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

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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.

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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.

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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 india@scbwi.org

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.

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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.

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

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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
Time:
10.30 am to 4 pm on both days
Venue:
Hippocampus Children’s Experience Centre, #525, 16th Main, 3rd Block, Koramangala, Bangalore 560034; phone: +91 80 25630206
Fees:
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 india@scbwi.org 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 india@scbwi.org by 21 July. You will get a response by 28 July.

About the Facilitator:

Priya

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

First Pages 11 May 2019: Meet the Panelists

Blog.jpgMeet the panelists for the upcoming session of First Pages on 11 May 2019:

Sudeshna Shome Ghosh of Speaking Tiger
Sudeshna Shome Ghosh has worked in publishing for over 20 years. She has been a children’s books editor and has headed various children’s imprints. Currently, she is Publisher, Talking Cub, the children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger. 

Shobha Vishwanathan of Karadi Tales
Shobha Viswanath is the publishing director of Karadi Tales company, an independent children’s publishing house based in Chennai.
Apart from creating beautiful books, Shobha loves to travel and is an avid collector of picture books from around the world. She lives in Chennai with 732 books, 11 plants and one husband.

Vinay Diddee of Little Latitude
Vinay Diddee is co-founder and a doughty half of Little Latitude, which creates beautiful board books and picture books. In his free time, he designs other things.

 

A Report on the Session on Contracts and Copyright with Manojna Yeluri

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Pavithra Sankaran reports on the recently conducted session in Bangalore.

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Over a conversational, wide-ranging ninety minutes at the Lightroom Bookstore, Manojna Yeluri of Artistic License walked us through the different sections of a standard contract, pausing here and there to answer the dozens of questions and responses by the many authors and illustrators in the room. There was a not-insignificant quantity of grievance and bewilderment about contracts in the room when the session began, with many sharing stories of opaque wording in contracts, dishonoured contracts, no-room-for-negotiation contracts and, saddest of all, the total absence of contracts. Manojna answered everyone, emphasising the following:

  1. You have a right to a contract in any transaction involving original work you have produced.
  2. You have a right to negotiate terms
  3. You have a moral right over your work, which keep the relationship between creator and the work not only intact not only in for, but also in meaning.
  4. Make and keep a draft contract ready which you can plonk on the table if the other party is shrinking from the idea of sending you one. Use this to your advantage.
  5. Beware of wording: use right of first offer rather than right of first refusal — they mean very different things.

While walking the group through each section of a short standard contract, Manojna spent a bit longer on the section on Grant of Rights. In a world where multiple forms of artistic production exist, and the simple written word on paper can itself take so many lives — movies, graphic novels, tv series, artistic renditions, etc. it is crucial that creators retain the ability to renegotiate terms if any new opportunities arise. “You do not, not, have to sign away everything to your publisher” Manojna stressed. Put it into the first contract, in writing, that should new work be proposed from your original, all concerned parties will draw up a new and separate agreement for it.

There was also a discussion on work-for-hire or original work and what implications those have for creator control over the product, with it emerging clearly that in case of work for hire, copyright is with the employer/client.

It was news to many in the room that creators can also negotiate on jurisdiction of courts (this is often mentioned in contracts towards the end), should conflict arise. Manojna emphasised that the legal route should really be the very last option, if every other possibility else has led to dead ends.

As with every SCBWI meeting, ideas and discussions continued long after the sessions were over. Manoja has kindly offered that she can be contacted via her Artistik License website https://www.artistiklicense.org for any further informaton.

Writing Non-fiction for Children

Hook a reader early on to the fascinating world of dinosaurs, wildlife or even punctuation! Want to take a subject of interest and spin it into a story that a child can’t get enough of?

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Children’s book author, Natasha Sharma details out the genre of narrative non-fiction and offers pointers on writing it in this short workshop. Followed by an interactive panel with three leading authors who have written narrative non-fiction.

The session will be held at the Somaiya Centre for Learning, 2d floor, Somaiya Bhawa, Above Kitab Khana bookstore, Kala Ghodha, Fort, Mumbai on 20 April, 10:30am – 1pm.

Pre-registration essential since space is limited. Please email scbwimumbai@gmail.com with your name and phone number to register.

The event is Rs 600 for SCBWI members and Rs 1000 for non-members. Payment is at the venue.

The three speakers are:

Natasha Sharma is an award-winning children’s books author. She has published eighteen books for children. Natasha writes across age groups and formats from picture books, early chapter books to historical fiction. Her narrative non-fiction titles include Squiggle Takes a Walk (all about punctuation), Squiggle Gets Stuck (all about muddled sentences), The Good Indian Child’s Guide to Eating Mangoes and The Best House of All. Her books were awarded the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award 2014 (Bonkers), SABA 2015 (Razia and the Pesky Present), Comic Con Best Illustrated Children’s book 2018 (Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber) among others. Her poems have also featured in anthologies and course-books for schools.

www.natashasharma.in

Anita Vachharajani has a Masters in English Literature and in Linguistics. She has just published a pictorial biography for Young Adults called Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush. Her stories for children have appeared in The Puffin Book of Bedtime Stories, The Puffin Book of Spooky Ghost Stories, and in various picture books, like Nonie’s Magic Quilt, Ambili, Nayana and the Not-so-scary Owl and Tara Tambe. Her translations of traditional rhymes feature in The Tenth Rasa: the Penguin Book of Indian Nonsense Verse. She has collaborated with her husband Amit Vachharajani on Amazing India, a pictorial description of the states of India.

Anita has a deep interest in non-fiction, in illustrated books and how they speak to children.

https://anitavachharajani.com/

Vaishali Shroff is an award-winning children’s author based in Mumbai. Over 100 of her stories, both fiction and non-fiction, have been published across various publications, which include school textbooks, anthologies, magazines, and readers. Some of her works include NCERT and CBSE recommended Raindrops and Ari by Tulika Publishers, The Missing Bat by Pratham Books, and The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur by HarperCollins India, which is also the recipient of the BICW (Best in Indian Children’s Writing) Contemporary Award 2019. She likes to write stories that are challenging, yet sensitive and pertinent, and act as ice-breakers for difficult conversations.