Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Forbes India; The world's Most Powerful People

This special issue loudly proclaims on the front, along with a raised fist; "Exclusive" "Decoding Sonia" which is a great title given by the editors for an article I wrote for them in a couple of days and which is now available in the magazine on Indian news stands and online.

I was beautifully briefed down the phone from Mumbai by Executive Editor Charles Assisi and the Editor for Special Features and Social Media, Peter Griffin before I started writing - I really relish the human touch with editors as a rule, to listen to what questions they want answered - then I do my best to meet the brief. I enjoyed talking to Charles and Peter who were patient, sensitive and gentle during our brainstorming session.

This edition is packed with power players, not just Sonia, and makes for very interesting reading. Economists like Larry Summers have been asked to list out their own choices separately, giving their reasons. Forbes is a great brand and Forbes India seems to have a good editorial team in place. Editor Indrajit Gupta handled the final copy and gave some excellent suggestions. The intake people were all kind and efficient too. I like the way I was given a chance to review the final text after a rewrite before it went to print. That doesn't always happen and demonstrates a high level of respect for writers.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Hindu chooses "Sonia Gandhi" for its "Print Pick"

For the week of November 27, 2011, The Hindu places Sonia Gandhi in a list of ten books, titled "Print Pick," in its popular Life and Style section.

Is this the first time the work has appeared on this list?

Still in the IANS Books Non-Fiction Top Ten

It's been a great run of quite a few weeks now, nearly the end of November 2011 and the book is still hanging in there!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Washington Independent Review of Books

This esteemed website has some distinguished reviewers writing for it. Since America is the home market for my book, though it is also aimed at international readers, the response is gratifying as the US is "getting" Sonia Gandhi, so to speak. Amy Schapiro is a biographer par excellence
and, along with Kitty Kelly, is a member of the Biographers International Organization. Amy has a really interesting website for her biography about New Jersey Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick with a link to America's set of Presidential Libraries - does any country have more of these than the US?

It's funny - the majority of the Indian critics do little more than scribble a few hundred words about Sonia Gandhi and it is hard to find one who has even written a book -biography or any other genre-let alone one about Sonia Gandhi.

The Americans seem to be much more careful about who they ask to review the book - it has to be someone of high literary standing in their own right - hence the more measured responses which show a much better understanding and grasp of what has been written.

Monday, 21 November 2011

"Inside Story" on Al Jazeera English for the trial of the biggest ever corruption scandal in India

Over to Knightsbridge again recently for a half hour discussion show on the start of the trial of the Telecom scandal. My two panellists were in India, one on Skype (her connection broke early on so she couldn't participate until she reconnected) and the anchor in Doha was Englishman James Bays.

I enjoyed the long-form nature of the show and it was, everyone remarked, unusual to have three women on the panel. I like the Inside Story format and also the way in which Bays doggedly pursued the question of "how much does corruption affect every day life in India?" when it wasn't answered the first time around.

Really nice of the producer to make sure the book title was mentioned when James introduced me and my colleague Tarique Ghaffur is always happy when his company is identified.

Hard News Review

A fairly balanced review from India's Hard News magazine that doesn't hold back from saying what the critic would have liked to see in my book. As I have said in several interviews, there was so much material I gathered that the editors and I had to make stringent decisions about what to leave in and what to leave out. The material that is left in drives the narrative forward and any background history is there to provide some hinterland to the action. Also, given that the book was written for the American market in the first instance, it could not afford to go into the kind of detail that Indian critics may wish for -though as I have also stated, I can't see why certain armchair reviewers don't write their own biographies of Mrs Sonia Gandhi rather than the 1,000 words or so they are paid to scribble after receiving their free copy.

I was also keen to only put in what could be substantiated or had been told to me by a primary source - rumour and inuendo just would not wash in a book which has to stand the test of time and which is already appearing in libraries round the world.

As for the quality of my interviewees, and whether they are "people who matter," the people who mattered to me were those who have been and are up close and personal with my subject -who have interacted or worked with her and who are qualified to make intimate observations. That was the only criteria in my choice of interviewee. Many of my interviewees had not spoken at all on my subject before so I am pleased that they did.

I haven't revealed who spoke to me off the record so no-one will ever know which important names are in that part of my extensive audio archive on Sonia Gandhi -that information remains between those anonymous people and myself.

And the book is still in the top ten list of IANS non-fiction titles this week!

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Irish So Get It

When I went on Pat Kenny's RTE radio show for an extended interview I was really impressed with his level of knowledge and research. (He mentioned the names of an Irish crew waiting to film Indira Gandhi being interviewed by Peter Ustinov the day of her assassination in October 1984). I also liked the way he walked the listener through Sonia Gandhi's life asking me questions along the way, ending with "What is the reaction to Sonia Gandhi in India?"

Following the broadcast Kenny's producer received a lengthy email from the same Irish film director whom Pat had mentioned live on air, with a written account of his own of that fateful day, October 31st. It was fascinating and I intend to write to him.

And now, with all the hullabaloo of the Indian print and TV publicity around our ears, with critics endlessly pontificating and telling it like they think it should have been, seizing on one mistranslation as though it were a hanging offence (though I take full responsibility for it) here comes another Irishman who gets the book, Peter Hegarty, writing in the Irish Catholic. Is there something about the Irish?

Anyhow, despite my misdemeanour of the mistranslation I was very pleased to see "Sonia Gandhi" at number two for two weeks running in the reputed Indian IANS non-fiction best selling books list, just behind Mark Tully the first week and Steve Jobs the second. Not bad role models to be runner up to!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Back to Al Jazeera English to talk about the biggest military aviation deal in the world

It was nice to get a call from Doha to go back into the Al Jazeera English London studio in Knightsbridge to talk about the Indian aviation deal that broke Washington's heart back in April this year, 2011. I couldn't do any studio visits earlier on because of the intensity of the book workload and it is a good broadcast test to see if I can get my act together and be in a studio in under two hours -whatever I am doing and wherever I am!

India has been planning to upgrade its defence capability for some time now, given the volatile nature of the immediate neighbourhood.
The country has been shopping for 126 fighter jets and in April the US, Russia and Sweden fell out of the race to sell. After Obama's visit to India in 2010, his country had been very hopeful of securing the deal.

Left in the running now are the Eurofighter Typhoon Consortium and France's Dassault, the maker of Rafale aircraft. The previous offer of $11bn has been revised up to $20bn making it the largest defence deal by a single country anywhere in the world - which is why it is making headlines. India claims that the earlier figure was based on 2007 calculations, which begs the question, why was it so?

Oh, and hello Claudio! One of my favourite newsroom editors is now on an AJE posting to Rome! I miss you in London!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Asian Voice Celebratory lunch for "Sonia Gandhi" went really well

Read the write up in this issue of the Asian Voice, and check out the photos. Asian Business Publications Ltd, courtesy of Publisher/Editor CB Patel and Associate Editor Rupanjana Dutta, had pulled out all the stops for ABPL's very first literary lunch. By the way, the Indian High Commission's Press Attache, Sanjay Bihani, found the book "very detailed!" He liked it, he told me.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Former CNN consultant and President Indian Journalists Association Ashis Ray confirmed for panel to discuss "Sonia Gandhi"

It is getting close now and most of my guests have confirmed for the Asian Voice lunch and panel discussion Thursday November 3rd 2011. Lord Dholakia, member of the Privy Council, has been in Australia for the Queen's visit there but is back in the UK tomorrow Wednesday one day before the event and Ashis Ray, top journalist and broadcaster who feared that he might be needed to go to Cannes for the G20 summit, can now join the panel. He has personal experience of the Nehru- Gandhi family so will reveal his observations exclusively for us. My associates who are interested and may be involved in other events down the line are joining us in the audience. I look forward to this unique occasion- CB Patel and the Asian Voice host such events rarely, according to Asian Voice Associate Editor Rupanjana Dutta - so I am honoured and humbled.