Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review : Mimi's Dream

Title : Mimi's Dream
Author : Kuei Ling Hsu
Publisher : Katha
ISBN : 978-81-89934-92-7
Age : 3-6yrs

Mimi is a little princess of the dreamland inhabited by her dear companions and friends. They fly with Mimi to far off places riding on the waves of their dreams. The colourful dreamland comes to life when ladybugs, rabbits, lions, leaves of the trees and the wind wake up to greet the morning sun. They help others come out of their slumber too. Clouds float and make trees whisper about the sleeping little kite which is happily dreaming about the cotton candy clouds and much more.

We all have seen sliver of sunrays sparkling the fine threads of an otherwise invisible web entangling the branches of the trees. Some mystery spider seems to be weaving these webs which help many creatures on an adventurous ride to their respective dreamlands.

Mimi is joined by her friends, and together they climb the mystery webs, visit places inhabited by huge whales, enjoy the raindrops falling from the pregnant clouds, dance with the wind, watch the little shoots appearing from the moist soil and finally get ready to welcome the shimmering stars on the firmament. After a complete day's adventurous ride, Mimi and her friends resign to the inviting arms of sleep.

'Mimi's Dream' is a spectacular extravaganza of colours with text very sparse. The book offers a wonderful way to steer the imagination of young readers to different locales. The author has beautifully captured the chain of thoughts of little children when one thing captures their attention for a short period of time and soon enough something quite different and far removed from the first takes the center stage in their minds. Similarly the narrative, endearingly moves from lions and ladybugs to clouds and raindrops to whales making swishing music with their tails.

In the short description about the author, it is mentioned that 'Kuei Ling Hsu has been amazed by this colourful world every since she was a child' and sure enough the readers will get to see a small slice of her fascination for the colours of the world through her book Mimi's Dream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview : Priya Narayanan

An avid traveller, a voracious reader, a passionate designer, and a doting mother of two - Priya Narayanan believes that there are stories lurking around every corner, waiting to be captured and revealed to the world. Although she has long been a writer of short stories and poetry, it was just recently that she took up the challenge of writing for children. Her book 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White' (reviewed here) has been well received by the young readers.

How did you pick the topic for your book - 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White' and what all preparation did you do for penning down this story?

I’ve been in love with the moon from ever since I can remember. I love staring at it and thinking of all the different things it could possibly be, apart from the droning fact that it is a satellite. And I guess at some point in time or the other, every child is fascinated with that white dot on the night sky. So when I thought about writing for children, it didn’t surprise me that the Moon played an important part in my story.

It all started when I had to explain the dark spot on the moon to my tot. I was quite amused by her questions and decided to give her some amusing answers in return, doing away with stereotypes such as the old man or rabbit on the moon. Why couldn’t the spot be something as commonplace as a dirt patch splattered across the moon? That thought sowed the seeds from which the story eventually sprouted. My challenge was to take that very ordinary explanation and turn it around into something extraordinary.

Frankly, I did not prepare much before putting my thoughts on paper. The moment the story took shape in my mind, I ran for pen and paper and wrote it all down at one go, lest I’d forget some part! Of course, by ‘wrote it all down’ I mean the basic idea, which served as both the outline and the spine of the story. Then came the crucial part of developing each scene and character to appeal to the target audience - after all, there is a great difference between conjuring a story for your child at bed-time and writing a story that could be read and enjoyed by children all over the world.

In 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White', there are three main characters – the Moon, Mitu and Dhobi kaka. I found it immensely enjoyable to personify the Moon and add little nuances to his character that children could find amusing. I particularly enjoyed writing the part where he is folded and waiting in Dhobi kaka’s jhola – all eager to spring out and get a good scrub.

Similarly, I have tried to work out every little detail about the other two characters, be it Dhobi kaka’s looks and background or the nuances of Mitu’s dreamy character. I was also very clear at the outset that I wanted to set the story in a village or small town. I guess it has to do with my own fascination with the flavor of life in small towns – the landscape as well as the community where everyone knows everyone else and even small incidences are blown out of proportion, sometimes to comic effect.

How has been the response to your book? Are you satisfied with it?

The response to the book has been very encouraging. Complete strangers have picked up the book and have sent me mails saying how much they loved it. That is the wonder that the internet is!

What caught me by surprise was that adults too enjoyed the book as much as their kids did. They have also loved the beautiful sync between the story and illustrations. So yes, I’m quite satisfied. It is altogether another matter of course, that this being my debut book, I still have to learn the ropes of promoting the book better to ensure a wider reach.

Are there any sections that you'd want to change in 'The Moon Wants to be Spotless White'? Why?

While life is all hunky dory when you write just for yourself – like I do with my poetry - one has to keep an open mind and accept criticism when you write to be read by others. The answer to whether I want to change any portion of the book would be both Yes and No.

Yes, because when a reader points out a problem area, it would be too pompous on my part to ignore it. I place a great deal of value on constructive criticism. No, because this was the story I set out to tell and changing it would mean not staying true to the seed idea. It is a double-edged sword and a tough call to take at the moment. But there’s one thing I know for certain - I’ll incorporate all the feedback I have received from this book into my upcoming one and ensure that I’ll be in less of a dilemma the next time over.

What ambition do you nurture in terms of writing books for children?

Quite frankly, I did not set out to be a children’s author. It just so happened that my first published work is a book for children. I have been writing poetry ever since I remember and somewhere along the way, I also branched into writing short stories. I have a good collection of poems that I hope to compile into a book of verse some day.

That said, my interactions with children who have read ‘The Moon wants to be Spotless White’ have given me the urge to write more for them. My own children have also been a great source of inspiration – whenever I spin a new tale for them, they ask me in all innocence if I’d be getting that story published too. I wish it were as simple as that!

But yes, I guess I can safely say that I will not stop writing for children. In fact, I already have another book in the pipeline for 5-8 year olds and the first drafts for a couple of short stories for tweens. I wouldn’t call it an ambition; just plain old love. I find children to be non-judgmental and writing for them is very gratifying.

How do you find the kidlit scene in India as compared to its foreign counterpart? Which all changes would you want to see in this sphere?

Growing up, there really was no kidlit scene in India. Or rather, the kidlit market was all about imported titles. However, now,  publishing houses are waking up to the vastly untapped readership for books by Indian authors and the result is a slew of children’s books written in English as well as various Indian languages that bring in a veritable mix of stories, allowing children to explore our country and its diverse cultures. But a lot remains to be done.

Even today, when I walk into a Crosswords store, I can see a pile of foreign titles on highlighted display stands, whereas books by Indian authors – even Ruskin Bond for that matter, are relegated to the quieter racks at the rear. This rather saddens me. While I’m not averse to foreign titles, I feel that there is a need to promote vernacular stories that afford children a context that they can immediately relate to. I would also like to see a more proactive role of publishers and bookstores in promoting Indian kidlit because just publishing a good book is not enough– the book ultimately has to have visibility and reach the hands of as many readers as possible to make it a meaningful venture for all involved.

Another question that one needs to look into is how much is the penetration of kidlit in small-town and rural India today? I would love to see more and more foreign as well as Indian titles in English being translated into regional languages and being made available in every small town in our country.

In which way and in what sense would you want to make a difference in the children's literature?

That’s a googly, really! I don’t know if the stories I write will make a difference in children’s literature – and I’m quite sure no author sets out to write a book with the purpose of changing the literary landscape. What I really aspire is to write stories that nobody has heard of before, write stories that will elicit a chuckle from a child or bring a smile to his/her face.

How has been the journey of being an authoress so far? What is the biggest joy of being one?

I have enjoyed the entire process that saw me grow from being someone who wrote solely for self-consumption to being a widely read author. What started with a whole load of anticipation has culminated into a feeling of exuberance and contentment. Also, the appreciation that has come my way has encouraged me to take more risks with my writing.

The biggest joy of being a writer, of course, is being able to communicate with readers from across the world through the medium of stories. After all, stories are the simplest way to get your message across to another person, aren’t they? Another plus is that I get to do what I love to do most, i.e. writing, minus the guilt trips.

What is your dream story? Do you have any in the pipeline?

I guess my dream story is yet to be dreamt! But really, I have not given this a thought. I am a very impulsive writer. Be it my poems or stories, I do not decide that I have to write about such and such a topic and go about it in a disciplined fashion. I am a keen observer of things, events and people around me and as I said before, I run around looking for pen and paper whenever an idea strikes me. These days, the Evernote app on my phone comes in handy.

I do have another book in the pipeline. This one is also an illustrated story for 5-8 year olds. It deals with the topic of death in the family and I have tried to approach the subject with a lot of sensitivity. I hope readers will receive it with as much enthusiasm and love as they have given my debut book – The Moon wants to be Spotless White.

Which kind of books do you enjoy reading yourself? Who are your favourite authors?

I hope you don’t regret asking me this question, ‘coz it has given me a license to rattle off big names.

While I read almost every kind of book, both fiction and non-fiction, I enjoy reading the classics the most. During my school and college days, I’ve also enjoyed courtroom dramas and crime thrillers to a point of saturation – today, I’d rather see an investigative serial on TV rather than read a book about it. One genre that I don’t find myself drawn to is that of Romance. It’s not that I don’t like romance per say. I’d rather enjoy it as subtle part of a bigger picture than romance taking over every page of a book and choking me with all the mush!

My favourite author has constantly changed to keep up with my growing years. However, during and after graduation, I came across and read a slew of authors – many of whom have made a deep impact in my world-view as well as belief systems. Bertrand Russell, Kafka, Hemmingway, Joseph Conrad, Joyce, Herman Hesse, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Irving Stone, Nobokov, Graham Greene, Orhan Pamuk . . . I can’t even begin to list them here!

It is indeed a task to choose one favourite, but given my love for the classics, I’ll pick Fyodor Dostoevsky. I have loved all of his work without exception – I even like the way he tackles romance. Amongst Indian authors, I love the short stories by Kushwant Singh and Ismat Chughtai as well as Ruskin Bond’s books for both children and adults. Finally, Walt Whitman wins hands-down amongst poets, with Ogden Nash coming a close second.

 Any tips that you'd want to pass on to the new authors?

I guess I am too new an entrant in this space to be advising others, but yes there are a few things that I’ve picked up along the way, which I’d like to share.

  • Don’t get entangled in the web of everyday routine and push your literary pursuits to another day – if you love writing, just find the time to write by hook or crook.
  • Don’t write to get published, write because you love to do so – the publishing aspect will surely follow.
  • Keep honing your skills as a writer – never make the mistake of thinking you know it all

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Interview : Junaid Asad

Junaid Asad is a design professional with Oracle working in the area of Human Machine Interaction. His first book, 'And We Remained' got published recently.
In the 1990s, India was going through tremendous socio-economic changes. Set in this era, it is a coming of age story of five engineering friendsSahir, Sandeep, Gopal, Anand and Davidand the women in their lives, especially the beautiful Wardha. Their intertwined story is told by these friends through first person accounts of events in their engineering college contrasted in alternate chapters with their lives a few years later when they keep in touch, narrate events in their lives and share their experiences in India and abroad through emails. 
And We Remained takes you on their entertaining journey through college, love, heartbreak, prison, politics, drunken binges, strip clubs, US and Europe as they hang on to sanity and their identities in a fast changing society and a nation in flux.

How did you pick the topic for your book - 'And We Remained'?

I was catching up on some of the bestsellers by Indian authors a few years back. I then realized that I had a story to tell which was much more interesting and entertaining than a lot of novels that were out there.

How has been the response to your book? Are you satisfied with it?

As a first time author, I am happy with the kind of response I am getting so far. People are appreciating the unique narration style and the story. People are also pointing out what did not work in the book and for them, I am all ears. All in all, I am happy with how the book has been received.

Are there any sections that you'd want to change in the book and why?

The book has been constantly evolving since the time I got my first draft done – which was almost four years ago. It is definitely in a much better state in terms of narration, structure and story than it was when I finished the first draft.
I have been open to feedback (ever since the first draft) and my readers and reviewers have been kind enough to provide me with some valuable insights to make it better.
I’ve tried to get the first print run to reach the maximum audience and I have got some awesome feedback. Though there will be no major changes to the story or the structure, there will be some minor tweaks in the second print run to make the narration and the eventual resolution of the story better.

How has been the journey of authoring a book while being actively involved in corporate world?

It’s been interesting so far. It does take a lot of discipline to not start thinking about the story during work and not to start thinking about work when one is trying to progress on the story. That way, writing fiction is a great way to take one’s mind off work and everything else that is going on. All in all, I admit that writing while holding on to a full time day job is a difficult process, but in the end, a hugely fulfilling one.

What are the biggest joys of being an author?

The joy of telling a story. The joy of reaching out to someone hundreds and thousands of miles away from you and to be able to make that connect with them. The joy of creation. The joy of holding the power to evoke an emotion out of another individual. If a writer can’t find happiness and satisfcation in these, then he is perhaps writing for the wrong reasons.

What is your dream story? Do you have any in the pipeline?

As a first time writer, I have written the story that I so desperately wanted to tell. It has given me immense satisfaction to see it in the form of a book.
Everytime I see script driven Indian movies like ‘Drohkaal’, ‘Deewar’ or a ‘Vicky Donor’ or even Hollywood movies like ‘The Departed’, ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘L.A. Confidential’,I turn to my wife and tell her, “I want to tell such a story….” Nothing on paper yet, but hoping that I at least make a decent attempt at it someday.

Which kind of books do you enjoy reading yourself? Who are your favorite authors - Indian and foreign?

I am a die-hard romantic. I feel that if romance dies within a person, then there is nothing to look forward to. I must have read Eric Segal’s Love Story close to two dozen times already, but I still pick it up and enjoy reading it.
I have also loved Nobokov’s Lolita, Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump, Puzo’sGodfather,Husseini’s Kite Runner, Douglas Adam’s H2G2, Pirsig’s ZAMM and Lila, and most of what Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon and John Grisham have written.
Among Indian writers, for my book, I read and re-read ChethanBhagat and RK Narayan multiple times to understand what it was that enabled them to connect to a large section of readers in India. I have enjoyed works of AshwinSanghi, SidinVadukut,Karan Bajaj, ParitoshUttam, Ravinder Singh and Anjum Hasan, among others.

Any tips that you'd want to pass on to the new authors?

A new writer will have to first find a story that he/she really wants to tell. That has to be the underlying motivation. That is the only thing which will enable the new writer to start and even complete a novel when all the glamour associated with writing goes away and he is staring at this sheet with white space which he has to fill with black letters.

How do you compare Indian literary scene with its foreign counterpart?

One thing noticeably different is the delivery mechanism. Kindle is very popular in the US where as in India, a majority still seem to prefer a physical copy of the book to snuggle up to.
The role that a book agent plays in India is very minimal compared to their counterparts abroad.

There is a huge boom in Indian writing. There are a lot of people writing books in India without finding the need to adhere to a ‘Strunk and White’ to tell a story. There is a huge audience they seem to be catering to. This audience just wants to read a good story without the need to carry a dictionary around to understand what the writer is intending to tell. The new writers in India are catering to this specific need and have a great chance of finding success.
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