Updated: Aug 3
Readers at the Young Readers' Club waited with much excitement for her to join our online meeting. Little did I know that they had come prepared with a long list of questions!
Moments before Lavanya joined the Zoom meeting, one of the readers gave the others an instruction, "Remove favourite characters from your virtual backgrounds. We are having a guest today. We need to look presentable." Some started to adjust their backgrounds to make it 'formal', some were checking if their names were spelt right and a few rustled through papers looking for something, perhaps their list of questions. When she joined, at first, no one noticed. They were very busy trying to look presentable and checking with one another, until one of them noticed her name come up on the participant list. That reader announced, "She has come! She has joined the meeting!" But just as it happens in a physical classroom, that voice went unheard at first but soon there was a momentary silence.
It seemed as if they were just waiting to bombard her with questions. Soon after I welcomed her to our little gathering, several hands went up at one go. It was impressive how much these young minds had thought ahead about the interaction. Here is an excerpt from the wonderful session we had. Note: everyone of the questions below came from the young readers.
How did you discover that you wanted to become an author and illustrator?
Lavanya shared about how she always loved writing and drawing. As a child, she knew that that was something that she definitely wanted to do when she grew up. However, she was advised and encouraged to focus on school, studies and accomplish in terms of academics, get qualified for a good corporate job. That's what she did until much later she chose to follow her calling, which was writing and illustrating stories.
Do you write only for children or do you write for adults as well?
She responded by saying that she enjoys writing for children mainly and strongly believes that adults too must read books written for children. "As adults we tend to forget what it is like to be a child," she said. She also added that she may write a murder mystery for the 10 plus age group which can be read and enjoyed by adults too.
Which was the first book you wrote?
Patterns that she saw around her inspired her first book What Does Anu See? She described various instances such as mosaic tiles laid in floors of yester year houses, trekking expeditions with fantastic views etc., could show images in your imagination, if only you would look intently. Such random yet fascinating thoughts/imagination could be put to use while creating a story.
Speaking of where she gets ideas for her stories...
Original ideas sometimes emerge when one is reading a variety of books across genres. Something could trigger an original, imaginative idea that could be put to use in one's own story. Ideas also emerge, she said, sometimes from her own experiences as a child. She gave the example of her book Homework. The book has a scene in which the teacher asks the children to conduct an experiment with an egg to see if it hatches at home. That was inspired from her own childhood. Similarly, different neighbourhoods she grew up in, gave her ideas for names and the setting for her famous Ninja Nani Series.
A Writer's Book To Keep All Those Amazing Ideas Safe
She showed the young readers the notebook that she maintains, in which she jots down ideas that emerge in her mind. "Sometimes, these may be just one or two sentences, but they come of use when I need ideas to write my stories. Ideas are like puppies. If you don't note them down, they run away, make you run around till you catch them again." She emphasized the importance of having a writer's book as one never knows when this may come of use.
Do you write in languages other than English?
Lavanya explained how she writes stories either in English or Hindi and how the publisher sometimes chooses to have the same story translated into other languages. In which case although the original story has been written by her, someone else translates it into a different language. Several of her books have been translated into Korean, Marathi, Nepali and so on.
How long does it take to write and illustrate a book?
She explained how the time taken to write and illustrate a book depends on the book. She gave the example of her latest Dreamer Series in which so far, she has written about:
Bachendri Paul, the first Indian woman to scale the Mount Everest,
Dr.Salim Ali, the renowned ornithologist, Satyajit Ray, the famous Indian Film Director,
These books she explained, took months of research to find interesting stories from their lives and writing them in such a way that young readers would be inspired and enjoy reading at the same time. On the other hand some stories happen in a shorter time period especially if they are written from her imagination.
Which one of the books you have written is your favourite?
"Ideally an author is suppose to like all the books that they write, but I must choose, I love the Ninja Nani Series. I had a lot of fun working on those."
Which is your most favourite book that you have read?
The Dreamer Series & The Island of Aunts by Eva Ibbotson.
What do you do when you get a Writer's Block?
Lavanya said that she doesn't call it a 'block' as such. There are times, when nothing seems to come. Those times she tries to switch between projects, sometimes a run or a swim also help in getting her back on track.
Who inspired you to write?
No one in particular, she said. She went on to tell the children how her conversations with her daughter, people whom she meets outside and so on inspire her in many ways to write.
I want to write a story book. How do I go about doing it? - A Question from an aspiring writer at the Young Readers' Club.
Think of good characters, write a story freely with them in it.
Write for yourself. If you want to laugh, write a story that will make you laugh. If you want to cry, write a story that brings tears to your eyes. Write for yourself as the first reader of the story. Don't worry about who will read or what others will say.
Live! Go outdoors, meet people, have experiences of all kinds. As good as reading is to develop your skills, nothing compares to real life to inspire good stories.
Keep going with it. There will be disappointments. Deal with them and don't give up.
How do you deal with disappointments?
Drawing parallels with one of the books in the Dreamer Series, Lavanya suggested we think of disappointment as a little demon sitting on our shoulder, distracting us from our goal. We need to gently set him down, move on to other projects or tasks, till we are ready to try again.
The session ended on that note. The next time, any one of us face a disappointment, I am sure we would remember the 'demon' analogy and let the demon down for something else.
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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-11 age group, the Young Executives' Club program offers spoken and written communication skills development course for the 12-14 age group.
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