Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Interview : Himanjali Sankar

It was a pleasure interviewing Himanjali Sankar, the author of quirky and humorous 'The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog' (reviewed here).

I am glad to be sharing this interview here with the readers of Literary Sojourn.

1.     How did you get the idea of the time telling dog? How has been its response?

I wish I could say that a lot of deep thought went into the idea but, honestly, it was a fairly random decision! I wrote about a time telling dog as a writing exercise in a workshop and then decided to expand on the idea. I have been for a few book reading sessions in the last month and the children that I read to seemed to love the idea of a timetelling dog.

2.     How has been your journey with Duckbill publishers?

I love working with Duckbill. This is my first full-length novel and I was tentative and uncertain about being up to the task. The feedback that I received from them and the editorial suggestions were invaluable. Working on the promotion and publicity aspects has also been great as their ideas are creative and fun.

3.     Which kind of children's literature do you enjoy reading the most?

I like children’s literature that is outrageous, quirky and layered. I enjoy Cornelia Funke – her stuff for younger children, like Princess Knight and The Pirate Girl. I love Roddy Doyle, too, especially the way he sometimes writes the most ridiculously funny stuff.  I love Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein as far as poetry goes. I think simple, straightforward, rhythmic poetry is so tough to do and so fabulous to read when the poet gets it just right.

4.     Which children's books author is your role model?

I don’t think I have a role model. However, the authors that I like most (some of them mentioned above) would be influencing my writing, directly and indirectly. In India, I like Anushka Ravishankar and Asha Nehemiah’s writing very much and I have worked with both of them and have possibly been influenced by their writing.

5.     What are the most important things to keep in mind while writing books for children?

What I personally found the toughest to do was keeping the language simple and straightforward. I essentially like to write long convoluted sentences which do not make as much sense as they should! However, children are hard to please and difficult to impress. As far as thoughts and ideas go, I think you can pack in as much as you want as long as you keep the language clean and direct.

6.     How are tastes and preferences of young readers changing over time?

Trends and fashions in literature will keep changing but that is at a surface level. At a deeper level, I don’t think it is easy to gauge such changes. With technology and globalization children are exposed to much more from a younger age which would cause their preferences to change but beyond that, I don’t think I can confidently predict the direction in which this is moving.

7.     Do you think books are competing with technological gadgets these days and reading habit is adversely getting impacted?

To a certain extent, yes. There is too much out there, competing with books. However, I am optimistic that the reading habit is not going to go away anytime soon. I have met so many children who really love books that I think it would be unfair on my part to say that children are reading less these days. To a certain extent, especially with younger children, reading has always been a conscious decision on the part of parents. And once you establish the habit it does not go away easily.

8.     How do you see Indian Children's books in comparison with the foreign children literature?

In India, apart from the folktales and oral literature that has always been an important part of growing up, I don’t think children’s literature has still come of age. Of course, when I say that, I am talking about English literature for children. In Bangla, for instance, there is a huge plethora of wonderful children’s books out there. I am not qualified to talk about children’s literatures in other languages in India but I am sure there is a lot of stuff which perhaps does not get the exposure or bandwidth that it should.

9.     Why are Indian children's books focused more on teaching and preaching than on sheer joy of reading a good story? Is it changing now?

Traditionally, our stories have usually taught a lesson but often in a fun way, like with Birbal, Gopal Bhand, Tenali Raman and such folk heroes. Literature, like other subjects, was possibly expected to serve a purpose. And I would like to think there has always been a parallel range of joyful literature which was considered too frivolous to be canonized. I don’t know if things are changing but there is a conscious effort to bridge this gap which is surely a good thing.
10.  Kidlit has a long way to cover to be at the same level as the foreign literature. What is your opinion in this?

Kidlit is unfortunately not taken very seriously in our country. In many foreign countries it is a segment of the publishing industry that is seen to be very important. The authors and illustrators of children’s books, the quality of production are all viewed very differently and given the sort of recognition and importance, through awards, sponsorships and visibility, that is not done here. Of course, things are changing and we can hope for good things to come. 

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