A Writer’s World#15 Questions Readers Ask

In my interactions with my audience, which is primarily made up of children, I get asked any number of questions. These are usually about how I write, where I live and who draws the pictures for my stories. But occasionally, there are questions that are so unexpected that they have me in splits! Presenting a series of Questions Readers Ask.

Which character do you love or hate from your own books?

When a child asked me this, I was gobsmacked because this was a question that no adult has ever asked me. So I thought honestly about the question before I replied. And it set me thinking – can a writer really like or hate their characters? After all, every character is born out of a writer’s imagination. In that sense, every character is a child of the brain.  Is it possible to hate or love any one of them?

Every character that a writer creates goes far deeper than the portrayal on the page. When I create a character, I like to know him. Of course, I would like to know everything, but since that’s not always possible, I settle for learning as much as possible. If the character is finicky about food (which is something many children in books are!) then I want to know what he thinks of the food and why he feels this way. I definitely like to know what he considers good food and what makes him swallow the food he dislikes. Perhaps he eats it because his mother has told him to, perhaps it’s because it’s never occurred to him that he could refuse to eat it. Right away, I know something about my character. I know that he’s a child who follows the straight and the narrow, and rarely questions people. This helps me plot how he behaves in my story. Will he continue this way? Will this easy acceptance of his be his redeeming quality or will it lead to his downfall? If he’s going to change in the course of the book, will his attitude to food change too? It’s a little bit like getting to know a new friend. You see much you like and admire, you spot a few things that make you feel sorry for him and identify a small number of things you dislike. And before you know it, you are friends with your character! From there it’s only a step to deciding if you like or dislike him!

Sometimes characters do things that writers would themselves never dare to. A character in a series I have authored is constantly body shamed. But her reaction is completely unlike my own reaction to being teased and bullied. She takes it in her stride, making jokes and being so cool about everything that eventually her tormentors are won over. I find her behaviour courageous and am faintly envious of the ease with which she deals with criticism. If only, I find myself thinking, I could be like her!

Other characters, through their own journey within the book, have opened my eyes to the world around me. They have directed my gaze towards relationships that have always been taken for granted and suggested ways of dealing with these. For a fictional character who only lives in your mind to do all this is pretty amazing. It’s difficult not to love these characters.

So yes, I do love some characters from my books! After all, they have taught me a lot. And given me a story while they did this!

A Writer’s World#14 How you can support a writer

The minute I say this, I know the first question will be, ‘Do writers need to be supported?’ Oh yes, all writers need support of different kinds. The families of writers provide the immediate kind of support. They are the ones who understand her need for space and time. They learn patience and perfect the art of hand holding, the technique of always saying the right thing to comfort the writer, distraught over a rejection, a story not going the way she wants it to or just the flatness that comes from feeling unappreciated. My son once wrote me an email, offering me a fabulous amount of money to write a story, concluding it with the assurance that the world loved my stories and was waiting for them. This, when he was sitting at the table next to mine!

Is there anything else that friends and distant family, neighbours and acquaintances and readers can do to help a writer? Of course there is! Much like you would support an independent book store or a small business started by a friend, you can support a writer by buying her books. Make sure to talk about her and her work. Since writers lead terribly private lives, most people would never know that they had one living in their midst. You can make sure people do know of this.

You can do this on social media too by congratulating her on having a new book out, or tagging her in appropriate discussions. You can also try and get the local libraries or schools to invite the writer or engage her in literary activities that will bring her into the public eye. In addition, you can make sure that the writer is paid for her time and effort each time she engages in an interaction.

You can also buy her books as a way of supporting her. If this is not something you wish to do, there is something easier that you can do.  You can simply review a writer’s books on Amazon, Goodreads and any other site you can find.  Most people go by reviews and the ratings when buying books and your write up will certainly help a writer.

These are seemingly silly things but they will help the writer feel loved and appreciated. And surely that’s a very small thing to do for someone whose books have brought joy into your lives!

Mother’s Day Writing Competition

Dear writers,

I hope you enjoyed writing stories about moms! I can assure you that we enjoyed reading each one of your stories.

Each of us participates in a contest hoping to win. And when you don’t win a prize, you want to know why! So, here are the reasons why your story might not have made it to the list of winning entries –

  1. We asked for a story about mothers. Not an essay, not a biography but a story.
  2. We specified how long the story had to be – 500 words. If your story exceeded this, then you probably lost a chance to be considered for the prize.
  3. If you have sent a story about mothers that is within the word limit but not won a prize, you are probably wondering why. A well-written story should engage the reader, it should show readers what you are trying to say and it should do it in a fun, entertaining way.

 

There will be other competitions and I hope you will take these as opportunities to write stories. Competitions are a great reason to write, but don’t make them the only reason for writing. Write regularly and remember to edit and rework your story as strictly as any teacher!

Here are some things to remember when writing a story for the next competition.

Do

  1. Read the rules and regulations carefully.
  2. Keep to the word limit specified in the rules.
  3. Submit the story well before the due date.
  4. Send your story in a Microsoft word document.
  5. Leave enough margins and use at least a size 12 font.
  6. Write your name and age on the document.

 

Do not

  1. Send retellings or translations.
  2. Use someone else’s story and pass it off as your own.
  3. Send mails to the organizers seeking clarifications. Instead, read the rules and regulations carefully. Ask your parents for help if you don’t understand.
  4. Send emails asking if the organizers have received your story or when the results will be out. Remember,  they gave you an opportunity to participate. You should at least give them the chance to read your stories.
  5. Use colours to write and/or highlight your story.
  6. Send your story in the body of an email.

 

And here are the results of the story writing competition –

The first prize goes to Disha Kumar for her story ‘Papa knows a lot, but Mamma knows everything!’

The second prize goes to Vidyuth for his story ‘The Mystery of the Super Women’.

Congratulations to everyone who wrote a story and sent it in.

Would you like to learn to write stories? Then check out the Creative Writing Courses listed  here and drop us an email asking for details.

We will be in touch with the winners soon.

Keep reading and keep writing!

A Writer’s World #13 Questions Readers Ask

In my interactions with my audience, which is primarily made up of children, I get asked any number of questions. These are usually about how I write, where I live and who draws the pictures for my stories. But occasionally, there are questions that are so unexpected that they have me in splits! Presenting a series of Questions Readers Ask.

 

 

At one of my interactions, a child asked me, ‘Do you have any ordinary friends?’ I was puzzled. Did the child think I lived in the midst of crazy people? Seeing my confusion the children kindly clarified, ‘Do you have friends who are not writers?’

And suddenly, I saw myself through the eyes of all the children watching me with honest curiosity and waiting to hear my answer. They had been going about their lives peacefully when all of a sudden, there I was, thrust into their midst and introduced as a writer! What was more, I had books with my name on it to prove the fact. What were they to make of it? So they asked me questions. And every question I answered only confused them further. I seemed to do nothing but read lots of books written by other people and then sit down to write some of my own! Surely, they thought, such a person was not normal. She probably lived on food different from the food they ate, knew nothing of boring things like school and homework and spent her leisure with equally mad people.

To answer this very honest question – yes, I do have friends who do not write or spend every waking moment writing and discussing writing when not doing it. These are friends who keep me grounded, who help me see that while writing is an amazing career to have, there are other things that make up life. I go shopping with them, watch and discuss movies, agonise over children and families, swap recipes and information. Since they have nothing to do with the world of writing and publishing, I even share my worries with them. And sometimes, their casually thrown comments and suggestions provide me with a brand new way to move forward.

But it is much more than that. These people knew me long before my tryst with writing began and their  memories are made up of the person who dreamt wide and deep, the person who fell but learnt to stand up again, the person who wanted. And in the midst of all the rejections and silences, in the midst of the wait to hear from editors, it is nice to have such people. They are the oasis of memories which sustain me, which refresh me and which send me back to writing, with my determination renewed.

So, no, I actually don’t have any ordinary friends in my life. Because every single friend I have is so extraordinary.

This is dedicated to all my extraordinary friends who listen and sympathise, cheer me on and believe in me. 

A Writer’s World #12 Why writers must stand by their books

No writer is ever fully pleased with her book. This could be a first time writer or a much-published one. What they all share in common is the little niggling thoughts and doubts about their books. They worry that the book is long, they sigh that chunks of it deserve to be rewritten, they wish they had another opportunity to edit the book.

This is a natural reaction. After all, from the time that the book was accepted for publication to the time when it was finally published, many things have changed. The world and politics, but most importantly, the writer has changed. However, analysing your own book and deciding that it could be improved upon is one thing. But what happens when a reviewer writes a bad review of your book?

The most important thing to remember is that not every book you write is going to be appreciated. Some people will love it and others will hate it. Those who love it might not shout out their love from the rooftops. But you can be certain that those who dislike it will make it a point to review it and discuss it, with particular focus on the weakness they have noticed.

At such times, the writer’s role is clear. She must stand by her book. When the world is finding faults with your writing, what your book needs is for you to stand by it. To be proud of it and proud of yourself. Because you have done an incredibly brave thing – you have dared to put down your thoughts on paper and you have had the courage to send them out into the world, alone and helpless, to find homes. And something that brave deserves all the support you can give it. Besides, if you, its creator back away from supporting it, then who will?

So, stand by your book and show it some author love. Love thy book.

Your book needs it but you need it much more than that!

Conversations In My Mind#5

 

 

Tea Time, Poetry, Coffee, Reading

 

Being a writer means you spend a lot of time with just yourself. Even after you have daydreamt to your heart’s content there’s still plenty of time between ideas. And that’s the time my writer’s brain comes up with these conversations with various people, some real, some imagined!  

 

Conversation with random strangers

 

Random stranger: Excuse me, is this seat taken?

Me: (looking up from my book) No.

Random stranger: Do you mind if I look at your book?

Me: (holding out the book with bad grace) Sure, go ahead.

Random stranger: Hmmm, it’s a good book. But not as good as another author I read recently. Have you heard of (and then mentions the name of my latest book)?

Me: (hardly able to believe my ears) Yes, is it any good?

Random stranger: Absolutely stunning. Such a well-written book! And  the characters…the dialogues… they are astounding.

Me: And…?

Random stranger: I’ve read it already three times. And gifted it to at least ten people.

Me: (in a rush) Actually, it’s my book. I mean, I am the author of that book!

Random stranger: (staring) What? Really? You must be joking?

Me: I am not. I am the author of the book.

Random stranger: Wow! Just…wow! Can we take a picture together? And I have a copy of the book with me, could you sign it please? And will you mind if I share the picture? And…

Me: (smiling) Yes, of course!

 

And here’s what happens when reality steps in.

Random stranger: Oh, you are reading.

Me: Yes, I am.

Random stranger: What do you do?

Me: I write books. For children. I am a writer.

Random stranger: (letting out small scream) Nooooo!

Me: (shocked, surprised and a little scared) Yes, that’s what I do.

Random stranger: Can you imagine the coincidence? I am a writer too!

Me: Huh? Really?

Random stranger: And for children!

Me: What books have you written?

Random stranger: Oh, I haven’t written them yet. But I have lots of amazing ideas. One of these days I am going to sit down and write them all out. Then you’ll see how well I write!

Me: (speechless)  !!!

Random stranger: And what have you written?

Me: Two books are being edited and my first book is in press. It will be out any day.

Random stranger: Isn’t that amazing?  As soon as I write my story, my book will be out too. We are so so similar, you and I!

A Writer’s World #11 Why you must talk about your books

Most writers are shy people. They shrink away from public functions, they frantically back away from any attempt to honour them and they detest being in the spotlight. I feel this way too and would rather skulk in the shadows than feel a hundred eyes on me.

And yet, I have realised that some of these interactions are good for the writer. Any public occasion that allows the writer to talk about her book should be seriously considered. And this is not because it will benefit the readers or inspire countless others to pick up a copy of her book and read it. I think every writer should talk about her books because they benefit the most important person involved- her.

As creators of these books, we live with them from the moment of their birth. We know the exact minute when the idea was born in our heads, we can rattle of all the changes we have incorporated into the narrative, all the challenges we have faced in writing the books. But, when you set out to publish a book you set out on a really long journey. It is exhilarating, it is wonderfully stimulating and if done right, it is eventually rewarding. By the time we are at the end of the journey and the book has been published, several of these important details have grown fuzzy or even been forgotten.

Talking about your book allows you to remember these. And these are details that help you remember how you plotted the story, how you overcame a sag in the middle, the research that went into writing. Talking about the book also helps you recall the larger thought, the message (for want of a better word) in the story.

On the few occasions when I was asked questions about my writing and my books, I ended up looking closely at something that familiarity has caused me to take for granted. I examined the way ideas came to me and it made me pause and appreciate the sheer magic of the process. In discussing the way my characters were born and why they behave the way they do, I felt a sudden rush of affection, understanding and appreciation for them. Essentially, talking about my books and the writing process introduced me to my work and process. And this filled me with a huge appreciation of what I was doing, how I was doing it and also how fortunate I was to be doing it. It made me stop taking my work for granted, so my books surprised and delighted me.

In a world where very few occasions allow you to do that for yourself, I think these should be embraced.

And that’s why I think writers should talk about their books!

Conversations In My Mind#4

 

Map, Tourism, Lost, Direction, Guide

 

Being a writer means you spend a lot of time with just yourself. Even after you have daydreamt to your heart’s content there’s still plenty of time between ideas. And that’s the time my writer’s brain comes up with these conversations with various people, some real, some imagined!  

 

The conversation I have with my family members in my imagination.

 

Me: (answering phone) Hello, Mausi/Kaku/Kaka!

Aunt: Hello! Are you busy?

Me: A little but…

Aunt: Oh, should I call you later?

Me: No, no.

Aunt: I’ll be quick. So, my son is visiting India with his family in December and wants to visit you.

Me: (feeling my heart beginning to sink) But that’s the time when I am really busy and…

Aunt: I know how busy you always are. And I don’t want you disturbed. So, just book them into a hotel and…

Me: What?

Aunt: Just do as I say. And let them go shopping and wandering around the city on their own.

Me: But… they’ll probably want me with them!

Aunt: So? Tell them your boss needs you to work.

Me: But I don’t have a boss.

Aunt: There’s no need to tell them that. And send me five sets of your books.

Me: Five sets?

Aunt: For the children in my building. I’ve been boasting about my writer niece and now I want to give them your books!

Me: But they’ll weigh a ton. How will your son carry them all?

Aunt: So what? It’s the least we can do for our famous writer!

 

 

Of course reality is nothing like this! Here’s what actually happens.

 

Aunt (on phone): Hello, are you busy?

Me: (trying to type with one hand) Yes, a little and…

Aunt: Good, I wanted to talk to you. My son and his family are visiting India and they want to travel around a bit.

Me: (with my heart beginning a slow, but steady downwards travel) Oh, and where do they want to go?

Aunt: Your city. Apparently there’s plenty to see and lots of good shopping. And he wants to meet you.

Me: (astonishment) Me?

Aunt: After all, you are his favourite cousin.

Me: (trying hard to remember when this cousin was last in touch with me) Oh, really?

Aunt: And he wants to introduce you to his wife and children.

Me: (remembering that I wasn’t invited to the wedding of this cousin) Really?

Aunt: He’s coming in December. Take them around the city and all the best shopping places.

Me: (with my heart sinking even further) But I can’t go around with them! I’ll make all the arrangements but I have to work and…

Aunt: Surely you can manage to take some time off to spend with your cousin and his family? After all, they are coming all the way from America.

Me: (trying valiantly) Yes, yes, but they’ll like it better if they go around on their own and I do have work to finish and deadlines to meet.

Aunt: Tell your boss that your family is visiting and you can’t work.

Me: I am a freelance writer, remember? So I don’t have a boss.

Aunt: Then what are you getting so worried for, you silly girl? Just go out have fun with your American cousin!  You never know when you’ll get a chance next.

A Writer’s World #10 When Life Happens…

When I began writing my blog, I was filled with enthusiasm. There were so many things I wanted to write about, my journey as a writer that I wanted to chronicle and other writers that I longed to reach out to. And I did manage to write on several of these topics. Then, there was a longish break in my writing. What happened was nothing unusual. It’s something that happens to all of us, something that comes in the way of fulfilling dreams and doing all the things you had planned to do.

Life. It happened.

How often have you met people who say they have always wanted to write but… I can guess what comes after the ‘but’. Illness, a child’s education, the need to hold on to a job, taking care of family members – the reasons are many but together they can all be clubbed under the overarching umbrella of  – Life. Happening.

Life happens to all of us. It rudely interrupts our beautifully laid plans, it ruthlessly grabs our time and demands our attention and it proceeds to lay waste all our creative energies. What do we do when that happens? I know many writers who wait for the right time. Once the child is off to college, they say, they will focus on their writing. Once an ailing parent is back home, it will be time to write. And yes, this is an admirable and even practical approach to writing and life happening.

But we need to remember that life seldom follows the rules we lay for it. It is wilful and demanding and capable of taking you to places you never imagined going. So, how does a writer deal with life happening?

You just keep thinking and when possible, writing. I understand that every writer needs silence and the space to think and write. But I also feel that writers need life happening around them in order to write.  We cannot all be The Lady of Shalott, isolated on an island while life flows around us, relying on the reflections we see in a mirror to create our magic. Any writing that is inspired by reflections is bound to be pale and underwhelming. Allow yourself, instead, to be inspired by the chaos life unleashes around you.

Early in my writing career most of my time was spent with my son. I chose to embrace all the small things that I had to do for him. The result – stories about school and fears and friends and homework. I wrote a lot of short stories in the time when my son had not yet started school. This was primarily because I wanted to spend time with him. But what could I do of the burning need to write? Short stories provided me the perfect compromise- I was able to use my experiences effectively and do it in a more economical time frame. This not only allowed me to mine the rich resources handed to me by my son every day, it also allowed me to continue writing.

And yes, when he finally started school I did write. I wrote journalism and short stories, I wrote novels and chapter books. I wrote them through illness and the demands of school, I wrote through personal lows and the increasingly difficult conversations about what he wanted to study at college.

That’s how, while life happened around me, I wrote.

Conversations In My Mind#3

 

Barcelona, Religion, The Head Scarf

 

Being a writer means you spend a lot of time with just yourself. Even after you have daydreamt to your heart’s content there’s still plenty of time between ideas. And that’s the time my writer’s brain comes up with these conversations with various people, some real, some imagined!

Conversation with neighbours

Me: (opening door to neighbour) Hello!

Neighbour: I hope I didn’t disturb you.

Me: No, no.

Neighbour: It’s just that someone told me that a writer had recently moved in here and I wanted to meet you.

Me: Yes, of course. I suppose it’s because you’ve never met a writer before?

Neighbour: No, no.

Me: Oh.

Neighbour: It’s because I wanted to ask you for something and…

Me: (with wild thoughts running through my head) Yes?

Neighbour: Do you think…if you aren’t too busy…could you sign your books for me?

Me: (looking around) Which books?

Neighbour: (pulling books out of her bag like a magician) These books!

Me: You… you have all my books.

Neighbour: Yes! And my children have read them all hundreds of times. They are always quoting bits from your books and…

Me: (in a daze, signing books) Yes, yes.

Neighbour: Some of the books are a little tattered because…

Me: Your children have read them so many times?

Neighbour: Well… yes. But it’s actually because they love your books so much they both want to read them. And so, sometimes they quarrel and tug them about and so…

Me: I love your children!

 

 

And here’s when reality colours the conversation with its grim shades!

 

Me: (opening door to neighbour) Hello!

Neighbour: Hi! Are you busy?

Me: Well, I am in the middle of some work and …

Neighbour: Ooh, do you work?

Me:  I am a writer. So, I don’t go to an office but yes, I do work.

Neighbour: Oh. So, what exactly do you do?

Me: I write stories and books for children.

Neighbour: All day?

Me: Of course not! I write when I get ideas.

Neighbour: Wonderful! Then you aren’t really busy. (Comes in and settles herself down)

Me: Er…I do have things to do.

Neighbour: Will your boss be angry?

Me: Oh, I don’t have a boss.

Neighbour: This is terrific. Then we can go out. I know! Let’s meet once a week and go out.

Me: (horrified) No, I can’t go out.

Neighbour: All right. Let’s have a weekly meeting here. I’ll get all my friends. They’ll love your house; it’s so nice and quiet. And your family is out all day. No one to object to any noise!

Me: But… I don’t really know these people. What will I talk to them?

Neighbour: Oh, just tell us about your job. No boss, no deadlines, working only when you feel like it – that exactly the kind of job we all dream of having!