I did not have a favourite author when I was growing up. I read widely. I grew up in a time when books and outdoor play were the primary sources of entertainment. I devoured Enid Blyton books. I started with the playful Noddy series, then the Famous Five with their ingenious mystery solving skills, then the books of boarding school mischief in Mallory Towers. I read the Bobbsey Twins for the same reason. I moved briefly like my classmates to Mills and Boon and Barbara Cartland romances, but the storyline was always the same and my interest in romance was short-lived. As my tastes matured, I was drawn more to the quality of the prose and to new learning than to the storyline. I used to do themed, summer-holiday readings. Each summer it was a new destination. I read Russian literature-Nabakov, Tolstoy, Chekov, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, then another summer it was translations of Japanese authors like Yukio Mishima. One summer, it was Indian classics. But there is one book that stands out in my memory. I still remember the literary, tongue-in cheek delights of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals that I read when I was in middle school. I still remember the two new words that I learnt so many years ago from that book-“pusillanimous” and “galvanized.” Reading definitely expands your vocabulary!
2. What made you start writing? And start writing for children in particular. And why poetry?
Even as a child, I wrote poetry and short stories for fun. I enjoyed creating rhyme structures even if they were simple couplets. We were a word game family, and imaginative play and writing was something we embraced. When I was quite young, my father sent one of my stories to a newspaper and I saw my byline in the weekend junior section. Seeing your name in print is always addictive. I continued to write in college for the university newspaper, and later I became a grant writer for work. As a mother, and now a grandmother, my storytelling has changed. My granddaughter and I often make up different endings for well-known classics-like an exercise in fractured fairy tales. But poetry writing is what I enjoy the most. Many of my published books are stories written in rhyme. As a voice-over professional I like the sound and the rhythm of words, and the cadence and music of rhyming poems. I enjoy being able to express my thoughts in the compressed space of a short poem.
3. How is writing poetry different from writing prose? Any tips for aspiring poets?
Poems, especially for children, use fewer words and are shorter than a story written in prose. So the writer must pay careful attention to the words that are used. In addition, poetry, even if not following a particular rhyme scheme, has rhythm in its structure. Poems can be memorized more easily, so there should be a predictable pattern to the verse. If you choose to write a story in verse, as I did with Parvati the Elephant’s Very Important Day (HarperCollins) there are some points to remember:
1. The story is the foundation on which you build your poem.
2. It should have a hook or an interesting opening.
3. There should be action to advance the plot.
4. Add a twist to the storyline to make it interesting.
4. Develop a satisfying ending. I’d add that you should use creative and playful language with strong, colourful verbs and read many story-poems of the kind you wish to construct. Also, I’ve seen that with younger children, a repetitive phrase in your verses makes the reading more participatory.
4. Of all your works, which one are you most proud of and why?
I am asked this question often and I always respond by saying, “Asking an author to name a favourite work (or the one you are most proud of) is like asking a mother to name her favourite offspring.” We love them all equally! However, I’m particularly pleased by my poetry book, It’s Time to Rhyme, Poems for Kids of All Ages because the book is unique. The book introduces poetic form — the structure of sonnets, limericks, couplets, diamante, acrostic and more. It then follows it up with a universally themed poem that adheres to that particular format, so there is a reinforcement of the poetic form. Children and adults have all enjoyed the book and it was awarded Publishing Next’s Book of the Year (ages 8+) 2022. I’ve had excellent feedback from children as well as their parents and teachers. It has been recognized as a book for all ages.
5. Did you read Tinkle while growing up? What did you like/not like about it?
My children read Tinkle while growing up. My son would clamour to pick up the latest Tinkle Digest at the railway stations when we were traveling in India. He remembers that there was both learning and fun in each issue. The illustrations were zany and fun as well. Tinkle reminded us of the popular Highlights magazine that my children read in America as well.
6. If there is only one story you could tell, which one do you feel is waiting to be told?
What I’d like to share with children is the pleasure I have had over the years with WORDS. Whether it is in games, or in books, in song, poetry or theatre, words have a way to influence, entertain, engage, comfort and grow us. I have put these thoughts into a manuscript that uses poetry and prose, story and play to share my love of words in the hope that it will draw others to the joy I feel.
7. What do you like doing when you’re not writing?
I like reading, and I love watching a good film or mystery series on television. I also like to go on walks by myself when I can percolate new ways to approach my next project. I read somewhere that the Italians have a word for the store of poems one has in their head: a gazofilacio. My head is full of poetry.
8. What’s a typical day like for you as a writer?
I spend as much time framing my stories as I do writing them. It is the same with poetry. So, I don’t have a set schedule where I’m at my desk writing each day. My work is informed by the books I read, the people I meet, the children I engage with. My typical day is often a day of commonplace activities, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, visits with friends and family. When I’m on a deadline, of course, I spend many more hours at the computer.
Holiday Hoopla first appeared in Tinkle Holiday Specials No. 53. Which is now available in all major bookstores. Get your copy now!