Born8th March, 1990
Place of BirthMumbai
City of residenceMumbai
- The Monster Hunters (Duckbill, 2013)
- When Santa Went Missing (Puffin, 2014)
Parinita Shetty buys more books than she can afford, reads everything she can get her hands (or eyes) on, and writes only when she can think of literally nothing else to do. She thinks the internet is an excellent medium and is constantly delighted by all the creative ways people use it. She likes visiting ancient monuments, comparing mugs of hot chocolate in different eating establishments, and people who use unusual words in everyday conversation. She dislikes pigeons, low ceilings and posing for photographs.
Fantastic Five – Five of my favourite books
The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling I started reading the books when I was 10, and grew up with the characters. It was the first time I’d read a book that was complex and funny, exciting and just hugely entertaining. I’ve read other books that fill the same criteria since. But I suppose it’s true what they say, that the books you fall in love with as a kid stay with you for the rest of your life. This will always remain more than a book series for me (and I have a 9 ¾ tattoo on my left wrist to prove it!)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams This book (and its sequels) completely opened my mind. Douglas Adams showed me that books don’t have to follow any rules to be good. They can be absolutely bonkers and absolutely brilliant at the same time.
The Magic Faraway Tree series – Enid Blyton This series began my love affair with the fantasy genre back when I was 7 years old. Enid Blyton in general made me fall in love with reading. I still make time in my reading schedule to pick up a Blyton I haven’t read before. Reading all her books (how did she write so many?!) is a life goal.
Fly By Night – Frances Hardinge This is a relatively recent favourite, about a couple of years old. I discovered this writer entirely by accident and I’m so glad I did. I am convinced her spectacular brain is not of this world. If there is anybody whose brain I would like to study, it’s hers.
The Fried Frog and other Funny, Freaky, Foodie, Feisty Poems – Sampurna Chattarji I was never a poetry kind of girl. No poem had succeeded in engaging me. Poetry either bored me or went over my head and made me feel stupid. Until I met this book, which not only made me realise that poetry isn’t a scary spectre, but also made me fall in love with poems and kept my mind open to any other poetry that came my way.
Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing?
I think story ideas are a natural by-product of reading widely; you just can’t help it. I read a lot as a kid which filled my brain with all sorts of ideas. But since I largely read books by British and American writers, my characters and plots had the unfortunate habit of being firmly foreign. They had names like Michael and Amy, blond hair, went to American schools or had adventures on British farms.
The earliest story I remember writing was about a boy named Peter and his best friend Susan who set up a lemonade stand during their summer vacations. I even illustrated the story with blue ink drawings. As I grew older, I began writing more stories and designing character outlines but I never managed to complete any. They were still set in fictional American towns, but sometimes they had Indian characters. I don’t know why I never set any of my stories in India, in the world I was familiar with. I suppose that since I read only foreign books, I must have thought India just didn’t have the necessary excitement for a good story. Thankfully, I grew out of that. Which is also why I think it’s so important now to expose kids to the fantastic books India has to offer.
I never really learnt writing. It was just a consequence of reading all kinds of books. When I was a teenager, I ended up aping the kind of books I happened to be reading at the moment; not just the setting and characters but also the style. This sometimes happens even now, which is why I’m careful to keep an eye out for it.
I’m still learning how to write, it’s an on-going process. If I read something I’ve written a few months ago, I always spot things I would write differently. I don’t go out seeking writing tips online but I’m an extremely active reader of internet articles. Since I frequent several bookish sites and subscribe to bookish newsletters, I end up reading writing tips and articles about writing by other writers. Some of the points I relate to, others I find useful and make a note of.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I may be having a silly conversation with a friend and one of us will make a ridiculous joke and I’ll think, “Hey! That’d make a good story idea!” Or I’ll be reading an article and stumble on an interesting phrase which inspires an interesting character.
Ideas always come to me only as random snippets – as a potential character, or setting, or a trope I’d like to turn upside down.
I’ve never had a plot idea come into my head unannounced. I have to work on the random idea to develop it into an actual story.
With The Monster Hunters, I initially wanted to write about two monsters who are best friends and grow up next door to each other in their respective children’s bedrooms. It ended up being about two human best friends who go looking for monsters instead.
The dog on The Simpsons of all things gave me the idea for When Santa Went Missing. His name is Santa’s Little Helper, which made me think that writing about Santa’s reluctant helper might be more fun. It was going to be an elf in the beginning. But a grumpy Santa Claus’ daughter is the character that made itself home in my head.
What does your typical writing day look like?
I used to work full time until a month ago, which left very little time for writing. I’ve now scaled down to a part-time gig to leave me more room to write. Which is ironic, because I end up doing anything but. I’m a spectacularly lazy writer and put it off until the last possible moment. Only deadlines work in making me take it seriously. Even then, I usually end up finding Very Important Reasons to procrastinate (like rearranging my bookshelf, cleaning out the fridge, cleaning my computer keyboard, running errands for my mom, deciding it is imperative to meet all my friends for long lunches and dinners, reading, checking my email – the list goes on). But once a deadline is very close, I start panicking and sit down and get it done. Usually, I’ll wake up early in the morning to write because my brain is still too sleepy to come up with excuses.
What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author?
“If you finish 500 words, you can watch an episode of Community” or “If you finish writing a chapter today, you can go back to the book you’re reading.” Setting a deadline, even if it’s a self-imposed one, also helps. But usually I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of guilt because I write far lesser than I should.
What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author should do?
Be more disciplined than I am! Set aside a little time every day, even if it’s as little as half an hour, where you decide to get your butt on the chair and write. I’ve found that once I get over the initial reluctance of sitting down to write, by forcing myself to do it no matter what, the half an hour extends to an hour, then two hours, sometimes even more. Once you’re in the groove, you tend to write more than you thought you would. Half an hour every day. If you do it from Monday to Saturday, you can take Sundays off without feeling guilty.
Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?
I love supermarkets. I love walking down their aisles (the emptier, the better). I find that being surrounded by all sorts of food has a very calming effect on me. I don’t even have to buy anything, just looking helps. If a bookstore isn’t handy, I’ll step into the food aisle of the nearest department store. Godrej Nature’s Basket, Food Hall (which is a gourmet store in a fancypants mall called Palladium) and the food aisle at Westside are particularly pleasant.
Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing process? If yes, can you tell us about them?
It’s so easy to get lost in one of its rabbit holes. You start by looking up something for your story, and before you know it, it’s three hours later and you’re watching a video of an elephant sneezing.
But as much as the Internet is a hindrance to my writing, I can’t do without it. I can’t imagine downloading one of those programs designed for writers that blocks the Internet for specific periods of time allowing you to work without distractions. While I’m writing and I want to look up the synonym to a word that doesn’t sound quite right, I’ll use the define feature on Google. Or if I quickly want to fact check, I’ll Google it too. I know this can be done later as well, but the Internet is a comforting presence. I’m sure it’s entirely psychological and I’d be much more productive with an Internet blocker installed. But since I can’t concentrate on writing for too long, I need to distract myself for a couple of minutes by quickly reading an article or checking my email or even logging onto Facebook. Of course, there’s a thin line between productive distraction and elephant videos.
Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer?
It’s all hugely inspiring and triggers so many ideas in your head. Experimental forms of stories on Twitter, interactive stories told through the format of chats, stories told entirely through emojis, they’re all such fun. Not to mention stories being told on mediums like podcasts, YouTube videos, comic strips and photo projects like Humans of New York. Very exciting stuff!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others? (include websites, blogs or Twitter profiles, etc).
Oh no. I read a bunch of stuff, so this might be a long list.
I always look forward to Austin Kleon’s (a writer and an artist) updates on Tumblr: http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/
Playing By The Book is a spectacular celebration of books where the blogger uses picture books as a springboard for doing fun, crazy things with her two daughters: http://www.playingbythebook.net/
Brainpickings is a consistently delightful website focusing on creativity and all things interesting: http://www.brainpickings.org/
The site also has an offshoot called Literary Jukebox which pairs a quote with a song to fit the theme: http://literaryjukebox.brainpickings.org/
For bookish news and articles about bookstores, reading and writers, there are websites like Book Riot (http://bookriot.com/) and Buzzfeed Books (http://www.buzzfeed.com/books), both of which are fun and informal.
Can you tell about what you are currently writing and other works in the pipeline?
I have a bunch of ideas in my head that won’t leave me alone. But I haven’t started working on anything specific. A syndrome my teenage self would recognise instantly. But now that I’ve cut down on my work hours, I’m actually – gasp, dare I say it? – looking forward to writing.
Children’s literature in India has been under the radar for long. In recent days, there seems to be some promise with more publishers and writers focussing on it. What do you think about this?
I love that children’s books are becoming the centre of attention in the Indian publishing world. More and more publishers are taking risks (Duckbill is my favourite) and all of them are publishing fun new stuff. They also give new writers and illustrators a chance to get their work out there. Some fantastic books are being released, and a lot of them from small independent publishers.
But the problem that remains is awareness. A very small (thankfully increasingly growing) group of people know that these books even exist. It hasn’t reached mass appeal even among the section who loves reading. If you don’t know these books exist, it doesn’t matter if they’re brilliant; people aren’t going to be reading them.
Kids in general and teens in particular seem to prefer picking up popular foreign books. I don’t know if this is because they think Indian books aren’t cool. If you have someone who champions these books, like a rock star parent or librarian, the kids know about them. Author visits to schools work brilliantly too. The kids get really excited. But that’s not really sustainable because unless they learn how to clone themselves, authors can only go to so many schools.
Awareness is increasing slowly and surely thanks to online reading groups (the reading raccoons is a super resource for parents) and bookstore events but I guess I’m just impatient. And I’m afraid that if more people don’t support the publishers who are taking risks, these books will slowly disappear to make way for easy books that sell quickly.
You read a lot and write about non-fiction works on your blog. Do you have plans/ideas for a non-fiction book?
I would like to work on a non-fiction book actually! Something for younger kids where I can go crazy and have fun with it. It’s been a vague wish at the back of my head for the longest time but I haven’t really sat down to think of an idea. I’d like to do something historical or travel-related. Focus on a lesser known person in history and narrate her/his tale in a fun way.
Just in jest, have you found a monster under your bed (or) under anyone’s bed?
I’m much too big a scaredy-cat to actually go looking for monsters anywhere!
Find me at
Offline: Kahani Tree, a small children’s bookstore where I work two days a week. And Kitab Khana, a fairly larger bookstore in South Mumbai where I practically live.
PlusMinus’n’More: Thank you Parinita, for being our guest on F-pages and sharing with us your experiences as a writer.