Best Book Forward: Writing Fiction for Middle-grade Readers

This SCBWI workshop will be conducted by acclaimed children’s author Anushka Ravishankar and editor Sayoni Basu.

There will be four interactive webinars on over two weekends–13 and 14 June 2020, and 20 and 21 June 2020 from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm. The workshop will include discussions on genre, plot, character, and much more, plus feedback on writing exercises and development of book ideas. Participants will be expected to write both during the webinars and also write longer pieces over the week of 15 June to submit before the next weekend for feedback. There will also be a reading list provided, and participants are expected to read as many of the books on the list as possible before the workshop.

Participants need to be 18 and above.

Workshop charges:
SCBWI members Rs 4,000
Non-members Rs 6,000
Non-members early bird discount Rs 5,000 (if you register by 7 June)
Maximum of 20 participants.
Email to book your spot

First Pages 1 May 2020

We had an overwhelming response to our first lockdown session of First Pages, scheduled for Friday 17 April. So much so that we decided to schedule a second session.
So if you have been writing at home during the lockdown but not sure where it going? Or completely stuck in your story, worry not! Help is at hand.
Send the opening of your book to First Pages. Three experts will tell you whether your first page has piqued their interest enough to turn the page and read on. So send in the first page of the book you are working on, and our panel will give you live feedback on it on 1 May 4 pm online.
1. You need to send in only the first page of your book to Please send it in as a Word document. Please include the title of the book and your name in the body of the email but not in the Word document.
2. Each writer can send in only one piece. The first fifteen eligible entries will be read and commented on. Only people of eighteen and above can submit.
3. Please label your entry in one of the following categories:
Picture book
Chapter book
Middle-grade storybook
YA novel
4. The maximum word count should be no more than
Picture book: 50 words
Chapter book: 100 words
Middle-grade storybook: 200 words
YA novel: 200 words

All entries need to be sent by 30 April, noon IST. (However, we will only do the first fifteen entries as that is all we usually have time for.)
This edition of SCBWI First Pages is free for all participants.
The panel comprises of three experienced editors/writers:
Samit Basu, author
Venita Coehlo, author
Sayoni, editor and co-founder of Duckbill Books
Moderated by Tanu Shree Singh

First Pages: 17 April 2020

Been writing at home during the lockdown but not sure where it going? Or completely stuck in your story?
Worry not! Help is at hand.
Send the opening of your book to First Pages. Three experts will tell you whether your first page has piqued their interest enough to turn the page and read on. So send in the first page of the book you are working on, and our panel will give you live feedback on it on 17 April 4 pm online.
1. You need to send in only the first page of your book to Please send it in as a Word document, and remember to include the title of your book.
2. Each writer can send in only one piece. The first fifteen eligible entries will be read and commented on.
3. Please label your entry in one of the following categories:
Picture book
Chapter book
Middle-grade storybook
YA novel
4. The maximum word count should be no more than
Picture book: 50 words
Chapter book: 100 words
Middle-grade storybook: 200 words
YA novel: 200 words
5. Do not include the author’s name or title in the document.
All entries need to be sent by 16 April, noon IST.
This edition of SCBWI First Pages is free for all participants.
The panel comprises of three experienced editors/writers:
Bijal Vachharajani, author and editor at Pratham Books
Asha Nehemiah, author
Anushka Ravishankar, author and co-founder of Duckbill Books
Moderated by Sayoni Basu

A Report on ‘The Write Way to Travel’: A Writers’ Workshop with Evan Purcell



Before the workshop started, in a lovely space on Siri Fort Road, Delhi, with the Seven Sisters tapping away insistently on the glass panels, we could see that American writer Evan Purcell knew what he was talking about. The proof? A big pile of books to sign from a session he had done in a school that morning. And in an example of the kind of eye to detail that a good writer should have, he autographed and wrote a different message and drew a different monster in each of them.


Evan has travelled and worked in many countries–Zanzibar, China, Bhutan, Russia, Kazakhstan, among others–and has written a variety of genres–screenplays, short stories, romances, picture books and middle-grade novels. The focus of this workshop was how to bring the two skills together–how travel illuminates and inspires storytelling, and how storytelling can be enriched by the diversity that travel makes the writer experience.


The workshop was 90 minutes, and I think most of the participants would have been happier if it had been longer. Evan made us do a series of writing exercises to experience the the points he was making, and we are sure that there was more we could have learnt, had there been time.

  • Question

The most important thing to do when one travels, said Evan, was to ask questions about the place and the people and lives. It is only through asking people about their daily lives and beliefs and habits that one truly gets a sense of how different or similar places and people’s lives are.

  • Experience

Evan talked about the importance of noticing details when in a strange (or even familiar place). He listed his impression of a street in the part of town where he lived in Zanzibar, and asked the participants to list the details of any one specific place (road/area) where they had travelled.

The homework from this exercise was for all of us to go back and walk down a path near where we live or work and see every day, and specifically list everything we see/hear/smell etc.

  • Integrate the experience through action

But a list of details in a book, as we know, makes for dull reading. So details have to be integrated through experience, in the case of fiction, by the experience of the protagonist or character who is travelling through that space.

As an exercise, Evan asked us to use the list we had created for the previous exercise to describe the narrator running at top speed through the space. Extra points, he said, for those who managed to integrate interaction with the space and other people in it.

  • Integrate the experience through plot

Evan gave us a list of things he passed on his daily walk from his house to the school in Bhutan where he taught. Then he asked us to write description in first person as if the narrator were walking that route with his/her beloved.

When we read out our pieces, it was interesting to see how each person’s notion of romance had shaped the way the common elements were deployed.

  • Shape dialogue using cultural contexts

Evan wrote out a fairly generic, even inane, dialogue between two people. He described very broadly the age and gender of the two people, and asked us to rewrite the dialogue in a specific setting and cultural context. It was quite amazing how the dialogue we had initially thought was inane quickly became charged with meaning.

  • Distill experience into fiction

While the average traveller’s travel experiences may not make for rivetting reading, especially in fiction, it is possible, said Evan, to distill the essence of experiences to add depth to fiction. For example, any memorable experience can be reused, especially if one can remove one’s self from it and critically examine it for its emotional or plot potential.

Since we had run out of time to do writing exercises, we did an oral one, where participants shared memorable travel experiences and, as a group, we suggested how these could be used depending on the genre in which one was writing.

It was a thought-provoking and fun-filled workshop, and I do believe that the participants went away ready to travel and to examine their previous experiences in creative ways. Since writing is essentially a solitary activity, the thing that every writer or budding writer needs periodically is to rethink how they write and Evan provided much food for thought.

Though he did mention the scent of momos at one point in the workshop, which left all of us rather hungry!

Writers’ Workshop: The Write Way to Travel

Coming up in Delhi on 21 October 2019 from 5.30 pm to 7 pm at Siri Fort Road, Delhi.

Charges: Rs 400 for members and Rs 650 for non-members.

To register, email

American writer Evan Purcell has used his experiences working in Bhutan, Zanzibar, and six other countries to create stories for international readers of all ages. Using personal stories (totally true, mostly embarrassing), Evan explains how to pull inspiration from any location and create stories that are both universal and specific.


Evan Purcell has taught in Zanzibar, Kazakhstan, China, and Russia, among other places. He’s spent two years in the beautiful kingdom of Bhutan, where he hikes, sings karaoke badly, and eats way too much of the delicious local food. He has published six books for both adults and children, ranging from picture books to romance novels. He is now working on a screenplay.


Workshop on Writing Historical Fiction and Non-fiction with Devika Rangachari



Dr Devika Rangachari is an award-winning children’s writer, many of whose books have won national awards. Her historical novel, Queen of Ice, was on the White Raven list, won the Neev Young Adult Book Award and has been optioned to be made into a movie/ television series.

In her other life, she is a historian who has conducted post-doctoral research on gender in early medieval Indian history.

Devika is inordinately fond of reading (especially historical fiction), chocolates, potatoes, and exploring bookshops and libraries. She would happily spend her time among her four loves were it not for her lovely-but-stern editors who occasionally compel her to write.

A Report on the Picture Book Workshop with Priya Kuriyan


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6.jpgThe workshop commenced with 20+ participants, some of whom had travelled from as far off as Bhopal and Hyderabad.

Priya Kuriyan (who needs no introduction) walked the participants through the typical length and format of picture books. She spoke about the problem-solution narrative arc in the context of picture books, the number of pages one has (roughly) for each of the following: establishing character, introducing the problem, escalating conflict and resolving it. She talked about various techniques for structuring stories: Repetition, Rhythm of 3s, Journey, Circular form, Concept books. She emphasised the importance of brevity. To illustrate her point, she took the audience through some wonderful picture books.

Next, she described the publication life cycle:

– the text is sent to the illustrator by the publisher,

– rough pagination is done by the publisher,

– thumbnails and character sketches are submitted by the illustrator to the publisher,

– feedback from the publisher,

– and then, when everything has been finalised, the artworks.

– changes may be required depending on how the final artworks have been rendered.

The participants had many questions:

In response to a question on consistency in style, Priya said that while the medium and style differ for the different things an illustrator does, it is recognisable to the reader. Developing one’s style is a natural progression and building characteristics is key. It is a matter of practice, she said.

Responding to a question on mixed media, Priya said that planning is important. Reserve space for the text and get the drawings in place before working on the final art. Once the final artwork is done, it becomes difficult to make changes.

A professional illustrator in the audience asked about taking on text that isn’t exciting, but has the potential to be elevated by the visuals. Priya suggested taking it up, if there is some aspect of it that is exciting.

Answering queries on layers and inside jokes, Priya said that adults-only puns and pop-culture references are fine, but they shouldn’t drive the story.

One participant asked about visual cues from writer to illustrator. Priya said that it is best left to the illustrator, apart from brief notes on character description. However, the illustrator must aim to get the intent of the writer across. Read the book in its entirety if you are doing the cover, said Priya.

Another participant wanted recommendations for wordless picture books published in India. Priya mentioned several.

Should busy spreads be interspersed with quiet ones, asked yet another participant. That depends on the tempo of the story, said Priya.

After the Q&A, Priya got everyone to work individually on ideation.

Post-lunch, they were invited to share their ideas with the group. Many participants volunteered and Priya was absolutely brilliant with feedback.

On Day 2, Priya interacted one-on-one with each of the participants, discussing their stories, looking at their work and providing feedback.

Meanwhile, participants either worked individually, or discussing their ideas with each other.



Text: Arundhati Venkatesh
Group photo by Neha Rawat, all other photos by Soumya Menon

A Picture Book Workshop with Priya Kuriyan


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On 3 and 4 August 2019, an in-depth workshop with acclaimed children’s book writer-illustrator Priya Kuriyan
10.30 am to 4 pm on both days
Hippocampus Children’s Experience Centre, #525, 16th Main, 3rd Block, Koramangala, Bangalore 560034; phone: +91 80 25630206
Rs 1000 for non-members; free for SCBWI members

Priya will be looking at story structures, examples of picture books and discussing what makes good picture books. Participants are encouraged to bring along some of their own favourite picture books, along with ideas/stories they might have for picture books that they would like to make. These ideas would be discussed and the attempt would be to try and bring the stories to a storyboard stage, after which the participants should be able to take the work forward themselves.

How to Register: 
For illustrators: Please email your name, age, a link to your work and a write-up on your favourite and least favourite picture books (30 words each) to by 21 July. You will get a response by 28 July.
For writers: Please email your name, age, a sample of your writing (between 200 and 1000 words) and a write-up on your favourite and least favourite picture books (30 words each) to by 21 July. You will get a response by 28 July.

About the Facilitator:


Priya Kuriyan is a children’s book writer/illustrator, comics maker and an animator. She has directed educational films for the Sesame street show (India) and the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) and illustrated numerous children’s books for various Indian publishers like Penguin, Scholastic, Duckbill and Hachette, to name a few. She has contributed to Indian comics anthologies like Pao, This Side That Side, Eat the Sky Drink the Ocean and First Hand 2 (an anthology of non-fiction comics). She was also part of the Indo-German collaboration The Elephant in the Room published by Zubaan Books. She collaborated with the writer Devapriya Roy on a graphic biography of Indira Gandhi for young adults published by Context, an imprint of Westland Books. She was the winner of the Hindu Young World Award in 2017, for her work on the picture book, Princess Easy Pleasy.



A Report on the Picture Book Workshop



Tanu Shree Singh reports on the picture book workshop conducted by Richa Jha.

Picture books are misleading. They look awfully simple to pull off. The workshop on Writing a Picture Book was aimed at not only dispelling this notion but also equipping the participants with enough knowledge to attempt one of their own.

Rich Jha is clearly a powerhouse when it comes to picture books. Her experience as an author as well as an editor presents a balanced picture from both sides. We started the two day workshop with 10 participants and a million story ideas.

Richa 1.jpg

The first day was centred around the technical aspects of writing a picture book with discussion on the minutest details. There is a logic behind everything that goes in a Picture book – from different sizes, number of pages, endpapers to the different kinds of layouts. Richa deconstructed the various components of a good picture book and detailed the dos and the don’ts of writing. We moved on to discussing different types of picture books according to content, concepts , age groups, themes, etc. However, this was not just a theoretical exercise. Richa was carrying suitcases full of picture books! And we saw examples of all sorts of writing and themes.

At the beginning of the class, the participants were given a picture book each. They were asked to read it as a reader. Then after each stage, we went back to it looking for elements discussed. Each reading revealed a different facet of the book!

We went on to discussing what good picture books do. A constant quality across books was their ability to draw the reader back again and again.

Writing took centre stage on the second day. Participants tried their hands on different writing exercises and worked to polish their own manuscripts. The day ended with a discussion on the specifics of Manuscript submissions. Among other things, Richa suggested that authors research Publishers and the kind of work they are doing.

An interesting exercise was reading a picture book from manuscript submission stage to the final one to emphasise the importance of editing and working as a team. Picture book writing cannot be done in isolation. It involves working with and trusting the editor as well as the illustrator.

Richa 2

The final hour was spent taking questions from the participants.


A Report on the Writing Narrative Non-fiction Workshop with Natasha Sharma, Anita Vachharajani and Vaishali Shroff


The session on Saturday 20 April 2019, began with Natasha Sharma began introducing the world of non-fiction writing.

Natasha took the audience comprising of aspiring children’s book writers through the different kinds of non-fiction writing and how to go about adding a narrative to the content.

nat 1

She began with the different types of non-fiction writing namely Traditional Non-Fiction, Browsable Non-Fiction, Expository Non-Fiction, Active Non-Fiction and Narrative Non-Fiction. Narrative non-fiction is the genre that takes facts and turns it into a story and presents them in a narrative style. There is a choice of format available for this kind of writing as well, there is picture book, early chapter book middle grade chapter book and young adult books. The next thing to look after you have a topic is to find a hook to plot the story around that. It is also good practice to look for what’s out there on the same topic.

The most important aspect of a narrative non-fiction book is Research!! The sources available are interviews, museums, online archives such as Gutenberg and Columbia University and scouring the internet for other sources. It is also good practice to divide the notes into sections and maintain a bibliography.

While it is great to have a whole lot of material while writing the book it is prudent to show some sort of restraint. To pick the sections carefully, while thinking about if it furthers your plot, show personality, is a key event or gives a time period to the whole book. And above all as a writer one must remember to ‘carry your research lightly’.

It is also necessary for the book to have a character, plot, and a narrative arc, voice and point of view.

After this introduction the panelists came on stage joined by Lubaina Bandukwala who moderated this section.

nat 3

The authors started with speaking about their journey with each of their books.

Vaishali Shroff spoke about her books Padma and the Blue Dinosaur and The Missing Bat. The Missing Bat was a story that she found on a trip to Kashmir. When she was looking for unique things about Kashmir, she came across the information that it is the second largest manufacturer of cricket bats. She decided to visit a workshop on her holiday and that’s what inspired this story.

With Padma and the Blue Dinosaur she had the very interesting subject of paleontology, but the narrative angle happened to make the story more interesting. The research revealed that there was a trail along the banks of the Narmada River where the maximum number of fossils were found in India. This became the hook of the plot and she wrote the story around this trail and a trip. The most important aspects of this journey were research and also finding a balance with the photographs and illustrations. The photographs were a bit difficult to track as there were very few and they were with different agencies because of which some of them had to be recreated into illustrations.

After Anita Vachharajani spoke about her journey with writing The Rebel with a Paintbrush, a book on Indian artist Amrita Shergill. The story began when she was approached with a list of personalities to write a book about one of them, but she didn’t find any women or artists on the list which she when she decided to write about Amrita Shergill. She then went on to read all the books that were available on Shergill and look for the parts she would like to focus on.

Question: Why is Amrita important for people to know?

Greatness is made up of tiny bricks and influences and Amrita was one of the first few artists who was educated in Paris and influenced by the West. The focus has always been on Western artists and it was great to throw the limelight on an Indian woman.

Question: How do you know which part of the story do you want to build on?

You choose the story would you would like to tell and highlight. There was little little incidents in Amrita’s childhood which stood out, she was thrown out of a couple of schools for his rebellious attitude when she was a child. Along with that her practice, effort, hard work and open-mindedness that was remarkable.

Natasha then spoke her process on some of her books of the History-Mystery series which is fiction but requires a lot of research as well.

She spoke about bringing out the characteristics of all the historical figures who featured in the books to make them more human and fun. For example, Akbar was really finicky about the water that he drank. It was fetched from Haridwar and was sent in sealed barrels to wherever her travelled. It is fun to add quirky aspects o the characters. She also said in a story like this it is important to leave enough room for the reader to form their own opinion about the characters.

The panel was then opened to take questions from the participants.

Question: When do you choose to stop research and start writing?

All three panelists agreed that this differs for each writer and the journey is different for each one. But, largely it when you have a certain comfort and grasp the subject well and know you have everything you need that you can start working.

Question: What is the market for non-fiction books?

The panelists agreed that there is a market for non-fiction books. They sell well and publishers are always looking for good non-fiction content. The books in this category are quite diverse and also have a personality now. So there is a readership, scope and a market. Vaishali said that boys enjoy non-fiction a lot.

Question: what are the things you do to get your book out and how have people reacted to it.

Vaishali said that she has had a largely diverse audience ranging from 3 year olds to adults for which she had to tweak her author sessions. She divided them into non-fiction and fiction sections to appeal to a wide audience. Lots of adults and kids have written to her speaking about how they never knew about Indian dinosaurs and the book has been an eye opener.

Anita said that a good children’s book will always light up something in an adult’s mind. She got on to Instagram to promote the book.

Natasha chose to put some fun content related to the book such as mango jokes to convey the tone of the book. She said it is important to consider promotional material as content itself.

Question: As an author do you need to get involved in the promotional aspect?

All agreed the promotion of the book is a joined effort between the publisher, author and illustrator.