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.
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.
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.