Image Source : Mussoorie Writers
In our joyful world of Pratham Books, there are many endearing characters who are our best buddies, stories that we tell and retell and values that we learn and imbibe. But how much do we know about the people who create this make believe world for us ?
We resolved to put this right, and decided to interview and bring forth few of our favourite authors and illustrators.
Here is the first in the series, an interview of Subhadra Sengupta, author of titles like 'BISHNU, THE DHOBHI SINGER', 'KALLU'S WORLD 1&2' and many in our History series including 'A MAN CALLED BAPU' and 'A ROYAL PROCESSION'.
Read on, she has much to say :)
When did you first start writing ?
In college for newspapers and magazines
What inspired you to take up writing ?
I loved books and dreamed of writing them. Also I was lousy in science and maths, words was the only thing I was good at. In those days it was not possible to make enough money as a writer so I became a copywriter.
Did you always wanted to become a writer ?
Which was your first book as a writer ? For whom did you write it ?
Good Times at Islamgunj. I wrote it for India Book House and it came out in 1982. In those days I was working as a copywriter in an advertising agency.
Ideas are everywhere – in something you read, hear or see. I am a very good listener and people tell me things. I’m always looking for interesting ghost stories!
Do you always start from the beginning and then proceed to the middle and end or do you think of an end first and then build your story around it ?
Both happen. I have a diary in which I jot down any idea that pops up in my head. Then sometimes it’s the end that comes in first. I don’t analyze the process much, just let it happen. You have to build up a plot slowly, they don’t come in a flash with a light bulb going on over your head! It also means I never get bored in traffic jams because I’m looking around or brooding over a plot that’s got stuck, which they always do.
What's your favourite genre of writing ?
Historical fiction with a touch mystery. Also I write a lot about food J
How do you think of so many different words that you use in your books?
Read a lot, rewrite many times and use a Thesaurus. The more you write the better your vocabulary becomes. Writing is 98% sweat and hard labour.
How do you think of your characters ? Their names , their characteristics, their professions ?
Watch people, catch odd names and most of all I look for unusual personalities - odd characters, the eccentrics and people who have the courage to be different. A character like that makes a story interesting.
Are all your characters imaginary ? Or based on real life people ?
I never use a full character from anyone I know, just bits and pieces – a gesture or a voice, or a way of walking. If people recognise themselves in my books I’m in trouble!
How do you come up with the book titles ?
It comes while I’m writing the story.
Do you get nervous close to the release of your book ? Do you feel anxious that it will not be
I used to in the beginning but not anymore. My real pleasure comes from the process of writing and being able to vanish into a world I create in my head. Then when children like what I write then it is the jam.
How many days does it take for you to write a book / a story ?
Very hard to tell. I get stuck often.
Which is your favourite book ? And Why ?
Who is your favourite author ? Why ?
Many writers and they keep changing. Right now I am reading a lot of non-fiction and history. Among children’s writers the ones I still love are Bengali writers like Lila Majumdar, Sharadindu Bandopadhya and Satyajit Ray. I learnt a lot from the way they wrote. Among writers in English – Roald Dahl, RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Gerald Durrell, PG Wodehouse...
How do you feel while you are writing the book ? Do you like to write in isolation or do you
discuss with your friends and family ?
I need a quiet room and I don’t talk about it at all.
What advice would you give to kids who want to become writers ?Read a LOT. Experiment in your reading with fiction and non-fiction. Then write regularly, work on your language. You don’t have to write fiction, write about things that interest you – sports, space travel, adventure, trekking, computers whatever... If you enjoy the process of writing then continue and not because you want to become rich and famous. Most of us are neither.
Can you share with us any funny incident that you remember related to any of your books ?
I really shocked this little girl because I forgot the names of the characters in a story that she loved and knew by heart. “But you wrote it!” she said very loudly and then looked sort of doubtful and asked “You really
wrote it right?” In apology I bought her some books.
ha ha :) Thanks Subhadra - it was delightful reading you. Keep sharing the plots and ideas and your
choice of eccentric characters with us.
Books written by Subhadra:
A Royal Procession
Marching to Freedom
Raza Meets the King
A Man called Bapu
Bishnu, the Dhobi Singer
Kallu's World 1 - In Big Trouble Again!
Kallu's World 2 - Monkey Business on Stage
The questions for this interview come straight from the little readers of Payoshni's class who had
this and so much more to ask their authors:)
(Payoshni Saraf is a Teach for India 2012 Fellow, teaching a bunch of teenagers in a low income school in Warje. Her class of 21 is hooked to books and reads and learns together.Prior to TFI, Payoshni was a corporate slave in the field of Marketing who quit the money and chose the matter.)
Read more interviews with Pratham Books authors and illustrators.