Meet Chitra Soundar, the author of Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip – Karadi Tales’ newest title that is all set to be launched this Sunday at Isha Life, Mylapore, Chennai!
Karadi: What made you take up children’s writing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a children’s writer?
Chitra: I was one of the oldest in our extended family. I loved stories – to read, to listen to and to tell. I grew up in the tradition of listening to oral tales from my mother and grandma. So I started telling stories to my little cousins.
Even today I love the imagination and humour in children’s books – especially picture books and can’t imagine writing anything else. I’ve just started telling stories now in bookstores and the like and I’ve realized how much I missed telling stories.
I’m not sure there are any disadvantages of being a children’s writer – except some funny stares in the trains in London when people see me reading children’s books.
The advantages are many. I can explain why I’m crawling on the museum floor to think like a baby, take photos of funny mushrooms and clouds shaped like a rhino. I enjoy thinking about what would make a child happy or sad. I love the imagination of the 4-9 year age-group – where dragons can fly and fairies can appear out of cupcakes.
Karadi: Do you have to like children to be a good children’s author?
Chitra: I love kids. I love being with babies and toddlers. My sister calls me a baby whisperer. But I don’t have any children of my own. It is definitely easy research if you had a wandu of your own. I have a little nephew now and I’m sure he’s going to appear in my stories soon.
Being a good children’s author is about the craft; about understanding the language, the topics that kids would love to read, and writing stories that inspire, excite and kindle their imaginations. It is about teaching life to new human beings without being didactic and preachy.
Arguably you need not like children to write for children – the same way you don’t have to kill to write murder mysteries.
But the difference is that kids want to meet with their authors, get to know them. It helps enormously if you like them and enjoy their company. Many children’s writers I know, are mums, dads, teachers and librarians who come into contact with children as part of their daily lives and enjoy their company and respect their audience.
Karadi: What do you like to read? What are your favourite children’s books? Who are your favourite authors?
Chitra: I love reading picture books and stories for young readers. I used to devour every Enid Blyton book ever written, every Nancy Drew. But now I read children’s books for both pleasure and research.
I love reading poetry by Roger McGough, stories by Michael Morpugo, Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon and many more.I buy more than 10 books a month and borrow a lot of them from the library. Whenever I visit India, I buy a suitcase full of books from here.
As an adult, especially when I am travelling I love reading crime. I also read biographies.
Karadi: Do you follow a writing routine? How do you go about writing a story?
Chitra: I work full-time in a bank here in London. So I write in the mornings before going to work or during the weekends. I also scribble ideas, first lines, titles for new stories while I’m on the bus or in the train.
Usually my picture books start with an idea. I write 2 lines about the theme in my notebook first. Then I try to work through the story in 12 spreads (for a 32-page picture book).
I storyboard in a notebook until I know I have enough scenes that can be illustrated distinctly. Then I start writing the story – sometimes on the computer directly, sometimes in my notebook. I keep editing and revising the same story off and on for many weeks. Sometimes if it is not working or if it is not child-friendly or something that interests my reader, I will put it away.
Sometimes I put it away to get more perspective. If I come back and read the same story in a few weeks I need to like it as much as I did when the idea came.
If it is a chapter book, usually the words come first. I write the first chapter and keep going until the first burst of words is finished. Then I read it back and think about whether this has potential for a full chapter book. Will it work? Can I sustain the reader’s interest? Can I sustain my own interest for that long?
For me, chapter books take longer to finish than to start. I have a number of first chapters that I don’t have the time to pursue. Usually this is because I am already working on a project and a new idea just has to wait. But I do love the excitement of a new idea and the new first chapter.
Karadi: What are you currently working on?
The second book is a set of animal stories set in an Indian jungle with Mandy the monkey and Tula the tiger. I am working on the first two stories in the series and have ideas for more.