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Introducing: 52 stories of 2017

7 January 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Workshops, Writeside, Writing | No Comments

52 Stories 2017It turns out that the only tried and tested method of regular blogging is to give myself a goal. And so, the theme for this year is “52 stories”.

Posts will be about about books, games, TV or anything else that has a story in it, mostly reviews, but maybe a bit about writing, and perhaps teaching writing (fiction) as well. The magic number is 52—in other words, there will (should) be a post every week (or so).

The inspiration for this year’s blogging theme comes from having spent 10 days at the “Children Understand More…” residency organized by the the Goethe-Institut India/Max Mueller Bhavan and Zubaan in Shantiniketan. Seventeen writers and illustrators came together at the idyllic Mitali Homestay in the land of Rabindranath Tagore to brainstorm and work on creating some quality children’s literature. All constraints, perceived or real, were removed, and the participants were free to explore themes and ideas that one customarily baulks from introducting to children. Along with Nadia Budde, Ben Dammers and Devika Rangachari, I was one of the mentors at the residency, tasked with helping the participants tease out workable ideas and shape them into works-in-progess that would eventually—hopefully—end up as published books.

Ben, Nadia, Payal, Devika: The tutors

This mentoring business is hard work…

Most of the participants rose to the challenge and a variety of fantastic books-in-the-making resulted. Some new talents were discovered, such as one writer discovering she was an artist too, and another writer finding a superbly edgy YA voice. Divested of the hindrance of thinking about the feasibility of being “publishable” and marketable, it created an atmosphere in which only the stories mattered. Among the themes that were batted around were religion and fear; identity; family, society and relationships; death; body image; mental illness; puberty; and climate change. Some worked individually, others collaborated, and most brainstormed and sought out critiques on their works-in-progress.*

Needless to say, it is impossible to come back from such an experience unmoved. The possibility of some or all of these ideas turning into books in the not-so-far future was exciting enough, but more than that, spending almost two weeks in the company of a group of talented artists, writers and storytellers was super-inspiring. And not insignificant was the fact that being cut off from the mundanities of one’s daily life, talking and thinking only about creating fiction for children, did inject a good dose of reassurance regarding the work one has been doing (or attempting to).

Which brings me back to the blogging theme of 2017. Yes, stories are important, critically important, in our understanding of our world, whether we’re writing them, reading them, watching them, taking part in them. And reading is not the only way in which we engage with stories.

So, strap on your seatbelt.

~PD

*To know more about the Children Understand More residency, read Bijal Vachharajani’s write-up.

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Introducing the Royal Blue workshops

13 May 2016
Posted in: Workshops | No Comments

Royal Blue Workshops

There are exciting things afoot. Actually, one big exciting thing. A fellow author Devika Rangachari and I are starting writing workshops for big and little people in Delhi, under the banner Royal Blue. Find out more about us here.

The first Royal Blue workshop is taking place on 21 May 2016, a one-day creative writing session for children between the ages of 12 and 15. Aimed at young writers, this workshop will aim to show that writing can be fun and deeply satisfying, while teaching our young participants how to give shape to their ideas and voice to their characters.

Royal Blue intends to continue with its workshops after this first one, so if you have any suggestions or requests, do get in touch with us via my web form or write to royalblueworkshops at Gmail.

Meanwhile, if you know any youngsters in Delhi who want to flex their writing muscles, do ask them to register. But quickly, because seats are limited!

~PD

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Lessons on turing 10

14 March 2016
Posted in: Books, Scratchpad, Writing | 4 Comments

Writer at workTen years seems like an interminable period of time when you say it. Yet, the years between turning 30 and turning 40 seemed like a will o’ the wisp, slipping out of my grasp even before I felt I had a chance to get a good grip on them. Plenty happened of course, good, bad and ugly, but the most important development for me was that I became an author.

I made my first “book” when I was seven—painstakingly handwritten and illustrated, and stapled together, a gift for my grandparents—and somehow since then always knew that what I really wanted was to write books. It took more than twenty years to eventually write one, and finally, two days before I turned 30, I saw my name on the cover of a book (that I hadn’t put there). It still feels like yesterday.

And while I can now cringe at some of the stuff I’ve written—and had published—I’d have to admit, that it still feels good to see the spines lined up on my shelf. So, this seems like a good time to laugh about what I’d thought the life of an author would be like and contrast it with reality.

The writing life

What I thought: The ideas keep coming thick and fast, and life is a great big adventure writing one book after another.

Reality: Any author who tells you that writing isn’t hard work is lying; and anyone who thinks writing for teens and younger audiences is easy doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I do say that with a sense of perspective—of course, it’s not hard work in the sense of breaking stones at midday in 40-degrees heat to get your next meal. There are always more ideas fighting for space in your head than the ones that get written. And giving shape to them is always a painstaking process of putting one word in front of the other. All of this is made more difficult by the fact that, as Somerset Maugham once said, “There are three rules to writing fiction. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” There are some wonderfully prolific authors out there—and I’m duly jealous of them at times—but the wisdom that you can’t measure yourself by someone else’s yardstick does come with time.

Making a living

What I thought: I will make a decent enough living from writing.

Reality: Yes, you can. If you’re J.K. Rowling. Most authors, and I believe this is true around the world, will encourage anyone aspiring to join their ranks to hang on to their day job or have a backup plan that brings in enough cash to cover essentials. It helps to have a rich significant other, though you’re probably too busy writing to find one. Overall, no, writing books for children is not a sustainable career choice; you do it because you like it and because you have other means of supporting yourself. Because, believe me, the starving author may be a romantic metaphor but it’s a horrible reality.

Publishers and editors

I’m too old to think this, but this is prevailing wisdom in certain circles: Traditional publishing is on its way out and self-publishing is the new order.

Reality: Technology has made it very easy to be your own publisher, but underestimate the importance of the traditional editorial process at your own risk. There are many self-published successes, but the vast majority comprises substandard books that have not had the benefit of a professional editor vetting them. You may not always agree with your editor—indeed, you shouldn’t agree all the time or else it doesn’t seem like either of is are doing much thinking—but they can be the voices of reason that knock your crazy idea into shape and make it palatable for its intended (and hopefully paying) audience. If you’re lucky—and I have been for the most part—you will worship your editor at times and other times you will want to strangle them, but that’s okay (as long as you don’t actually do it).

Walking into bookshops

What I thought: Every bookshop I walk into will have a shelf full of my works and that will make it all worthwhile.

Reality: Some of this is not really the fault of my overactive imagination, but has to do with the strange place that Indian children’s fiction occupies in the literary space, namely, that distribution is a nightmare. This makes homegrown books notoriously hard to find in bookshops. If you’re lucky, you might find one of your books lying disconsolately in one dusty corner on a shelf marked “Indian writing”. If you seek out the store manager and ask about stock, well, let’s say it won’t be good news. Online marketplaces have changed things a bit and, to be fair, things are in flux at the moment. Moreover, as young adult writers in English, we’re competing with world-renowned authors from the West, backed by generous (or at least more generous than ours) marketing budgets. That would be a whole new rant discussion, so let’s drop it for now.

Being an “established” author

What I thought: I don’t know!

Reality: Actually, does this even mean? Especially if your particular dream isn’t to be recognized on the streets or be mobbed for autographs? Most children’s authors in India are relatively unknown entities (except in publishing circles, where our favourite pastime is to meet over our choice of food and drink and talk about this). Another back-to-reality smack is to be aware of the fact that as a writer in English, our audience is extremely limited. (Add to this the fact that if you [oh, all right I] have a reluctance to go out and face your audience, you complicate matters even more.) But, as mentioned earlier, things are changing. Over the past few years, the range, quality and number of books has suddenly shot up, and there is much more visibility of books and their makers. Hopefully, in the near future, when I tell someone I write books for children, they won’t ask if that’s because I haven’t quite managed to write for adults.

~PD

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