What Shall I Make?

What Shall I Make? was published in 2006. It was a little story that I had made up to entertain my son while I was busy cooking. This story has gone into multiple reprints and is one of the books by which people know me! It was named an outstanding multicultural book by the United States Board on Books for Young Readers, the USBBY, way back in 20100. This book has been published in the UK, USA, Canada and Pakistan.

For me it remains the one book that best captures the memory of a time when I had a toddler who listened in wide-eyed fascination to the stories I spun for him!

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!

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!

 

Conversations In My Mind#2

 

Books, Bookstore, Book, Reading, Writer

 

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 a random person in a bookstore who just happens to be standing by a shelf with your books on it.

This is how it plays out in my imagination.

Me: Hi! Are you looking for books for children?

Random shopper: Erm, yes. Do you…could you possibly help me?

Me: Oh, yes. I would love to. You see, I happen to be a children’s writer.

Random shopper:  As in…you have actually written books for children?

Me: Yes. Here! These are some of my books.

Random shopper: Wow! You are a writer. A famous writer.

Me: (being as modest as I can be) Oh, I wouldn’t say that. But yes…I am pretty well known. In certain circles, of course.

Random shopper: I’ve never met a live author. And these are the books you have written? I am buying them all.

Me: But don’t you want to look at them and…

Random shopper: Whatever for?

Me: Well, to make sure, that your children will like them and…

Random shopper: Why would I do that when a real author has suggested what I buy? I am going to buy all your books. I own a chain of schools and I am going to stock all your books in the libraries there. And, I’d like to invite you to the school. To, you know, inspire the children. I know you must be very busy but do you think you could?

Me: Yes, of course. Anything for a book lover.

 

And here’s what reality does to the above conversation!

Me: Hi! Are you looking for books?

Random shopper: What else would I be doing in a bookshop?

Me: Oh, I only asked so I could help you pick books for your children and…

Random shopper: I don’t really need any help.

Me: Yes, of course. But you see, I am a children’s writer. And here are my books. All 22 of them. They are pretty popular among children. And some of them have won awards too and…

Random shopper: Hmmm, they look kind of interesting. But do you know the most interesting books for children? They are written by this absolutely amazing writer called S S. You must have read her books.

Me: No, I can’t say I have ever heard of this author.

Random shopper: Oh, you must read her books. She writes so well. Such simple prose, such strong messages.  Here, this is her most famous book. You can start with this.

Me: Um…maybe some other time. Bye.

 

Conversations In My Mind #1

 

Son, Mother, Child, Parent, Young, Kid

 

 

Being a writer means you spend a lot of time with just yourself. Even after you have dreamt 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 my son

This was in the days when my son was much younger and spent a good chunk of his day gaining an education and acquiring mysterious streaks of sticky black stuff on his face, hands, and clothes! I thought he knew what I did for a living and hoped he would talk about it to people at school. This was how I imagined a conversation with him on the important topic of what I did for a living would go!

Me: So, how was your day?

Son: It was okay. We discussed jobs and everyone talked about what their parents did.

Me: (heart thudding in pleasant anticipation): And?

Son: And I told them my mother stayed home so she could write amazing stories for children to read and enjoy.

Me: (melting) Oooh! Really!

Son: Yes, I told them you were a famous writer and everyone in the whole world had read your stories!

 

And in reality? This is what happened.

Me: Did you have a good day?

Son: No! I am grumpy and tired. Can you do something to make me feel better?

Me: I have some snacks for you and…

Son: No! Something else.

Me: Umm…oh, you could watch some TV and…

Son: Something better.

Me: I can’t! I am a little tired and…

Son: Tired? But what did you do all day? Didn’t you just lie on the sofa and watch TV? Huh?

 

A Writer and Her Website

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So, what does one expect from a writer’s website?

Whenever I read a book that I fall in love with, I am filled with respect and awe for the writer. I long to know more about her, I burn with eagerness to find out all her other titles so I can read them at once. Perhaps this is a reaction to the years that I spent in a literary desert, where authors were only names on the books and the only information you got was from a sparse paragraph tucked away somewhere in the book.

In my childhood computers were unheard of. The first time I saw a computer was at a science fair. I must have been in my early teens and I came away feeling amazed at the machine but with no thought of how it was soon going to become an integral part of everyone’s lives. More than ten years had to pass before I discovered the amazing wonderland of computers, the World Wide Web and the huge treasures of information it held. The first thing I did was look for information about all the authors whose books had entertained me during my childhood, turning the long, still summer afternoons into exciting  adventure filled episodes. And the World Wide Web obliged me, turning up biographical details of my favourite authors, presenting me with albums of their pictures, snippets of information about them and why they wrote and what the rest of the world thought of their writing.

Suddenly, I knew more than I had ever known about these authors. From being a faceless person, who I would not have recognised if she had walked past me, the author I loved was now a face that I knew well. In many cases, it was a face I knew as well as my own.

I wish I could say that all this information made a difference to me, that it changed the way I understood and reacted to these books. Yes, there was the first burst of excitement at having unearthed a significant piece of information about why the author had written as she had. But could it compare to the absolute magic of the author’s words? Could this information ever equal her unbelievable ingenuity in plots? Or her gentle understanding of emotions that made me certain that she had to have peeked into my own mind and heart? I found that it did not.

These days when I look for information about an author I like, I do it for different reasons. Yes, I do glance at her picture, I do skim over details of how many dogs and cats and parakeets she owns. I take note of the awards she has won but even those don’t really impress me as much as the list of her published books. And then I go prospecting, seeking tips on writing. There is a certain relieved comfort in learning that the most prolific author has faced rejection. The knowledge is like a distant light, shining in cold dark spaces and it convinces me that I am not alone. When an author is generous enough to share her patented tricks to reading and writing, it is like being given a peek into her private diary. I cherish these words and suggestions; they often become the mantras that rule my life.

But what if the author’s website says nothing at all about writing? What if it touches, very casually, on her writing career, pretending the magical worlds of her stories are things that emerge with silken ease, unraveling every day with no hiccups? What then? Then I go back to her books and read them. I read them with care, I read them often. And before long they reveal all their secrets. I understand then how much the author agonized over her characters, I recognize how the staid regularity of life was what drove her to create a crazy parallel universe. I even begin to fathom some small bits of the mad urge that refuses to let her stop writing and instead pushes her to write and write and write.

And all at once, it is like I am back in the hot summer afternoons of my childhood, with the fan paddling the thick air around, while I am lost in the world within my book. In that far off time, computer was an alien word to me and the World Wide Web was as distant a concept as time travel. And the only maps that helped navigate the world of writing were the words of the author, offering untold wealth to the careful reader.

I know that there are well-written books and there are books that are very obviously badly written. But when they are read well, that is when they reveal their true treasures. And in this age of information overload, I am glad I am equipped to learn where I can.

From the best possible textbook – the words of authors.

The Dangers of Listing

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The world seems to have gone crazy over lists.

Open a newspaper and you will find a list of the Places to Visit Before You Die, Things to Do Before You Turn 30, Ten Bungee Jumping Locations to Visit. Magazines are no better, promising you Five Ways to Check if Your Vegetable Vendor is Cheating You and Thirteen Bargain Kirana Shops. Within the magazine are lists that promise Six and a Half Different Ways to Save Washing Soap, Seven Different Ways to Keep Your Friendships Strong, Nine Sure Ways to Lose Weight.

What makes these people think everyone has the same list? I may want to save washing soap by the simple and very effective trick of never using it at all. Or I may need only one way to keep my friendships going. As for losing weight, I might have given up even pretending to try.

And yet, there is obviously a select bunch of people whose lives are lived not by the rule book, but by the list. It must be these people who lap up the lists of the world. They need lists, they adore lists, they live by lists.

And frankly, I have nothing against this. Lists are comforting, lists help you make sense of a crazy world.

What does surprise me is the way they allow lists to choose what they are going to read. How can you simply look at a list and blindly follow it?

Isn’t reading all about opening your eyes and learning to think, very slowly and gently, how to make choices? Isn’t choosing a book about touching it, letting the pages run slowly through your fingers and smelling the scent special to that particular book?

Read everything on the list of Ten Best Writers Who Have Written About Moving Deaths. But don’t let the list restrict you. Instead, use it as your take off point, from where you launch yourself into the immense world of books and reading and ideas and choices.

And set yourself free of lists.

On Re-reading Books

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As a child books were a luxury. There were only a limited number of books available and very few hopes of getting new ones.

What could a child, constantly hungry for stories, do?

What indeed, except read the same set of books again and again and very often, once again. The funny thing was, I don’t recall ever feeling bored at the thought of reading the same book again. Each time I opened it I felt the same sense of anticipation and excitement.  Almost as if it was a brand new book that I was reading for the very first time.

On those rare occasions when a new book did wander into my life, I read it as fast as I could, turning the pages with a mad tense intensity. Because the aim was to get the book read for the first time. Once that was done, I could take a deep breath and relax. The second reading was slower for there was no reading record to be set, no one to defeat in the reading race. And this time I had the time to pause and notice things, to appreciate the story, the characters, the ingenuity of the author in drawing various strands together to weave a satisfying finish.

I own many books now. And I read them again and again and very often, once again. With every reading I find something new about the book, something that escaped my attention the last time, something that I was perhaps not old enough or experienced enough to understand the last time. And that is what turns the experience of reading the book into a joyful discovery of a new book, a new story and brand new characters. And after every reading of the book, I am richer for having learnt something new.

The last time I read one of my constantly new old books, I understand, in one of those blinding and dazzling epiphanies everyone is always talking about, exactly what I had learnt this time.

That I was smarter as a kid.