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!

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. 

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!

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.

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.

 

The Lonely Writer

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The loneliness of a full-time writer

 

 

Whenever I see pictures of marathon runners or of cyclists participating in competitions that take the long way around the world, I am struck by the aloneness of the competitors. There they are, tiny specks in the whole stark loneliness of the world, sweat pouring down their bodies, utter exhaustion on their faces, but filled with a dogged determination that does not allow them to stop.

That’s pretty much a writer’s life, minus the sweat, of course! There’s no getting away from the aloneness of a writer’s life. She is locked away in a world where no one else can walk in, dealing with all-important questions like – should the protagonist be a girl or a boy? Should the bad guy be the Aunt or the Uncle? Will it be better to give the monster six hands or ten? These are important points and make all the difference to the way the story is first written and then, (hopefully) read.

So, what is the solution to this loneliness? I am sorry, but if you thought I was going to offer you some secret passage out of this loneliness, you are wrong. There is no secret passage out of the loneliness. The loneliness is part of the job, it makes you who you are and helps you write what you do.

So, how do you deal with it?

By accepting it, even welcoming it. Solitude is a wonderful gift to a writer whose work involves long periods of thinking. Imagine how it would be if your entire family decided to keep you company and stayed home? You would so distracted. Even if they are the most considerate bunch of people in the world and walk about on tiptoes when you are working, it’s no good. When you are thinking and writing, even the sound of people’s thoughts can disturb your flow.

Think of all those writers who had to seek solitude and be grateful for what you have.

And you can see that silence and loneliness can be the best gifts a writer can hope for.

 

A Writer’s World # 4 Why Royalty Statements Matter

graphs job laptop papers

 

 

At the end of a long day at work, when a writer is asked, ‘How was your day?’ her answer is likely to be, ‘It was okay. I made plans for my next story and revised an older story. Oh and I also wrote a really short piece!’ Her family, understanding but secretly mystified, will nod and the conversation will move on to other topics. No one will guess exactly how little the writer will have actually said about her day.

When she said she had written out her plan for the next story, she forgot to mention the hours she spent staring into the distance or the small, quick circles she walked in or even the angry monologues she indulged in. Or the many sheets of paper that she crumpled angrily and tossed away before finally getting a plan of some kind down. Or how the revision involved spending long minutes debating the exact word she was looking for or the feverish deleting of words to create a story of the exact length. And of course she will not remember to tell her family the wrench of giving up her favourite lines and ruthlessly deleting them to ensure the flow of the story. All these and many other details will be either skimmed over or forgotten.

This is not because the writer is secretive. It has something to do with the difficulty in describing the struggles of writing, the sheer impossibility of matching words with the sense of despair that overtakes a writer when she gets a rejection. These are the reasons why a writer’s job is such a lonely one. It is like an iceberg, with a huge, unexplored, unimagined depth behind every single story that sees the light of day. And the writer works on, unaware of how her story is going to fare out in the world, how people are going to react to it. Reviews are like messages sent out in bottles, bobbing along on waves and sometimes, if a writer is lucky, being washed up where she can lay her hands on them.

But for the most part, a writer is cut off from the outside world and that is why, any message about her book is welcome. A reader once wrote to me, right after she had finished reading my book, to tell me how much she had enjoyed it. By itself, the email would have been enough to make me happy. But it came hard on the heels of a particularly harsh and unsympathetic reading of my book and so, it was doubly welcome. But such readers are very few and that is why, a royalty statement assumes such importance in the life of a writer.

A royalty statement is proof, in black and white, of the number of people who have wanted to own a copy of her book. It is an affirmation of a writer’s faith in herself, a much-needed boost to her self-esteem. It is as comforting as a shawl around your shoulders on a cold winter evening and as welcoming as a cold drink on a hot day. It is the one document that a writer will memorize, without any seeming effort, the one document that will make her smile and hope and believe even when she is going through the darkest phase in her writing career.

And that is why, every writer deserves to have a royalty statement sent to her annually.  After all, she has worked for it.

Writing Tip #10 The Importance of Writing Every Day

pexels-photo-261719.jpeg

 

I am an avid reader of interviews with people from different walks of life. I am always looking for clues about how they do things, what makes them tick and especially, what keeps them going. And since I write, I have an almost voyeuristic interest in reading interviews with authors.

I want to know what their favourite books are, what they think of the current crop of writing, what drives them and what sets them back. But what I am actually looking for, as I scan the lines, is information about their routine. When do they wake up? How many hours do they work? When do they begin work and what are the rituals they follow? Do they socialize? And if yes, when?

The most shocking thing I have ever read in an interview with an author has been the admission that she does not write every day; that writing only happens when the urge strikes. How, I long to scream. How can any author only write when the urge strikes and still hope to produce half-way decent stuff? How, with the world offering so many temptations and so many inviting paths to temptation, do they stay on track and come back to writing?

Writing, like any other activity, uses a certain set of muscles. I am not sure where these muscles are located. Some of them are most certainly in your arms and help you type determinedly away for hours. The strongest, of course, are in your bottom, and keep you anchored to the chair for long hours as you create new worlds and people them with characters. But there are other, secret places that these muscles lurk in. And like all muscles, these too require regular flexing. And just like other muscles, these get cranky and irritable, sticking like an unused machine when they are allowed to stay idle for too long. They need regular outings, the brisk up and down and round and round movements to keep them moving smoothly.

When you write regularly, many things happen with a kind of smooth, noiseless efficiency that makes them seem almost like magic. The first of these is purely physical – your arms will ache less since they will have had time to get used to the vigorous exercise you put them through. The second is the way you will approach any writing- your brain will look at the idea with a clinical, almost detached interest and instantly know how best to begin the story. You will slide into writing gear without too many hiccups and will almost certainly not stall at any time. Of course, you will break off but these pauses will only be refueling stops and will help you plan ahead and decide how and what you are going to do next. These muscles will be your best friend, standing staunchly by you even when you worry about how the story is going to end and what you are going to call it.

The best part about having the writing muscles oiled and whirring smoothly is that they come with their own criticism switch. This gives you the amazing freedom and luxury of looking at your story with vast binoculars, and see how it fares against the background of already existing fiction. It also has a helpful attachment that allows you to study your story with the kind of minute attention that will help you not only take care of those pesky details which might weaken your story, but also fix the language so you can work on it, polishing and buffing your writing till it glows with the rich patina that comes with years of care.

And these are the muscles that swing into action the minute you have typed the last word of your thirty thousand words story and are getting ready to sit back and relax. That’s when they begin the gentle but efficient prodding, telling you to get up and move, telling you it is time.

Time to start work on that next story.