Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Mario Dhingsa, author of High Office Whispers: Pleasure. Power. Pain.
FQ: High Office Whispers is definitely a unique book. How did you come up with the idea for writing it?
DHINGSA: Growing up in England, some of the funniest programmes were political satire. My favourites were Spitting Image,and the impressionist Rory Bremner. Just before I began writing High Office Whispers, I remember following a lot of news at the time, and just began to imagine the events in between the news headlines.
FQ: There are a lot of political figures you could have written stories about. How did you decide on those in your three stories?
DHINGSA: It all started with Berlusconi! His headlines were becoming more sensational and increasingly startling. The corruption allegations were mounting, and the debauchery details were soaring. Pope Benedict was also making headlines (though not quitefor the same reasons), and given how close the two of them live in Rome/Vatican City, it seemed natural to assume that the two of them would have to interact at some point on a personal level.
Living in New Zealand gave me greater exposure to the acerbic scuffles between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, during her leadership of Australia. The headlines of Putin’s machismo seemed like a natural conclusion to the story’s arc.
FQ: On your website, you mention that the book was originally written as a radio play. Was it ever performed?
DHINGSA: I received a really nice letter from Radio New Zealand politely declining it, but they suggested I write something similar on NZ politics. I have always been more excited by the implications of international politics, but I appreciated Radio New Zealand’s consideration.
FQ: All three stories take place in 2011. Why 2011? Was there something, or some events, that drew you to that year?
DHINGSA: 2011 had so many dramatic and controversial politicians/leaders, six of which are described in High Office Whispers.But it was a fascinating year in its own right: The Arab Spring was unfolding, and the stock markets were unravelling. Osama bin Laden was shot in Pakistan; Prince William married Catherine Middleton; and The Artistwon five Oscars. All in all, an eventful year.
FQ: This book is quite a departure from your previous works. Was it more difficult to write? Or perhaps more enjoyable?
DHINGSA: It was more difficult and more enjoyable! Writing comedy is difficult enough, but political satire requires a certain level of credibility and fact-checking for it to function. However the finished project always brought a smile to my face, and seeing someone genuinely laugh from something you’ve written is one of the warmest feelings in the world.
FQ: Do you have any plans to write another series of short stories dealing with political figures or events?
DHINGSA: My next book, Maps of Bliss and Rage,will be published next year. One of the chapters has a similar High Office Whispers exchange between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. The more you research such characters, the more you grow to understand them in many unexpected ways.
A few friends of mine have asked if I would write something on President Trump. But he doesn’t need me to write his satire; he crafts his own material.
FQ: I understand that you are currently working on a children’s book. Would you give our readers a sneak peek?
DHINGSA: It’s Blade Runner for children! My son has read some of it and as long as I keep making him laugh, then I have enough of a reason to continue.
FQ: I have to say that my favorite of the three stories was the last, with Putin and Medvedev. I could easily picture Putin acting/reacting the way you imagined. And the ending, without giving it away, was quite funny. Was it fun to write?
DHINGSA: Everyone seems to love the Putin/Medvedev conversation the most!
I’m glad that readers finish the book on such a high, even if the characters themselves don’t. It was certainly enjoyable to write. If you can make yourself laugh when you write, then you’re already halfway there. But it was also a little melancholic too; you do wish the characters could break the cycles that they are stuck in.
FQ: If you wrote another short story about the current Pope, Pope Francis, who do you think he would be meeting with?
DHINGSA: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She was President of Argentina from 2007 – 2015. There were several corruptions scandals during her presidency, some of which are ongoing. Pope Francis is also Argentine, and had campaigned so effectively against corruption in his home country that Kirchner considered him a political rival. If the two of them did meet to talk about the old days and old wounds, it would be a conversation worth listening to.
FQ: I see that you’re a member of The New Zealand Society of Authors. We have a lot of authors reading our pages – would you tell them a bit about this organization? Has it helped you promote your book? Would you recommend that authors seek out author/writer groups to help promote their works?
DHINGSA: I am a member of the New Zealand Society of Authors, and – when I lived in England – had joined the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. Both organisations were invaluable towards my development as a writer, and I would strongly recommend any aspiring writers – of any age or ability – to join a similar organisation or author/writer group for at least one year. Anyone who wishes to develop, like so many things in life, are never able to develop on their own.