readers so far have loved them.
He began to write better once he had a better understanding of structure. He kept questioning himself why he liked a book or a film, and once he got the answer, he was able to build the structure. Tony believes that things were turned around for the better once he met his editor, a successful writer herself, Shinie Antony, who gave him a sneak peek into the ‘Lit World’.
Who’s an author’s favourite author?
For Tony, it is PG Wodehouse and Anuja Chauhan because their stories are very sunny and he is a sunny person himself. In their stories everything becomes alright at the end.
Advice from the horse’s (in this case the writer’s) mouth
Tony says, “Write. It’s like anything that you don’t understand when you start…or a relationship you don’t understand. You see that boy you love and say I just don’t understand this idiot! But, do you give up on him? You don’t. So stay at it and write. Then one day, it will all come together and it will be glorious.”