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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

No.7 of #52Stories: A Helping Hand

28 February 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Books, Social issues, Writing | No Comments

52 Stories 2017Back in 2015, I was asked by Vidya Mani if I’d like to do a book on the theme of fitting in for the StoryWeaver open-source repository of stories. She was commissioning a set of books on the broad subject of emotional intelligence. Of course, the answer was yes.

The result was A Helping Hand, a story about a reluctant ‘mentor’ who slowly thaws towards the new girl in his class.

There’s a new girl in class and our teacher has asked me to be her friend and show her around. But I’m not sure I want to – she’s… not like the rest of us!

Vidya is an exacting editor, and refused to give up as the story went through a few “meh” drafts. The final result is what you see on StoryWeaver, illustrated wonderfully by Vartika Sharma. I loved how Vartika gave her own interpretation to the epistolary format of the story. It was interesting also that I imagined the protagonist as a boy (though chose not to give him a name) and she saw her as a girl. Such surprises are what make up a truly collaborative work. Vartika’s style and the silhouette-y nature of the figures are what keep the story from being just a collection of boring, childish notes.

You can read the whole story here right now:

A Helping Hand has since been translated many times—into Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Odia, Tamil, Telugu, Konkani and even Indonesian. Since it’s a StoryWeaver publication, it is available under a Creative Commons licence, open to being downloaded, read, read aloud, printed, translated, re-illustrated and more. So feel free to read it, share it, download it, and pass it around.

~PD

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Cakes and candles: The 2017 version

24 January 2017
Posted in: Gaming, Scratchpad, Web design, Writeside, Writing | No Comments

Birthday

Here we go again, time to get excited about turning yet another year older. I’ll be honest: my favourite part about birthdays is cake (chocolate) and presents (many), not necessarily in that order. But because I don’t want to appear shallow, it helps to also make it about reflecting on the year gone by and think about what to expect in the next 365 days.

Here’s what I’d hoped to fill 2016 with:

  1. Implement the new design for Writeside.net. (It got a bit complicated. Long story.)
  2. Finish writing a book. (DONE, DONE and DONE! Yep, got two coming out this year, one an MG novel and the other a collaborative effort with another author. The US edition of Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is also out this year.)
  3. Stay healthier than I managed in 2015. (Oops, that one might have come undone a bit.)
  4. Travel somewhere fun. (Done. Spent two weeks in the UK)
  5. Work on the workshops.(Done! Devika Rangachari and I started Royal Blue. We did three independent workshops, and have just wrapped up a 15-session creative writing programme in Amity International School, Saket, New Delhi.)
  6. Play more games. (Done! Would have been nice to get a bit more time for gaming, but shouldn’t complain.)

So, all in all, not as bad as it could have been.

But it’s that day again, so time for a brand new list, with new resolutions and aims. Here goes:

  1. Write (and/or finish) a fantasy novel: At the moment I don’t care if it’s one of my unfinished projects or series, or a new standalone novel. I just want to get back into fantasy.
  2. Start running again: Okay, I know realistically there isn’t a chance in hell of this happening if I continue to live in Delhi and if my knees don’t magically regenerate, so let’s downgrade this to “get fit enough so I can theoretically start running again”.
  3. Redo Writeside.net: Not just a new design, but maybe rethink what I’m doing with the site.
  4. Blog regularly: Plan in place.
  5. Keep playing games: My huge gaming backlog is getting huger as I keep buying games but not playing quite so much. But I’m going to do my best.
  6. Try self-publishing: Stay tuned for more on this.
  7. Travel somewhere interesting: As usual.

That’s all folks. Let’s see where we are 365 days from now.

~PD

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No.2 of #52Stories: A tale of many stories

19 January 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Workshops | 1 Comment

52 Stories 2017Between September 2016 and January 2017, Devika Rangachari and I conducted a series of 15 sessions on creative writing at Amity International School, Saket, New Delhi, under our Royal Blue banner. The participants were 50-odd students of class VIII, approximately 13 years old, selected by the school to be part of the programme. The aim was to guide them in the basic craft of writing fiction and select the best stories written by the children to be published in an anthology (by the publishing wing of Amity).

While we’ve been conducting one-off creative writing sessions, this was the first long-term programme we’ve worked on (and we certainly hope it won’t be the last). Sharing the “secrets” of cobbling together a good story is always a fun experience, and having an enthusiastic audience always helps. Out of the original 50, about 25 or 30 eventually went on to finish the workshop (though, it must be said, some were erratic as other school activities coincided with our sessions), and 21 stories were selected for the anthology. According to the students’ feedback, they enjoyed the workshop and most of them did say it helped them write better. One or two also professed to developing an interest in reading fiction.

As for us, we learnt quite a bit too, and noticed some interesting things:

  1. Teenagers are quite amenable to being pushed into writing provided you make it interesting for them. However, they seem to respond more to a carrot-and-stick method than an open-ended, write-if-you-want to directive. Our rigid school system is to blame for this, as it seems to train them to deliver only if there’s a punishment or reward at the end of the assignment.
  2. Of the 50 students who were crammed into this session, perhaps 10 or 20 were really interested in writing. In an ideal system, this should have been a voluntary workshop. Also, even though we were the ones to put a cap of 50, the sessions worked much better when there were fewer kids as they were more interactive (and the students too said the same in their feedback).
  3. There was a bizarre preoccupation with death! A significant number of the stories submitted and read out over the course of the workshop had to do with death, dying, killing, suicide. Is it because, at 13, dying doesn’t seem as real because, well, you’re only 13? Many of the stories were also about being alone, being left alone, not having any family or losing/finding one’s family. That was more understandable.
  4. Most of the stories, with the exception of one or two, featured Western (American) settings and characters. It was interesting, because this is something that I did too when writing as a teen (only, my settings and protagonists were British as that was the fiction I’d grown up reading). This underlines the importance of representation of one’s own culture, environment or whatever you want to call it. These kids have grown up reading, and are reading, books based in the West, and seem to be unable to imagine stories based in their realities. Somewhere in their heads (as it was in mine when I was 13), to be in a story, you have to belong to that world, an imaginary, aspirational one they have imagined from the stories they have been reading. It is by no means a bad thing to set your story in a different culture or have characters who are not like you, but when that setting becomes the same, monolithic one, and the characters sound eerily unreal, it deserves some attention. (Discussing this will have to be a whole new post, though.)
  5. Even though Indian students are trained to respond like trained dogs—they’ll do something if not doing it means there will be a punishment—it doesn’t mean they’re above a bit of cheating to get there. Quite a few of the submitted stories were printed straight from the Web. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that it is easier for us to check for plaigairism than it is for them to find, download and print stories. In their defence, after a long lecture on how copyright violation is a crime for which one can go to jail, most of them did withdraw their stories.
  6. A surprising number of stories featured older protagonists, that is, these 13-year-olds were writing as adults, with what they thought were adult voices.
  7. And finally, the language skills of these class VIII students were appalling. With the exception of about three or four, not one could write a grammatically correct sentence. This was surprising as quite a few of them read. What was equally surprising was that the school didn’t seem particularly concerned about this in general.

It would be really interesting to examine if these observations were peculiar to this bunch of students or if they are a general statement on the middle-class, English-educated 13-year-olds in Delhi. I suppose we may find out eventually.

~PD

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