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...

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...
What I’ve learnt in 50 readings

What I’ve learnt in 50 readings

I conducted my 50th book reading, yesterday!  I can still recall, rather vividly, the sheer terror that threatened to overtake me at the launch reading of Icky, Yucky, Mucky! at the Kala Ghodha Arts Festival in 2011. The moment when the tremor in my voice stopped and I was enjoying being Maharaja Icky, juggling rosogullas. Since then, I’ve published eight books across different age and genre and tailored readings to suit different groups. It has been a tremendous learning experience and even though I still get collywobbles the night before, the moment I am in front of a group of kids, everything else falls away away and I’m there to have fun.  So what have 50 readings helped me learn? School readings work differently from readings at festivals and in bookstores. In schools you read to a group that is homogenous in age, in a controlled environment conducive to a reading and where the children are in their comfort zones. At festivals and in bookstores, you have to account for a varied age group, a kid crying for his mother, late arrivals, kids kicking each other and higher ambient sound. Hence, they need to be planned differently. For readings at festivals and bookstores, I simplify, plan for it to work across a broader range of ages and work in shorter activities that I can pick from, during the reading. Unless you have an assistant, plan something you can manage yourself. However, don’t hesitate to ask for help from teachers and parents in distributing activity sheets, pencils, wobbly eyes and such. Have a backup for everything, even when you have asked for it –...