Hello Natasha, welcome to Incredible Women Of India, Thank you for being a part of Incredible Women Writers of India, Monsoon Edition, 2015 and sharing your journey as a writer with us.
First of all tell us something about your growing up years, your school and college days, and your family.
I spent a part of my school years in Amritsar, growing up in a household that consisted of six adults and forty animals. I finished my high school education from Welham Girls, Dehradun and went on to graduate in Math from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi. I then pursued an MBA went on to work in the corporate world for a few years and eventually got to writing for children.
At many stages of my years as a student, the decision on what to do next was driven by a combination of knowing what I didn’t want to do, picking something I loved as a subject to study (math in college), not quite knowing what I wanted ahead, not entirely aware of all the options that existed and to some extent going with the flow till I figured it all out!
A few years ago, I finally did figure it out and discovered that writing is what I love.
What makes you, You?
Thinking, writing, creating, reading, music, my family and coffee interspersed with green tea and chocolate.
How did your journey as a children’s writer begin?
Strangely enough, with a zebra. I was at a phase in my life when I knew, once again, what I didn’t want to do: I didn’t want to go back to my corporate job that I’d left. This time though, in my thirties, I decided that I had to find the thing that would truly make me look forward to each day. And I was willing to keep trying things till I found it.
One day, a story with a zebra missing her stripes found its way into my head. I was narrating it to my son and felt it had merit to make its way onto paper. I began threshing it out and landed up with a story. I’d been writing poems and other bits over the years but had never considered writing as something I’d pursue with the idea of getting it published. Turned out, I enjoyed the process tremendously. I wrote a couple more and tried to get my stories published.
Eventually, my first book, Icky, Yucky, Mucky was published in 2011. I’ve published twelve books over the last four years and I’m in an extremely happy place!
What are your inspirations? Who is your muse, if any at all?
Inspiration is everywhere and as a writer, it becomes fairly natural to pick up little bits from around you. A word, a picture, a scowling face or something my children have done…..… multiple things have triggered an idea for a story or character. Icky, Yucky, Mucky! began with the idea of terrible habits people have like poor table manners and nibbling nails. Squiggle Takes A Walk began with an adventure amidst punctuation and a doodle feeling a bit out of place in the book. The History Mystery series started off in a writing workshop where the prop was a sock and I wrote a small part of the first book, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor around it. Bonkers is largely inspired by my son who is desperate for a dog and my childhood growing up with forty animals, amongst which were four dogs.
Why do you write?
I just have to otherwise I won’t be able to sleep! I have ideas, plots, characters constantly developing in my head with conversations between them and I love being able to weave a world with words.
Writing brings me immense joy. Isn’t that the one reason we’d all like to be doing what we do?
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
Once I began writing stories for children and loved doing so, I realised I was onto something! Somewhere, I knew this is what I wanted to do and that’s probably what built the determination to take it seriously, better my craft, keep writing and give it a good go. My husband, children and parents were my little cheerleading team, bolstering me up when I sent the first few manuscripts out and received a few rejections. It can be disheartening and it’s good to have people who believe in you when you doubt yourself.
Do you write full-time or part-time? Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when?
I write full-time. I have two young children age ten and eight years, I travel quite a bit and my writing schedules itself around all of it. I find I do more writing in the first half of the year since the second half is peppered with readings, literary events, festivals and travel. When I have a more settled routine, I try to do something connected to my writing almost five days a week. What I do depends on the phase in my writing process. Currently, it’s been a mix of writing anew story, research since the History Mystery series are research-heavy, editing ongoing books with publishers and spending some time on developing my website and blog.
I send my kids to school, try and get in an hour of exercise and settle down to write till lunchtime. I then try and get in an hour more of writing or related things till my children come back from school at around four o’clock. After that, I’m primarily with them unless it’s something for social media etc that doesn’t need too much concentration. However, if I’m in full flow with a story, I can stay glued to it for hours on end!
What is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest thing about writing? Any writing rituals?
Staying focussed on the book I am writing when I also want a develop a few more ideas.
Developing plot. I tend to get a bit nervous when I begin but it sorts itself out when I get going. It’s almost a ritual – wringing my fingers, moaning to myself whether I’ll ever find a juicy story for my character and generally driving my family crazy.
To actually get to writing. Once I actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, it is a relief to begin to see form and structure in my thoughts.
I enjoy creating characters and find that the easier part of the writing process.
I like to begin with a neat desk.
I clean the screen of my laptop, sharpen my pencils (even though I use them sparingly, I often find that a sharpened one is easier to use as an instrument to keep a hastily done hairbun in place), grumble about the stationery that has invariably been filched from my table by my children, read what I wrote the previous day, edit a little as I read and then move forward. The next few hours are punctuated by coffee, household chores that are deathly urgent like a dripping tap or a fused light or what’s to be made for the next meal and other such stuff, all of which keeps it interesting!
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? Have you ever hated something you wrote?
It differs for every book. For the History Mystery series, once my research is done, I usually have an outline or broad plot direction. A story I am currently working on has characters, a setting and I have the theme I want to write to. I had an outline in mind but the different elements of the plot are developing as I write it. Whichever way I write, I like to keep the possibility of taking it in a different direction if I feel like.
Never hated what I’ve written though the first two stories I wrote for picture books that haven’t been published need a rethink if I ever dig them out of the file!
Do you ever get writer’s Block? And how do you get over it?
I don’t get writer’s block. That term is too unwieldy! I keep penning down stray thoughts and ideas so I have a few things I want to think about and possibly develop at some point. It helps keep the block at bay.
I do get stuck, at times, on how I want a story to progress. That’s usually resolved by a combination of the following: Put it aside for a while, take a shower, walk in circles, have someone be a sounding board (usually my father), bake a few goodies and wolf them down to relieve the stress, get an upset stomach from the twitchiness of staying away from the story (and eating too many goodies) and head back to the story again.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I like diversity in my work and am glad that my work has evolved in a way that has incorporated that. It’s been the fun part. I began with Icky, Yucky, Mucky which is an illustrated story book, probably a step beyond a picture book for very young children. I wrote a few picture books for a younger age group including Rooster Raga, Anaya’s Thumb, What Shall I Wear Today. Felt the urge to write an early chapter book which then led to Bonkers! (A hOle book). I’ve been writing a completely different genre with historical fiction for children age 8-12 years over the past year and a half with the History Mystery series. I’ve interspersed that with recently finishing the next book with my character, Squiggle from Squiggle Takes a Walk – all about punctuation. That’s a completely different format – very visual and a blend of fiction and non-fiction.
I have two forthcoming books in the last quarter of this year – Vikram and the Vampire (a contemporary telling of Vikram and Betal stories) which is for kids age 9 years and above and a picture book for little ones titled Princess Easy Pleasy. So yes, evolving constantly. I like to keep it mixed since I enjoy writing across these age groups.
What are you working on at the minute?
I’ve just finished researching the life of Aryabhatta who will be the lead for the next History Mystery. I’ve also finished writing Squiggle Gets Stuck and will be involved with the production of the book in the coming months. Additionally, I’m writing a story for middle grade.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors and poets / what are your favourite books?
I read a lot and have too many favourite authors to put down here. So I’ll just mention a book I greatly enjoyed a couple of months ago – The storied life of A.J. Fikry.
What do you think is the future of reading and writing of children’s books in India?
It’s great! Children’s literature in particular is brimming with new authors, illustrators, imprints and a huge amount of good content. As a writer, there is tremendous interest in new stories so it is a great space to be in. Hopefully, retail will stay and grow more supportive and publishers and authors will be able to get the word out to parents and children on all that is being published in India.
What are your other passions apart from writing?
I enjoy baking and photography. I like dabbling with art and craft and seek out great design be it in a book or a product. It intrigues me when people are able to take something and put such a different spin on it.
What is your message for the readers of our blogazine?
Let children pick books they like while helping them to discover new books, genres and authors. Do let them read for fun. Don’t make it a chore.
Excerpt from Akbar and the Tricky Traitor (History Mystery series).
Hear the rooster’s song from the picture book Rooster Raga on Natasha’s website.
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Please note that this interview was conducted online, via emails.
Interview conducted for Incredible Women of India : Rhiti Bose