Olivier Lafont is a French actor, author, and screenplay writer. His epic mythological fantasy novel Warrior was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize and published by Penguin Random House. He has recently released a contemporary romance novel Sweet Revenge and a fantasy novelette Purgatory: The Gun of God exclusively on Kindle. Lafont graduated from Colgate University, USA, with degrees in English Literature and Theatre. The first feature film he wrote, Hari Om, opened at the Toronto Film Festival and won seven awards at film festivals worldwide. He lives in Mumbai, where he also works as an actor. Lafont is a well-known face in India due to his work in Bollywood films such as 3 Idiots, and a couple of Hollywood films, as well as over 80 television commercials. We got in touch with him recently to talk about his new book, mythological fiction and future projects.
Tell us a little bit about Warrior and where the germ of the idea came from?
I originally wrote Warrior as a feature film script more than a decade ago, before I moved to Mumbai. My intention in creating the story of Warrior then was to write a film that would be similar in scale and scope as the Hollywood films that were coming out at the time (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Harry Potter, etc.), but that would be authentically Indian. I had always loved reading and writing fantasy, from a young age, as well as Indian mythology, so it was natural to write a story that was modern and set in our time, but that also had its roots deep in Indian mythology and stories.
Was the screenplay version in your head different from what eventually became the book? In other words, what would you say is the difference between writing screenplays versus writing a novel? How is each special and why did you eventually decide to render Warrior in book form?
The original screenplay was essentially the same story and plot, but structurally much leaner and simpler. For me the main difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel is structure. The first structural consideration is physical form: a film has screen time and production constraints, whereas a novel is completely open in reading time and can ‘go’ literally anywhere. The next consideration is mental and emotional form: with a novel you can get into the characters’ thoughts, whereas with film you can’t feasibly communicate those thoughts. The best you can do is suggest the thought process through what you choose to show. Each is its own special experience, and entertains in very different ways. After I moved to Mumbai I became busy with other work, so the screenplay went into the drawer for a while. The story, however, stayed with me, kept coming back to my mind. There was something more I could do with it, and once I realised that, the idea of turning it into a novel was just a natural progression.
Which character did you most enjoy writing and why? Which one, if any, did you struggle with and why?
I enjoyed writing Saam’s character the most. As the hero, a demigod son of Shiva, Saam is the most interesting of all the characters. If I had found another character more interesting, I would have shifted the story to write from their point of view. His struggle was most interesting to me. This was someone with immense destructive power who was making moral choices not to use them, and when he’s forced to use those powers again it brings up his painful past. So his moral struggle, his power and vulnerability, how he figures his past and present, all these aspects of him were interesting to me. I didn’t struggle with any character, really. It was kind of like an ensemble film experience, with all the characters pitching in and doing their best to carry their part of the story forward, so everything came together in a really great way.
Tell me a bit about your writing process – how long did your first draft take you, how many iterations did you make? What did you do if you developed writers block, do you usually write in the mornings or some other time, did you write every day. For DWL and its readers, this part is most interesting since many of us are aspiring writers. Readers too, love to know the behind-the-scenes story so do share as much about your writing process?
Writing the story probably took a total of about three months. My editor at Penguin told me the manuscript didn’t require any major edits, so most of that work was just proofreading. Writer’s block isn’t something I get, fortunately. My schedule is a bit unpredictable, so I don’t have set writing hours. It could be a couple of hours in the morning, a couple of hours in the evening. The important thing, for me, is to have as many sequential writing sessions as possible to sustain the momentum. My work is also project-based, so it could be a couple weeks writing, a couple weeks acting, it varies.
Did you read any books in the process of writing yours that helped you think of plot/style?
No, I don’t really function that way. My writing is a very self-contained thing, I’ve never actually considered looking at another book in an inspirational-analytical way, whether I’m writing or not.
Tell us about other Fantasy/Mythology books you’ve read and liked.
I started with books like Brian Jacques’ Redwall and Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain at a young age. Then I moved on to Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books. Later I got onto George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (also known as Game of Thrones), J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire… too many to list, but that’s a start.
What is your view on the growing interest in mythological fiction in India? Absent a decade ago, it has now bloomed. What do you make of this new readership?
I think it’s the natural evolution of this aspect of India’s culture. India’s mythology is part of a living religion, unlike in the west where the mythologies belong to cultures long gone: ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Norse, etc. So in my eyes it makes sense for mythological fiction to grow in this expanding literary market. We’re also seeing mythological stories developing in other media, like cartoons, comics, now feature films, and probably gaming in a bigger way soon. The interest in mythology has always been there, the only difference is that now it can take form in diverse media which are economically supported by the audience.
Will Warrior have a sequel? Or, do you plan to write more in this genre? Or, what projects are you currently working on?
I’m thinking about a sequel, it would be fun to continue the story, but there’s a lot to figure out for that. In the meantime I am working on a couple other writing projects. I have a children’s book and a young adult novel, both fantasy stories, for which I’m looking for the right publisher. I recently released two works exclusively on Amazon, a contemporary romance novel called ‘Sweet Revenge’ and a fantasy novelette called ‘Purgatory: The Gun of God’. So yes, I am writing more in the genre.