Children First Newspaper spoke to Anushka Ravishankar to find out how she became a writer and her message for young writers. One of the top children’s authors in India, Anushka Ravishankar has written over thirty-five books for children, including picture books in verse, chapter books, retellings of folk tales, and non-fiction. She also worked as an editor at Tara Books and Scholastic India, before she co-founded Duckbill Books, which is now an imprint of Penguin Random House India.
1. How did you become a writer? What encouraged your choice?
I wanted to become a scientist – I was very interested in physics and maths. I became a programmer and systems analyst, but I was a bookworm and always read a lot and I used to write a lot, right from when I was a child. I love words. So writing was something I knew I would do. So at one point, I switched careers, began to work in publishing and started to write.
2. How do you decide what to write? How do you choose the storyline, characters etc.? Do they take inspiration from real life?
When something appeals to my sense of the absurd or unusual, I end up putting it in a story. Sometimes it’s real life, sometimes it’s something I might have read in the newspaper or seen on TV. I make up characters based on what the story needs, though there are times when the story happens because of the character.
3. What are the children’s books that you have done? Can you recommend a few of your books?
If you like funny picture books in verse, do read To Market To Market, Excuse Me, Is This India and Hic! If you’d like really funny chapter books, read Moin and the Monster and Moin the Monster Songster. For slightly older reading, there’s The Storyteller, which is a retelling of some of the Arabian Nights stories. My latest book is Ogd, which is nonsensical and talks about everything from toenails to mathematics!
4. Can you recommend a few children’s books/series by other authors?
Read anything by Hilary McKay, Francis Hardinge and Philip Pullman. For older kids, All of Me by Venita Coelho, Queen of Ice by Devika Rangachari are good and for younger children, the hOle books by Duckbill have something for every taste.
5. What do you do when you are not writing? What are your hobbies?
Reading (of course), watching television, painting furniture (badly) and eating!
6. What does it take to become one of the best writers and how does it feel?
There’s no such thing as the ‘best writer’. There’s no such thing as a ‘best book’ even. One person’s best book may not be another person’s definition of best. So what it takes to be a good writer is to be aware of things around you, to respond to them, and tell your stories as honestly as possible. This means you have to be honest with yourself. Write what you want to say, not what you think someone else wants to read. I’m happiest when I am writing without thinking about why and what and whom I am writing for!
7. Can you give some tips on creative writing to young writers?
There’s nothing to it. Just write and read, read, read. Keep your eyes and ears open and hold on to your sense of wonder. And learn to get into other people’s shoes. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s essential.