Last week, she was at the Asiatic Library in Mumbai trying hard to control her giggles kids rolled on the floor laughing while she regaled them with an excerpt from her book Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber. Her March of the Mughals song was declared an instant hit by one kid too! Natasha Sharma is undoubtedly one of the best and the most popular authors of children’s fiction we have and ta-da! She’s at Book Trotters Club this month, in conversation with Harshikaa Udasi.
Being a writer of so many books for children, and on such diverse topics, what do you think children love about books?
I’d say the same things that adults love about books – the thrill, the wonder, the magic, the ability to put yourself in a different place and time while seated in your chair. Characters that are impossible to get out of your head, plots that hook you and the crazy adventures and journeys you can have within a story. And it is all better in books for children!
As a writer who reads often to kids, I am certain you feel their enthusiasm while listening to your stories. Why, then, do parents tend to complain about their kids not being interested in reading?
That’s a complex question! Kids, as do adults, love listening to stories. You’re unlikely to find a child who won't cuddle up to hear a story. I think if you do that early enough, spare the time as they grow older to help them sustain reading through the difficult transitions involving bigger words, concepts and more complex emotions and are seen reading yourself, there is a good chance your child will read. It’s always a chance since kids all have their individual preferences, but you definitely tip the odds in favour of reading as a life-long friend.
Your History-Mystery series is truly awesome - history and humour together in such a wonderful seamless manner! Razia was a particular favourite with my kids at Book Trotters Club. Could you tell us something about how this idea came about and a little about your writing process?
The History Mystery series originated in a writing workshop when I got a sock as a prop and a genre of historical fiction. That led to a short version of Akbar, which grew into a book, which grew into a series.
When it was time for the fourth History Mystery, I was particularly keen to write a story revolving around a strong female ruler. Razia presented herself as a somewhat familiar figure from fairly long ago. The Delhi Sultanate offered a rich backdrop to build this story against. The research corroborated that and offered interesting characters I could incorporate. And there was Razia and the Pesky Presents!
My writing process for a History Mystery is largely research, write, edit, edit, edit, edit!
A detailed version would be: Decide on the main character I’ll be writing about, which would take some iterations to get to.
Research for a couple of months largely through translations of old manuscripts, museum visits and websites, architecture of the time – either visiting or reading up on them and reaching out to experts in the field.
I begin with the broader facts on the character, empire etc. and then burrow down to specifics of food, clothing, language, daily life and entertainment, court life and the like.
I try and look for facts that are quirky, unusual and something that I can incorporate into the character and plot. Often, these facts form the bedrock for something in the plot or a character.
My writing process for a History Mystery is a little more structured than when I’ve written other books. I have a more well-formed idea at the start of writing.
And then it is to the character creation, final writing, editing and more editing!
Your new book Shah Jahan is already making waves. How did you decide to choose him as a subject? I don't want to give out the mystery but this one is hilarious!
I’m thrilled you’ve enjoyed it! It took much longer to write this since I couldn’t stop researching on him, the Taj Mahal, the Peacock throne and so much else! Shah Jahan has such a presence in our mind space with the Taj Mahal that I felt the time was right to write on him. There is also a wealth of information and actual artefacts so it makes for a rich pool to dip into.
You've had a very different career before you took a plunge into children's writing. Could you tell us about it and what got you attracted to writing?
I’m an MBA and have graduated in math. My last stint was working in the corporate sector as Brand Manager for Pizza Hut with Yum restaurants. Writing was always a part of my life but I’d never really thought of it as a career choice growing up. I dreamed of owning a book store though!
Taking a break from work and going back to the world of children’s literature with my kids, led to my writing taking a natural turn towards children’s stories. When I realised that I’m enjoying it a lot and the stories seemed to keep bubbling up in my head, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue further. I was lucky to get my first break with Icky, Yucky, Mucky and it has been a fun ride ever since.
Is your daily life filled with squiggles and difficult-to-please princesses and grubby kings and roosters who do not know to crow and mysteries that require you to snoop around? You know what they say about writers, inspired by life and all that!
A lot is inspired by life and things around. Fussy milk drinker, terrible table manners, a childhood full of animals, my own long-winded route to figuring out that children’s literature is my true passion – all of it inspires me. I find that the more you allow your mind to sponge up the world and to wander free, the more ideas come into your head.
What do you do on a break? (Erm, do writers ever take a break?)
My head is constantly spinning with ideas but I don’t write all the time. You’ve got to live life to the fullest including taking loads of breaks. For me, that is usually in the form of travel. We love travelling as a family and visit new places all the time.
I also have strange routines that I tend to go back to before every book. I tend to spring clean my house! I’ve put it down to a nesting routine before I begin with the creation of a new story. And I celebrate each finish with a frenzy of baking.
In addition, with young kids, it is a busy household and sometimes there are breaks enforced my routines that are beyond my control.
We can't wait for more books from you? Please tell us the next ones are coming soon. (Seems slightly inappropriate after the question about taking a break, doesn't it? But we need to know!)
Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber has just released. I’m working on a new series with Harper Collins called the ‘Good Indian Child’s Guide’ with the first one being ‘The Good Indian Child’s Guide to Eating Mangoes’. Am superbly excitement about the series - it is my first graphic novel for young children and a mad one at that. I’ve had tremendous fun writing it. Work on the illustrations has just begun and I am looking forward to writing the next few.
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