Tuesday, 14 May 2013

We sat down for a chat...with Richard Kurti

Monkey Wars is a compelling story about warring monkey troops in the streets of Kolkata, India. More than this, it is a fable exploring power, moralities and histories. We're delighted to have asked its author, Richard Kurti, a few questions. 
Park Street Cemetry. Inspiration for the setting of Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti. Photo courtesy of Melissa Enderle.
Cemetery that inspired the setting for Monkey Wars. Photo copyright Melissa Enderle
M: Can you tell me more about the notion that we create partial histories and truths?

Richard Kurti: Absolutely. I think we’re constantly creating narratives to justify our actions. It’s how we survive, but it’s also how we delude ourselves, and it seems to be one of the mechanisms by which malign regimes hold sway over entire populations of ordinary, well-meaning people.

M: So much teen fiction is currently written in the first person. Why did you choose to use an omniscient third-person narrator?

RK: This is closely linked to the previous question. In the course of the story, the central character makes the dangerous jump from one narrative to another. In order to dramatise this, I wanted to try and show competing world views from the very first page.

The idea was to get under the skin of each character, argue passionately for their point of view, then set them all against each other in the dramatic arena to see what happened.

I was trying to show that there is some truth in each of these competing points of view; if I’d been writing in the first person, I wouldn’t have had the flexibility to do this.

M: Perhaps coincidence, but the names Hani and Castro ring bells for me...Are any of the characters based on historical figures (in the way that Animal Farm did)?

RK: The novel was inspired by numerous historical situations, from Hitler’s rise to power, to the collapse of the Iron Curtain, to the Arab Spring.

The reason I wrote about monkeys though, was that by going one step back up the evolutionary tree I could write about all these situations by writing directly about none of them. It’s the great opportunity afforded by a fable. So the characters are based on amalgams of real historical figures, rather than particular individuals.

Naming the monkeys was tricky; I was aiming at something that was exotic without trying too hard to be different. At the moment, the book is being translated into Japanese – it’ll be interesting to see how the names change!

M: Monkey Wars has inspired me to go back and read some of the political texts that (some of us!) barely skimmed in Politics 101. Are there any political or philosophical theorists/writers that Richard thinks young teens would find inspiring?’

RK: What a great idea! I think you’ve just identified a real gap in the market: an accessible book about political philosophy that could inspire younger readers. With all the apathy and cynicism there is about politics, this would be a terrific project.

For Monkey Wars, all my research was based on undergraduate texts which young teens might find too dry, things like Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, or for the military strategy, John Boyd’s lecture series.
Richard Kurti, author of Monkey Wars.
Richard Kurti, author of Monkey Wars.
You can read M's review of Monkey Wars here.
Richard Kurti has also worked in screenwriting for film and television. You can find out more about him here.

Updated 9th June 2013: here's a sneak peak at the Monkey Wars book trailer - and you have to make a choice!



  1. This book sounds so interesting and wholly original! Thanks for a fascinating interview and great review.

    1. You're welcome; it was very enjoyable to read, and thought-provoking too.


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