• How did you decide to become a writer?

 

It wasn’t a conscious decision, nor a childhood ambition. I’ve been addicted to books ever since I learned to read. Words always had a special magic for me. Though I was fond of making up stories as a child, for some reason I never believed I could write fiction professionally.  I did win a lot of prizes in essay competitions and actually wanted to become a journalist. But living in a small town with limited exposure, somewhat naïvely, I followed the advice of relatives who discouraged me. Also, my father passed away while I was completing my studies and I needed a job to support myself. Teaching seemed a safe and easy option. Since I didn’t enjoy it much, I gave up my job soon after my oldest daughter was born. Only when my children were growing up and I became restless to do something other than keeping house, it struck me that this skill could provide a profession.

 

  • How and when did you start writing for children?

I began my career free-lancing for newspapers and magazines, writing mostly humorous pieces and the occasional feature or interview. We subscribed to a children’s magazine called Target that time, and it struck me that I could try my hand at a children’s story too. When I sent my first contribution, I got a very encouraging response from the editor, Rosalind Wilson. So encouraging, that I became very interested in this genre and when I achieved some success, I began to concentrate more on writing for children. However, even now I write poetry only for adults and some fiction too.

 

  • What is the name of your first book and when was it published?

 

Ashok’s New Friends was my first title, published in 1990, a picture book written on the theme “Portraying boys and girls as equals,” which was announced by Children’s Book Trust for their Competition for Writers. This book is about a boy who discovers that girls and boys can do the same things with equal success, and it received the N.C.E.R.T. National Award for Children’s Literature for 1992-93. Illustrated by the famous artist Pulak Biswas, it has been translated into other Indian languages and the Hindi version is still selling well.

 

  • Among your own books, which is your favourite?

 

 That’s a tough one! Books are like your own children so it’s hard to choose a  favourite. Some books were fun to write

 because they came to me easily like my popular mystery title The Hunt for the Miracle Herb, which I completed in one and    half months and didn’t need to revise much. However, Caravan to Tibet was a special book for me because it is

 drawn from my family history.  I also loved writing the animal stories for my widely circulated picture book series about

 Lippo the hippo, Squiggly the earthworm and Bamba bear. But in the end, each book is special in its own way.

 

  • If you had to analyse your work, what would you consider your strengths as a writer and your weaknesses?

 

When I began writing, I was told my ability to set the scene and write dialogue were my main strengths as well as my talent for conveying emotion. I think I manage to create atmosphere effectively too, especially in my ghost stories. As for my weaknesses, I feel I need to be more adventurous and experimental. Sometimes a story idea excites me so much that I want to start writing it immediately instead of stopping to create my plot outline. This works with short stories but can create problems if I’m writing a novel. Also, while I have written fiction in many genres, I sometimes wonder if I should have stuck to one or two at the most.

 

  • From where do you get ideas from your stories?

 

 From real life incidents, chance remarks, newspaper items, unusual wayside scenes or any situation that moves me

 strongly. Most of my fiction is an attempt to find answers to questions that have puzzled me or search for solutions to

 real life problems.

                  

  • Are there any recurring themes in your writing?

 

My first book was on the theme of gender equality and interestingly, I have gone back to it in much of my later work, as in and . I grew up in a family where girls were encouraged to be independent and follow professions, so many of my girl characters are taken from real life. Again, thanks to my mother, I have been a believer in class equality as well. This theme also crops up in my stories.

 

  • Who inspired you to become a writer? Were there any writers in your family?

 

All the writers whose books I read perhaps, and my parents, who always encouraged  me to read. My maternal uncle, Victor Mohan Joshi, who was a freedom fighter, is the only writer I can think of in my family. He founded a nationalistic paper in my hometown and had a powerful pen. He wrote in Hindi mostly.

 

  • What else do you do, apart from writing fiction and poetry?

 

Occasionally, I translate from Hindi into English and have translated Devakinandan Khatri’s classic work Chandrakanta as well as a collection of short stories and a novel by the well-known Hindi writer Chitra Mudgal. I also write critical articles about children’s literature and have received two fellowships to research it. Besides this, I conduct creative writing workshops and enjoy telling stories to children.   

 

  • What keeps you motivated to keep writing?

 

Writing gives meaning and purpose to my existence, structure to my day. It has provided me with an identity and helped me to work off many unhappy and troublesome thoughts through my fiction and poetry. It’s so much a part of me now that I cannot stop writing even when the going is tough and my work is not being appreciated.

 

  • What is your writing process?

 

It depends on the work in question. With short stories, I mostly let the story find its own course. But I do think a lot about the characters—why they are in that particular situation, if they are capable of solving their problems, who’s going to help them, and how they can develop the strength to resolve their inner conflicts. Where mystery stories are concerned, I plot very carefully in advance and pay a lot of attention to keeping the pace brisk when I’m doing the actual writing. For my historical fiction I do a great deal of research, before and right through the writing process—which sometimes holds the work up. As for my ghost stories, I try to recall the most terrifying moments I’ve experienced as well as my memories of lonely, spooky places. There are quite a few from my childhood!

 

  • Which is your favourite place to write and your favourite time?

 

I like to write at my desk, which is near an open window, in my study. But any quiet place works—I could never work in a cafe. Sometimes I feel I can concentrate better in a library. My house at Almora has a very good atmosphere for writing too, if I’m there all alone. The ideal place is one where I can work undisturbed through the day without any distractions. I am not an early morning person and find the afternoon is a good time for me because it gives me a few undisturbed hours to keep the work flowing.

 

  • What advice can you give to a budding writer?

 

  1. Read, read and read! Read as many different kinds of books you can and think of what you like best about each one. Read like a writer—see how pacing, tone and point of view has been handled and whatever else you can learn from the way the book has been written.

  2. Maintain a diary or write a daily blog. This will ensure that you are writing every day. Writers need to keep in touch with their craft, practise like sportspersons and musicians to achieve the best they can.

  3. Keep an ideas notebook close to you. Great ideas arrive at the oddest moments. If you don’t note them down—you’ll lose them.

  4. Don’t follow trends and avoid imitating other more successful writers blindly. Listen to what your heart tells you. Write the kind of book you enjoy reading. Think of fiction writing as a form of honest communication, not something you’re doing to impress others.  Your writing will only strike a chord with your readers if you are true to yourself.

  5. Write for the love of it, not because you want to make millions or become a celebrity.

  6. Be prepared to work hard! Though there are blissful moments of inspiration, there is a lot of labour involved in writing. Those great writers you admire didn’t just toss classic works out of their heads just like that. They thought, planned, researched, wrote and re-wrote many times.

  7. And ah…revision. A young writer once told me that she was “A one-shot writer”. Well, she had some brilliant stories, but also many less than average ones. So, don’t be lazy, or feel ashamed or worthless because you didn’t get everything perfect in the first draft—just revise, revise and revise! It’s always worth it.

 

  • What are you writing at present?

 

I'm working on some short stories right now. There is also a collection of poetry that I want to get into print soon.

How do you become a writer? What is the process of writing a book? Getting published... I know you must be full of questions. Here are some answers.