BornSometime in November – I am a Scorpio
Place of BirthBangalore
City of residenceBangalore
- Chanakya – The Master Statesman (Rupa Publishers, Charitavali Series)
- Ticket Bengaluru – a guidebook to Bangalore (Stark Publishing)
- Sister Sister – a 4-part series on science for younger children (Pratham Books)
- Mechanic Mumtaz and Kaliyuga Sita – books on the theme of girl power (UNICEF)
- Taranauts – 8 part fantasy adventure; India’s first complete and original series in English for children (Hachette India)
- What if the Earth Stopped Spinning? and 24 other Mysteries of Science (Red Turtle)
- The Gita For Children (Hachette India)
Each week, Roopa Pai wears three professional hats on average – children’s writer, journalist / columnist, and tour guide (she conducts history and heritage walks around Bangalore and Karnataka for children and schools as part of her job with BangaloreWalks). She loves all her different roles, but confesses she is happiest when she is alone at home, in front of her computer, in her pajamas, with a big hot mug of ginger chai next to her, researching, imagining, ideating, and writing a book for children.
Fantastic Few – Few of my favourite books
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee When I first read it, at the age of 14, I knew that what I had stumbled upon was good writing, REALLY good writing, especially in terms of its insights into how children think and behave. In all the years of reading I’ve done since, very few other books have matched up.
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupery Again, great insights into how children think, never mind that this one is a fantasy and To Kill A Mockingbird is anything but. Seriously, who does not love this perfect little jewel of a book?
Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie I will never be able to adequately explain how much this book inspired me and changed my perception about how an Indian could write in English for children – boldly, confidently, funnily, heart-warmingly, incisively, intelligently, but most importantly, with a voice so original and so much in touch with its roots while being so much a part of the world.
The Shadow Lines – Amitav Ghosh I read this book when I was 20 or 21, and fell deeply and hopelessly in love with Amitav Ghosh and the way he used the English language. I have read every book of his since, and have loved them all in very different ways, but none of them has moved me in the particular way this one did.
The Golden Gate – Vikram Seth – This novel, written entirely in luminous verse, turned me, like a whole generation of my book-reading peers, into a lifelong fan of Vikram Seth. It made my young heart swell with pride to know that it was a young Indian author had crafted this masterpiece.
Any book at all – Enid Blyton Sorry, I simply have to add one more author, not book, to the list. EnidBlyton’s writing is often criticized for being racist, sexist, elitist, or simply ‘unchallenging’ and repetitive, but there is no doubt that hers was the voice that shaped my childhood reading and writing. Her books absolutely lit up my childhood, and were a big part of what I imbibed unconsciously as my value education – be nice, be good, be fair, be honest, and good things will result.
Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing?
I guess I was 8 or so when I started writing simple verse. I learnt everything about writing from the books I read, and I read a lot of them.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
I have no idea. All of us ‘consume’ a lot of stuff on a daily basis – what we see, what we hear, what we read, what people say to us. If I had to guess,
What does your typical writing day look like?
I start working at 9, after my children have left for school. I write until 3, when they return, almost without a break, when I am writing a book. If it’s a column or a piece for a magazine or a short story, I work until I finish it, and then stop. I don’t work after my kids come home, or on weekends, unless there is a deadline I’ve overshot, but that rarely happens.
What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author?
Basically, it means sitting down to write every single day when I have an assignment to complete. Of course, I also make sure I take long breaks between big assignments – between books, for instance.
What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author should do?
Writing can be done when needed, but reading can, and should, be done as often as possible.
Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?
I am addicted to masala potato chips and Thums Up. I am usually disciplined and don’t buy them, but when I feel I’ve earned myself a treat, that’s what I pig out on.
Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing process? If yes, can you tell us about them?
Yes! My brain doesn’t work in longhand anymore. The story flows only when I’m sitting at my computer, and have access to Wikipedia, Google Search, Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com.
Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer?
I guess it can help you become part of online writing communities and book clubs and such, but I’ve never explored those avenues.
But what technology has really done for me is to help me be in touch with my readers. That would have been impossible 20 years ago, when I first started writing for children. Through the Taranauts series, I got a lot of feedback, ideas (some of which I used and acknowledged in the books), and love from dozens of kids from across the country, which was wonderful. Some of those kids are now in college, but we still keep in touch. And now, The Gita For Children is helping me connect with an entirely new set of people, both children and adults.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others? (include websites, blogs or Twitter profiles, etc).
All the writers I’ve mentioned earlier under my favourite books and authors. More recently, Devdutt Pattanaik has been a big influence in shaping my thinking about us as Indians. Also Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the writers of the ongoing BBC series ‘Sherlock’ – I love how brilliantly they have adapted Conan Doyle’s stories for the 21st century. I love Youtube channels like AsapScience and vlogbrothers. I’m not on Twitter and I don’t follow blogs, so don’t have any favourites there.
Can you tell about what you are currently writing and other works in the pipeline?
I am currently editing a set of four math stories for Pratham Books’ Storyweaver platform – it’s a very exciting new space where content will be downloadable and free for anyone to use in whatever way they like.
– it is about making the best content – stories and illustrations- accessible to every child in the world, for free.
And I will soon start work on a book on Economics – a subject I know nothing about – for children.
There are quite a few books available in the market on the Gita. What made you write yet another book on the Gita?
Yes, but my editor (Vatsala Kaul-Banerjee) and I still felt there was room for another, which would specifically address an urban Indian child in her language and context today. We felt there weren’t enough books on the Gita that connected to that child. Also, while I would love for parents and children to read this version of the Gita together, this is also a book that kids over 12 can read for themselves. There were hardly any versions of the text that allowed that.
You seem to write across several genres — Chanakya’s biography for adults, a city guide like Ticket Bengaluru, the Gita for Children and a fantasy-adventure series like Taranauts? Which one do you enjoy most?
I enjoy all genres of writing. In fact, I find the need to switch from one to another frequently to keep my writing fresh. I do particularly enjoy writing non-fiction for children – I like the challenge it presents. Take something really complicated, understand it, and then break it down in a way children – and really anyone – can understand.
Tell us about your Taranauts series. What did it involve – writing a series of eight books for children?
Four years! And lots of fun. It was an intensively creative and imaginative process, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Once I had finished the first book, which was my first full-length novel for children, I wondered what I would write about in the next seven – I was all out of ideas. But then, when it was time to start on the next book, the ideas began flowing again. No one was more surprised than I when the last book in the series was done and the series was wrapped up, in a little under four years. It made me very happy.
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PlusMinus’n’More: Thank you Roopa, for being our guest on F-pages and sharing with us your experiences as a writer.