Dan Brown, the bestselling author, was recently in India, where he first came as a teenager in a choir. He is writing his seventh book, another thriller featuring his code-breaking symbologist Robert Langdon. Brown's novels have sold more than 220 million copies worldwide, and nine lakh copies in India. In Delhi for the Penguin Annual Lecture, he spoke with Charmy Harikrishnan on the conflict between science and religion, how he writes and why he does not have a code for writing bestsellers. Edited excerpts:
WELCOME BACK TO INDIA.
It has been a long time. I was in India when I was 19 as part of the Amherst College's men's choir. We toured about 13 countries and sang at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi. We also sang India's national anthem but I couldn't, for the life of me, remember it. So I had a taxi driver sing it for me the other night.
ARE YOU WRITING ANOTHER NOVEL?
I am in the process of writing another Robert Langdon book. I am researching, learning.
WHEN DID YOU START WRITING?
EXPLAIN IN A LINE OR TWO THESE ELEMENTS IN YOUR BOOKS:
Codes: I like the concept of secrets hidden in plain sight. A code is like the screen that stands between you and the truth. So much of the world is like that. I think the scripture is a code, possibly the greatest code. The problem with religion is that it reads metaphorical stories as facts.
A 24-hour time frame: I like books that move quickly. If I can't say a story in 24 hours then I think I am being lazy.
Strwing the book with italics: That is interior monologue. It is a way for the reader to get into the head of the characters.
Langdon, and his brainy Bond: I am interested in a hero that is more like an everyday man, one who escapes difficult situations with his mind rather than his gun. He is the person I would have liked to be.
Strong women: I am surrounded by strong women - my wife, my mother and my agent. They are great role models. I find powerful women very attractive.
Fast planes: I am fascinated with technology and every little boy dreams of flying. Those two have come together. And if I need to get something done in 24 hours, I better have fast planes.
DID THE REACTION OF THE VATICAN TO THE DA VINCI CODE SURPRISE YOU?
Yes, absolutely. These books are fiction. I don't proclaim to have the correct answers. In the novel, I asked the question: what if Jesus were not the son of God, what if he were just a great man with a wonderful message? I thought that was a fine question to ask. This idea that your saviour is divine, to my way of thinking, separates god from man. I don't like that separation, but the Church likes it because it has become the tollbooth to heaven. They have established themselves between man and god. There is a longing in most of us to bypass that.
THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF BOOKS RECENTLY, THE LATEST BEING THE LOST GOSPEL, THAT GOES AGAINST WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST.
I truly believe that the Christian gospels have been heavily edited and selected to create a certain mythology, so it is not surprising that a number of other stories about Christ are now coming out.
IN MANY OF YOUR BOOKS YOU TALK ABOUT THE GREAT CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION.
There is a conflict between religion and science, but there shouldn't be. That is because we take the scriptures literally. Religion is at fault for taking scriptures literally, science is at fault for assuming it can answer every single question.
WHEN DO YOU WRITE?
I write all seven days. I wake up at 4 a.m. and write till 10 or 11 in the morning. I write very slowly. For every one page in a book, there are 10 that I threw out. I write books I would want to read. I step away from my writing and say: "Imagine Dan, you are on the beach, and this book by a guy named John Smith is lying there. Will you read it?" Until I say: "This guy John Smith I love this," I am not done.
IS THERE A BESTSELLER CODE THAT YOU HAVE CRACKED?
Not really. My first three books - The Digital Fortress, Deception Point and Angels & Demons - sold only 10,000 copies worldwide until The Da Vinci Code became a success.
WILL YOUR BOOK WIN A MAN BOOKER PRIZE?
Probably not. The Man Booker prize is for a very specific kind of book. And my books are not that kind of books. I am criticised for my writing. But it is hard to write this way, when the story just comes at you instead of your being distracted by florid writing. If my fans buy my books, I don't need a prize.