|City of residence||Mumbai|
As far back as Payal can remember, she has loved stories, both telling stories and being told them. She wrote her first poem when she was nine, and although it was quite terrible, her parents made a big fuss over her and gifted her a little notebook in which she could record all her poetic impressions. She still has it.
Her favourite subject through school was English Composition. She loved following her imagination wherever it took her. All it took to get going was a new topic, or the seed of an idea, or just the prospect of being able to write about anything at all. She read more than she could, begging for extra books in the school library.
By the time she got to St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai to study English Literature, she didn’t have to beg for books any more – she couldn’t read fast enough. So many greats out there and so little time.
Fresh out of college, she dithered for the first time. Did she have what it takes to be a writer? She didn’t know. So she decided to take a Master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. She worked with Outlook in Mumbai and The Japan Times in Tokyo. Real life, she thought, would give her many stories. It did – but then she discovered that some of our dearest stories are born in our imagination.
And then one day, she decided to write. Really write. Write what I want. And tell the stories she wanted to tell. It was not enough to dream of writing any more. So she wrote Wisha Wozzariter. And when Wisha stopped wishing and started writing, she did, too.
“Wisha Wozzariter,” won the Crossword Award for Children’s Writing in 2013. It is also on the “101 Indian Children’s Books We Love!” list. This zany story about a wish come true is also a modern-day fable about the adventure of writing.
Payal is finally living her dream of being an author. Her newest book “Horrid High” was launched in September 2014. It’s a perfectly horrid adventure in the world’s most horrid school. Happy horrid reading!
Fantastic Four – Four of my favourite books
Artemis Fowl series – Eoin Colfer For edge-of-the-seat tech-savvy action, for being irreverent and hugely funny.
Dial A Ghost – Eva Ibbotson For being laugh-out-loud funny, outlandish and unputdownable. For taking the horror out of death and the afterlife.
The Twits – Roald Dahl For its great sense of humor and for its brilliant characterization of two utterly unlikeable people.
Wild Child & Other Stories (among others) – Paro Anand For her compelling narrative voice and poignant characters, for having the courage to address the issues that matter.
Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing?
My earliest attempts at writing were as a ten-year-old writing poetry and short stories for my school magazine and for English class. I don’t remember them as struggles, more as too-short bouts of feeling completely free to express myself. I was always quite at ease with words. I didn’t really formally learn the nitty gritties of writing, it was more imbibed from my English teachers at school, from all the books I read.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
from people and things I observe around me, from other books I read or real events I read about in the papers.
What does your typical writing day look like?
My typical work day starts at about ten and ends at about three when my kids come home from school. On a good day I write about 4000 words and on a bad day I just can’t get past more than a thousand.
What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author?
I think it helps that
and thinking about my book even when I’m not writing. I think it helps to create a sort of creative rhythm, to train your mind to tune out of the real world every day and to flex your writing muscles.
What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author should do?
I recommend that
It’s the thing we most put off doing.
Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?
I value and zealously guard my nine hours of sleep. Sometimes I find that nothing cures writers block better than an afternoon nap!
Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing process? If yes, can you tell us about them?
I don’t use technology much – I find it a distraction and like to put my phone face-down on silent while I write. We have this illusion that all sorts of catastrophic things will happen in that narrow sliver of time when we’re out of reach but when I check my messages every hour I find that I’ve missed nothing much. I use the Internet to search for odd facts that I can use in my books, or for odd words that might inspire a character name, for instance.
Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer?
I use a writing program called Scrivener that lets me move back and forth between chapters and create a storyboard of my book.
Can you tell about what you are currently writing and other works in the pipeline?
I’m currently writing part two of Horrid High and it’s perfectly horrid that I’m only half way through and I have so much left to say.
Your “Wisha Wozzariter” got the Crossword Children’s book award for 2013. Did you expect any award when you wrote it or launched it? How did it feel to get the award for your second book?
In some sense, Wisha Wozzariter was my first book, not my second, because the book I wrote before it, Colonel Hathi Loses His Brigade, was a commission for Disney where I had to tell a new story using a stock set of characters from the Jungle Book (though I went on to create a few more). I didn’t expect any award when I wrote it, but I certainly thought the book had more than a decent shot at winning because it was a book that I still feel immensely proud of.
We hear that the book was shelved for a long time before it was launched. Was it?
The book was never shelved – that’s not true at all. I wrote the first half of the book, got stuck with my character Wisha at a crucial juncture and went back to my career as a journalist and forgot all about it. In fact, it slipped out of my mind so much that when I contacted Penguin with a writing sample six years later, it was another piece of writing I sent them. When they expressed an almost immediate desire to see more of my work, I unearthed Wisha from my old Word files and sent it to them without a second look. They urged me to complete the book and armed with that encouragement and endorsement of my work, I did. The book had such a blessed run that way. Being noticed right away and then winning the Crossword Award- it was a tremendous feeling to watch a childhood dream come true. I mean, how many people are fortunate enough to live a childhood dream?
You latest “Horrid High” is the first of a series of boarding school stories. This is a popular story line already done to death in the west, but not very common in the Indian setting. Why did you not choose the main characters to be Indian? In short, why Ferg Gottin? Why not Rahul or Rohit?
Horrid High is a boarding school book or a fantasy or an adventure or a humorous book – if you are more comfortable slotting books into genres, that is. Personally speaking I find genres constricting. I think of a book as a living person with so many complexities that it can be many things all at the same time. I don’t really write based on what works or what genre needs exploring so much as just listening to my own imagination and letting my own inner voice steer the story along.
I think Horrid High springs from a deep sense of fun that comes with telling a bizarre, outlandish story with more than fifteen colourful and utterly wacky characters and all kinds of mad connections being made in the most unexpected ways.
I wanted the school to occupy an imaginative space that has no boundaries – like Wisha I wanted this to be the sort of story that can be told anywhere. I wouldn’t write an overtly Indian book any more than I would write an overtly Australian book or an overtly Ethiopian book – if there is such a thing! I think the nationality of the writer is incidental and doesn’t always have to echo in what she writes for the writing to be authentic.
On a more practical note I did try to play with Indian names and we do have a marginal character in the book known as Harvinder Heckle. But I only used that name because it worked, not because it was a nod of some sort to my Indianness. All the characters have names that involve word-play, borrowed from English words that might sum up their essence as characters, it was hard to use Indian names without everything seeming like a hodgepodge. For instance if a character’s last name is filch (and here ‘filch’ means to steal) I can’t really make her first name Indian without it appearing awkward and clunky. And a Raveena Filch or a Fareeda Filch just doesn’t sound as true to my ears.
PlusMinus’n’More thanks Payal Kapadia for sharing with us her experiences as a writer.
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