The Best House of All

The Best House of All

When the editors at Pratham Books wrote in for a STEM book about houses, it brought back a flood of memories. My childhood spent tying sheets to chairs, propped up with sticks and cushions dragged in from various corners to create my own “house”. I recall a perfect grass-free muddy park that allowed me to create layouts for houses with a stick dragged through mud and stones to line my boundary wall. I’ve relived all those memories with my own children creating “houses” within our home. Clothes pegs holding up various corners of sheets requisitioned from the linen cupboard, torchlit talks within, stuffed-toy mattresses, collapsing houses, food passed in through the ‘door’, passwords, giggles and laughter – free play at its best. I knew I had to bring this into my book even as I wrote a book for a STEM series. And so while I wrote about the different kinds of houses around the world, my little architect in the book sets about building her house within a house. And just as climate, space, terrain and materials at hand are crucial factors in the shape and form that homes take, so do these influence her creation. Add to this, my childhood plan to become an architect. A plan that got side-tracked onto a different journey with math and an MBA but doesn’t it all work out for the best? I now get to put all that into a book – The Best House of All! A book that I hope will, in addition to giving children know-how on houses, also inspire little minds inclined to this to be architects someday. A story that reminds...
A Crouching Tiger Hidden Zebra cake sort of year-end

A Crouching Tiger Hidden Zebra cake sort of year-end

With two books out in quick successions – Vikram and the Vampire and Princess Easy Pleasy (to reach bookstores soon), the baking bug has been buzzing around. And while I have been baking every now and then over the last few months, my Facebook page has seen evidence of it, this time cookies and cupcakes wouldn’t be enough. I was just back from Bookaroo in Pune after sessions with these books and with the latest History Mystery from earlier in 2015, Razia and the Pesky Presents. A cake was definitely called for. A cake that had never been attempted by me before. I settled down before the telly with my lunch, switched channels scouting for a cooking program that would make me look even more sorrowfully at my simple bowl of yogurt and pomegranate and chanced upon Lorraine Pascale. There she was with her brilliant smile, just starting off on a new recipe – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Zebra cake. I was sold at the name. THIS! This is what I would bake! Something that lived up to the joy of new books. A fitting nod to my husband’s love for martial art movies and his multi-prowess, kung-fu like support at my readings. A nod also to Princess Easy Pleasy’s travels through much of South East Asia in the new picture book. And a sure winner with the kids if it actually turned out stripy when cut. Woo hoo! Take a look! Not bad, I say. As I set off for my winter break, tremendously pleased with how the past year turned out, here’s a wish for you: May 2016...
What happens when an author visits the setting of her book, Fatehpur Sikri

What happens when an author visits the setting of her book, Fatehpur Sikri

In a recent visit with family to Fatehpur Sikri, our excellent guide was rather befuddled by an over-excited woman, screeching with joy when she saw the Durbar hall, the Anup Talab, Akbar’s bed and the Buland Darwaza. “Yes, yes madam. Would you like a photograph? There as well? And there? And here again? Yes, it is all quite exciting.” As we entered the first garden and space where Akbar would hold his durbar, the guide pointed to a plain, flat platform raised two feet off the ground, against the backdrop of a columned corridor. “That’s where the king and Prince Salim were weighed on their birthday against gold, silver and other items.” “AAAAAHHH!” screeched the woman, madly flipping through a yellow-covered book with a gilded title, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, to an image of Akbar being weighed against the very items mentioned, beautifully detailed by the illustrator of the book, Vandana Bist. Whipping out trusty phone, she stretched her arm out with book, framing the scene with the platform in the backdrop, and clicked. “And over there is the Darbar-i-Aam where the king held court…” “EEEEHHHH!” yelled the woman, flipping to another page in the book in which Akbar stands holding court while searching for his Super Six amidst the lot. Hand outstretched… click! “That was Akbar’s gigantic bed…” “OOOOH!” Flip flip flip… click! The ten-year-old and the eight-year-old offspring of the woman were soon influenced by the fervor of discovering new facts about the place and of photographing every nook and cranny of Fatehpur Sikri that echoed in the book, having read it multiple times themselves. “What’s...

Superglued fingers, travel and a new season of MasterChef Australia; reasons for hitting pause on my writing.

Summer break begins in ten days. The kids’ school calendar for these last few days looks ready to burst, packed as it is with project submissions, PTMs, book-day preparations and global perspectives day amongst others. I have glue in my hair, superglued fingers and am snipping paper in my sleep. There’s the travel planning, packing and repacking amidst growing anticipation of cooler climes and lovely beaches. Baking urges are back despite the terrible heat resulting, fittingly, in chocolate lava cakes (that turned out awesome). It’s utterly distracting. To add to it all, MasterChef Australia has begun a new season that really seals the deal on giving up on plots and characters and simply putting away my writing tools until my return to routine in August. My ten and eight-year-olds sit glued to MasterChef, drawn in not just by the astounding delicacies that the amateur cooks seem capable of but also by the thrilling rounds of winning and elimination. Weekend re-runs of the show result in hectic, chaotic bouts of cooking by the kids. This weekend, the eight-year-old was yelling out for basil and pepper as the didi rushed about as sous-chef. I was banned from the kitchen. Delicious and healthy plates of bruschetta emerged for evening snack, much to my delight. The ten-year-old (TYO) has his observations and bits of wisdom. As I whipped batter for the lava cakes, he nodded approvingly. TYO: “What are you making?” Me: “Chocolate lava cakes, though this is the first attempt and I’m not sure we’ll have dessert for the guests tonight.” TYO: “We’re making white chocolate and cornflake rocks with bits of gooey marshmallow as well...

NPS: New Plot Syndrome

As of last night, I’ve moved past my Post Manuscript Syndrome stage with Squiggle, part 2 – yes, it is a GO and I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited about moving a step closer to the crucial design stage for this book. Meanwhile, I’ve plunged headlong into writing the next History Mystery. Well, not quite plunged and not quite headlong and not quite writing as yet… it’s more like gasping, wheezing and choking as I attempt to come up with a plot and characters. I’m calling it NPS: New Plot Syndrome (I’m less daunted by character creation). My head is swimming with the research I’ve done on Aryabhata. Theorems float like fishes blowing bubbles at me and spheres have developed scary faces, inhabiting my every waking hour, through day and night, since insomnia is here to haunt me, yet again. I’m back in college before my final exam (I majored in Math). Sheafs of paper that have been scribbled upon litter my table. I have flowcharts of plot-progression and what-ifs. I have sheets with possible riddles, post-its in a multitude of colours, highlighter pens that have run out of ink and possible plots that are weaving around and going… nowhere! Aargh! It’s scary. It’s frustrating. It gives me an upset tummy. Strangely, it’s also immensely, phenomenally exciting. It’s a new beginning, a whole new world, a new adventure and a new challenge to myself. It’s thoughts flowing fast, often faster than I can pen them down. I’m crying out in pain when I bang into walls. Somewhere, I have to believe that whatever story gods exist will come to my aid and fill my...

Post Manuscript Syndrome and other joys of writing

Post Manuscript Syndrome: Symptoms include twitchy fingers, hand cramps, sleepless nights (nightmares of piles of rejection letters), glazed eyes as you await a revert, fleeting smiles to convince yourself and others that all is well in your world (other than the fact that months of thinking, writing and rewriting now hangs in the balance), acidity and a desire to run each time anyone asks you about your writing. There is no other moment in my writing life as joyous and terrifying, all at once, as the moment I declare to myself that I have a complete manuscript that is ready to submit. I usually drive myself to that point through sheer exhaustion post multiple edits, tweaks and hand-wringing. I hang on to that last line, that last word, that last restructure, that last deletion, addition, substitution… that very last tweak for as long as I can. There’s a finality to the declaration even though the story will go through multiple edits and possible restructures before it takes on its final form. I put it aside for a few days/weeks/months before I take another look at it, all the while biting my nails off and opening and closing the file multiple times. I’ll do all manner of things to fine tune the writing – storyboards, story arcs… even a “state-of-mind graph” (new tool and a rather fun one to do) before I am convinced that I’ve caught inconsistencies and that it is indeed ready to be seen by an editor. There will be the all-important reading by my kids when I’ve learnt to sneak around and watch their expressions as they read, to gauge their instinctive reaction to the...
Books, finances and an appalled ten-year-old

Books, finances and an appalled ten-year-old

My ten-year-old (TYO) has, in the past year, developed a healthy concern for understanding finances. It has resulted in a rather conscientious spender. However, it does lead to funny conversations. Most nights, bed time is the moment when my children remember all the day’s activities and pose questions designed specifically for long conversations. One such discussion happened a couple of nights ago. TYO: “How are your books doing?” Me: “They’re doing well.” TYO: “Are you in profit or loss?” Me: ” I’d say profit since I haven’t travelled for readings at my own cost, as I have done at times in the past. (And because I can’t just let things be) There is the notional cost of time and effort that goes into writing and publishing a book, which is hard to quantify. But yes, profit.” TYO sounding happy: “Great! So of our family income, would the split between what papa and you earn be 70-30?” Me: “Ummm. Not quite.” TYO: “80-20?” Me: “Not really.” TYO, sounding increasingly appalled: “90-10?” Me: “More like 99-1…” TYO, jumping out of bed like a scalded cat: “WHAAAAT? But you’ve written eleven books and you work really hard and and and… it’s not fair!” Me, trying to calm him down: “While that is true, I do have the joy of doing something I love, which is more than what many people can claim. It is a blessing. Also, I get to have all the flexibility to be around you two monkeys. I get to discuss my work with you and hear your opinion, which is quite special.” TYO: “And my friends think you are...

Mosquito and mice poetry and why you must keep writing

In 2010 I wrote a bunch of poems, collectively titled Tadpoles On My Toes and Other Experiences of a City-fied Kid. My first book Icky, Yucky, Mucky! wasn’t even published back then. The collection of poems centres around the thoughts, experiences and interactions with the world for a child growing up in urban India. It grew to close to eighty poems and I hoped and prayed that someone would turn the lot into a book. It hasn’t happened so far. I’d started off with the knowledge that publishing poetry can be notoriously difficult. But that’s the thing about being a writer. You have to write what you want to and often need to. You have to get the thoughts out of your system and onto paper. You hope that it will all come together and turn into a book. Sometimes, it works out. Other times, it doesn’t. While you hold onto the hope that a publisher will love what you’ve written, that it will fit in with their publishing direction and list, that publishing poetry will really not be as difficult as you are given to believe, you have to keep writing alongside. You don’t wait for your piece to get signed on before moving on to writing the next thing. You especially don’t stop writing if a piece doesn’t make it into a book. I filed away Tadpoles On My Toes and got on with putting pen to paper/fingertips to keys. Ever so often, I opened up the file and tweaked a word here, a line there. Five years and eleven books later, two poems from that collection titled Mosquito...

The joy of home turf

There is something special about reading in a familiar space, on a familiar platform – home turf, if I may. My reading this Saturday at Kitab Khana bookstore as a part of the Children’s Literature section of the Kala Ghodha Arts Festival was one such. With the excitement of limited edition early release copies of my fourth History Mystery, Razia and the Pesky Presents and accompanied by a very tall, very crazy fellow writer, Parinita Shetty as the Wazir and my enthusiastic daughter as a stable hand as we enacted one scene, it was a session I thoroughly enjoyed. From the efficient trio of Lubaina, Parinita and Rukhsar there with hugs of encouragement to knowing my space for the next hour – where I need to leap off an elephant back (a chair stood in for it), the placement of the makeshift palki, where partners in crime need to run to in order to pinch my nose… the stage is familiar ground. There are usually a few known faces amongst the children and new ones who bring much joy with an opportunity to introduce them to my books. From Mr.Jagat and other sales staff who wave out and tell me which books are moving well, always encouraging, always supportive, to the promise of cheese toasts and sweet and sour apple tea as a reward to self at the cafe, Kitab Khana and the Kala Ghodha Arts Fest brings much joy, year on year. I’m hoping to have another juicy book to tempt them into inviting me again next year. And while non-Mumbaikars need to wait till June for Razia and the Pesky...

To Squiggle with love

My kids took all of nine months. Squiggle was four years in the making. From sleepless nights with a fuzzy idea about what I wanted to write, to not quite knowing how. From sheafs of paper lying crumpled on the floor, to post-its that got shuffled around each day. From holding on to her, nervous about her first view, to Anita Roy at Zubaan Books writing back: “I LOVE SQUIGGLE. It made me giggle. Let’s do it! Exclamation mark!” From us knowing what she needs as her playground, to finding Vikram Nandwani, the fabulous illustrator who brought her to life. From draft after draft after draft while gazing at her adoringly (and often through gritted teeth) through all her teething troubles, to her blossoming into all her loveliness. From spending hours poring over her at the Zubaan office, to Niyati and all the other wonderful folks at Penguin joining the joyride and helping her zoom her way into this world. Squiggle, I love being your mommy! Go make the world a little more squiggly and punctuation friendly! To get commas in place and help children end their sentences, buy Squiggle Takes a Walk online here: Amazon, Flipkart Natasha Sharma is currently back to sleepless nights with a fuzzy idea for the next book with Squiggle. Share...