Friday, April 16, 2010

Interview with Ashok Rajagopalan - the Writer

I feel very privileged to bring another interview for the readers to draw inspiration from. In the previous QA session with Ashok Rajagopalan, I struggled hard to keep the list to 10 questions inspite of the fact that that session was only dedicated to Ashok's illustrations, which is just a small part of what all he does. Ashok is one person who very comfortably dons many hats and one of them is that of a writer.

Here is a sample of his creativity unleashed - 'Witchsnare,' a gamebook published by Penguin India, was his first as a writer. He then rewrote 'Homer's Iliad' and 'The Odyssey' for Prodigy Books. He also writes and illustrates a comic, 'Rhy the Rhino' for the children's monthly magazine - Toot.
As Kenny Wordsmith, he has written many ‘hubs’ at and blogs at
An attempt to bring the views of the writer Ashok through these questions.

How long have you been illustrating and writing and which is your first passion that helps giving shape to your creativity more?

Professionally, I have been illustrating since 1988. Every kid draws and writes creatively, so my experience prior to that doesn't count. 'Witchsnare,' my first book as author, was published in 2007; I had started writing it a year before that.

Drawing comes natural to me; it's part of me like eating or sleeping. Writing is my passion: I want to be able to devote more time to my writing. I spend more time drawing than writing now, sadly.

According to you, what kind of plot is good enough to be qualified as a story idea? How do you refine the storyline? In brief, what is the sequence of events in writing a story?

If questions are weapons, this one is three-pronged! Let me try a three-in-one answer. There are two kinds of approach - the Asimov approach and the Wodehouse approach, according to yours truly. Just like there are two kinds of travellers - the organised kind plans out everything in advance and sets out, safe and secure. The adventurous kind sets out without a schedule. I used to follow the Asimov method of taking a vague idea and start writing, and see where it takes me. I managed two short stories and a novel doing that. You may read the short stories here and here.

The Wodehouse method, which I find myself adopting recently, is to write the plot first, one-page synopsis second, and actual narrative third. Then polish it till it shines. Any plot is good, by the way, as one writer's idea could be in another's recycle bin.

When you look back on your career, is there anything you would have done differently or regret not doing ?

No regrets in life and career generally, as there is still time, space and energy to do the things I want to do.

How different is writing for children's books from adult books? Has it changed over the years and how? Do you see changes in your writing style?

The style, if different, is because of publisher's requirements - style sheets, grading, target age-groups, and so on. A child who loves to read does not read only books meant for children. Like some of my classmates, I used to read Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, R K Narayan and Tagore when I was 12. Wodehouse and Asimov I discovered at 14. Happy days!
I'm glad about one thing though: the preachy, moralistic stories are out, and irreverent, mischievous ones are in. Long live Roald Dahl! There's another change which is sociologically good: children's books are politically correct these days.
I hope my writing style has grown; I hope it has become more natural, more entertaining and less pretentious. At least I try, sigh.

What do you think the writing for Children's books should be like?

I think it's doing fine. No complaints. And I'm grateful to J K Rowling who gave children's literature a much needed shot in the arm.

Do you plan to write in Hindi/English more or in regional languages? What comes naturally to you?

Tamil comes naturally to me. I would like to do a bilingual novel, one that is in two languages at the same time. I don't know if it has been done somewhere; I am exploring the idea and I don't know if publishers would try and experiment with me.

For which age group do you want to write more and why?

For ages 9 -12. That's when the average reader starts serious reading. At least that's when I did. I can make classical and literary allusions, and they will get it. Because they are full of what they read at school too. Younger readers won't get my allusions and adults would have forgotten. Maybe my real reason is that my mental age is 12 or thereabouts.

What kind of children's books/stories do you find missing in Indian markets?

You just twanged the strings of my secret sorrow! We have too many retellings of our epics, and folklore. Jataka and Panchatantra are retold every year many times. Almost as if India has finished telling all her good stories. I would like to see that gap filled. Why not more fantasy writing set in India? Writers can dip their pens in the rich fount of our heritage and create fresh stories for young readers, can't they?

Is there enough space for new talent or already it’s a crowded place out there? What would you like to say to the writers who are reading this interview and wondering if their ideas are interesting enough to share with others?

The more the merrier! I am not such a senior writer who knows enough to advise aspiring writers, so will content myself with saying hi and tell them to stop wondering and start writing. Read the submission guidelines of the publisher and submit your manuscript as they request. The best way to find out if your stuff is any good is to try to get published. I know, of course, that every good writer will be continuously improving his or her craft and become more and more readable and publishable every day in every way. No fears there! If you are not confident at first, at least start writing a blog right away. For starters.

Do you think there are enough publishers of children's books now in India or should we have more to bring more variety?

The more the merrier is my answer to this one too. A bigger marketplace, more books for us to read, more writers getting inspired...more books for that wonderful reader who is a mirror of the kid within us.

In conclusion, may I say that this set of questions challenged me so much that I had to stop, think, and then answer? That's uncharacteristic of me; I am usually quick on the draw. Thank you for making me exercise my brain muscles. All the best to aspiring writers, and please read my books!

A very big thanks to you, Ashok and I wish you all the best for all your future endeavours.


  1. Very modest! Please do take some credit and accept you are good! I am reading ur stories now...

  2. Aw, it sounds better when you say I'm good, Vasudha! Thanks! :)) Hope you enjoy the stories.

  3. Didnt know about this facet of Ashok's. How much talent can one person have?!

  4. ChoxBox, I believe everybody can do many things. All little children draw, sing, dance, write, act... We lose it or get interested in different things as we grow older.
    By the way, I also act:


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