On average, Roopa Pai wears three hats every week – children’s writer, journalist, and tour guide with history and heritage walks and tours Company, BangaloreWalks – but it is the first that is closest to her heart. In her 20 years of writing for children, she has written hundreds of magazine articles, newspaper columns, poems and short stories, and published over 18 books, 4 of them for Pratham Books. She is the author of Taranauts, India’s first original fantasy-adventure series in English for children. Her new bestseller, The Gita For Children, released in July 2015.
We caught up with Roopa to chit-chat and peek into her writer’s mind, as her story- ‘The Story of Stories’
debuted this week on StoryWeaver.
You wrote ‘The Story of Stories’ based on Prashant Miranda’s illustrations. What was your experience of weaving a story around these illustrations?
It was a really nice challenge. As a writer, you are so used to the writing leading the way and the illustrations following, that it took a little work to shift my gaze. The fact that these were Prashant Miranda’s illustrations – I don’t know him, but I have always loved his work – helped; I was excited by the challenge of writing a story that would do justice to his brilliance.
You’ve been writing children’s stories for a few years now. Has there been any change in the way you think about and write children’s stories over the years? We’d love to hear more about it.
I’ve actually been writing for children for over 20 years now. No, I don’t think I think or write differently now than I ever did. That sounds like I’ve stagnated or something, but what I mean is that what I learnt subconsciously from reading great books as a child, and what I was taught at my first job at Target magazine (arguably the best Indian magazine in English for children ever) about what makes good writing for children, still holds true. Some of those maxims, in no particular order, include:
· Children are intelligent, perceptive people – respect them
· Children are highly impressionable – be hyper conscious about the messages you are sending out
· Children absorb information – facts, values, wisdom – best, when it is presented engagingly. You’ve got to keep your readers reading if you want to teach them anything at all. Work hardest on this.
· It’s quite okay for stories not to teach anything and be just loads of fun, but the best stories – even if they are laugh-out-loud funny – leave the reader with something to reflect on.
· Children love humour – try and bring that into your stories.
· Good children’s stories are loved equally by adults.
How children choose to spend their free time may have changed over the years, but children haven’t changed at all.
What do you d??o and where do you go when you desperately need inspiration to write? Yes, we’re asking you to spill your secrets.
Ah, this is actually a closely-guarded secret. I don’t go anywhere at all. I can’t write in cafes, parks, libraries, other people’s homes, on solo holidays in the mountains (not that I’ve ever taken one, but I know I couldn’t have written there if I had), or anywhere else, so I don’t even own a laptop. I am sort of chained to my big-screen desktop, which is ironically very liberating – if I’m not in my bedroom in front of my desktop, I am not working! About inspiration to write, I think it happens as I go about my daily life – buying vegetables, having chai with a friend, being pampered at mom’s house, helping my kids with schoolwork – but really, my best muse is a looming deadline.
That’s why I often say I am not an artiste but a hack – the whip gets me going faster and better than any elusive ‘inspiration’.
What sort of books did you read as a child?
Oh, all kinds. I was an inveterate bookworm. It is a standing joke among my cousins that when I didn’t have anything else to read, I could be found with my nose inside a dictionary. But basically, by the time I was 12 or so, I had, like every other reading child of my generation, gone through hundreds of books – Enid Blyton, the Nancy Drew-Hardy Boys-Three Investigators triumvirate, Agatha Christie, Amar Chitra Katha, Indrajal Comics, Tintin, Asterix, Readers Digest Condensed Books, Star Love Stories in Pictures, Commando comics, Archie comics, Bible stories (I went to a missionary school) and lots of lots of beautifully-illustrated Russian books that used to be freely available at very low prices.
The thing was, no one curated my reading, so I just read every single thing I could get my hands on, some of which might have been considered highly inappropriate if anyone had looked. It was absolute bliss.