Today we interview Natasha Sharma, the author of Kaka and Munni, Icky Yucky Mucky, Bonkers, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, Ashoka and the Muddled Messages, Rooster Raga, and 366 Words in Delhi. Natasha was kind enough to answer our questions on her books and the Indian publishing industry. Plus we have a giveaway of her book Bonkers, which won the Crystal Kite Award recently. Go on and read her super sweet answers.
IMC: From a corporate career to a successful children’s book writer? How did that happen?
Natasha: I’d put it down to the appearance of a zebra, a boy, a whale, followed soon after by a Maharaja and Maharani with disgusting habits.
The zebra I refer to had lost her stripes and trotted into my head in search of them.
The circumstances of this happening involved a little boy, bored out of his wits as he waited alongside me in a doctor’s clinic. Emergency measure involved helping the zebra in her quest.
The whale on the other hand, appeared after a bit. She had lost her swoosh and while out in search of it, swam into my head.
This sudden appearance of a zebra and a whale with their stories, combined with a deep immersion into children’s literature with the boy I spoke of (and soon a little girl) seemed fateful. For at the time, I was in a phase of wanting a change in stripes and rediscovering my whoosh, in a manner of speaking.
While the zebra and whale are filed away in my drawer, the Maharaja and Maharani found their way into a book with the title Icky, Yucky, Mucky!
From the first book, it continues to be a great adventure!
IMC: Icky Yucky Mucky is a very different book. How did you really come up with that concept of writing a book which actually talks about the gross things which many of us do but never talk about:)??
Natasha: Plenty of inspiration around, as you would imagine! The book started out as a collection of five poems, one on each habit, collectively titled Icky, Yucky, Mucky! I was lucky to meet Anita Roy from Young Zubaan at the time. She went on to be the editor for the book. She suggested I put the idea into a story format and the gooey threesome of Maharaja Icky, Maharani Yucky and Princess Mucky evolved from there.
Honestly, I loved the goo and the mess! The concept required over-the-top writing with an unexpected level of messiness. I had a brilliant time writing the story.
IMC: How did you think of the history mysteries? It must have taken a great deal of research to combine fiction with fact.
Natasha: The History Mystery series started out as a short story around Akbar in a Duckbill writing workshop, prompted by socks/feet as a prop handed for the story construction. Anushka and Sayoni from Duckbill suggested I expand it into a complete story. Once I got down to the actual research, I discovered many unexpected things about Akbar and the time, a lot that we never read in our school history books. I blend fact and fiction in these stories and that has made for some fun plots. From there on, it has grown into an entire series.
Each book requires a tremendous amount of research. Particularly since I need to find facts that are interesting and can add to the humour to the story. That’s the challenge. As a result I’ve turned into a complete history buff!
I hope the History Mystery Series gets many kids hooked to history!
IMC: Rooster Raga has been a bit hit among kids. One of the high points of the book were the fabulous illustrations. Did you just write the story and leave it to the illustrator or did you contribute to the illustrations as well?
Natasha: Priya Kuriyan is an amazing illustrator. I love her work. She has been brilliant with her illustrations in Rooster Raga – I love the perspectives, the colours, expressions and overall tone. I had absolutely no input with the illustrations! When an illustrator like Priya works on the book, one knows that she is going to bring a lovely perspective to it, much beyond what I could have imagined as the author.
IMC: Bonkers just won an award. It must be a great feeling. How did you think of the Bonkers story line? Did you have pets when you were a kid, which inspired you to write about Bonkers?
Natasha: I am going to answer the above in reverse order!
I grew up with four dogs and often a litter of puppies added to our home. That formed the backdrop of my childhood, thanks to the immense energy, large heartedness and brave spirit of my parents, who ultimately had to deal with the lot! They currently have one dog, Obi Singh, who is my go to for inspiration and is the most naughty dog to have taken over their home. He is bonkers!
I’ve always wanted to write a story about a dog and his many escapades. My dogs were my friends and there was one is particular who I was very attached to named Gapoo. I often spoke to him growing up, as one would to a friend. I think the story line has reflections of my childhood with him.
And yes, it is a great feeling to win the Crystal Kite award! More power to crazy dogs!
IMC: Finally, what are your thoughts on the Indian publishing industry especially for children today? Lot more books, lot more authors, wonderful picture books…you think this will change the way Indian kids read?
Natasha: The Indian publishing industry for children is an incredibly dynamic place to be in today. There is a lot of content getting generated across age bands, writing by new authors and publishing houses with varied lists. There has been much change in the past ten years but there is still a long way to go. Book retail – from displays to stocking and distribution, especially where titles from Indian publishing houses are concerned have improved but are still far from being ideal. It can be quite disheartening to publish and yet rarely see the book stocked or displayed well. Alongside, online e-stores allow much greater reach, but do not as yet provide effective browsing platforms. They are improving their search engines and building up on reviews so that is a step in the right direction.
Book review sites, reading clubs, online groups for book recommendation, award lists all go a long way in spreading the word on what is available. Children’s literature festivals generate excitement at the ground level. The children have increasingly more variety to read and that’s the great thing. The challenge is to let them know what is available.
Thank you Natasha for speaking to us 🙂
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Featured image credit: Natasha