Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.
This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.
World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.
When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.
From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.
If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.
Having a double book launch ought to be a once-in-a-decade kinda thing. But it happened in October 2016 and it is happening again in January 2017. And I wasn’t expecting it then and I was sure not expecting it to happen again.
Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying is out at the Jaipur Lit Festival on 20th January. Click here to find out more. Along with that, Karadi Tales, my publisher have confirmed that Book 4 in the Farmer Falgu series – Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela will also be released at the same time.
Kumbh Mela is a special occasion in the Hindu festive calendar. It occurs once in twelve years and thousands of people congregate in Allahabad for a holy dip in the confluence of three rivers. It is one of India’s an the world’s largest religious gatherings.
Farmer Falgu decides to visit this festival and of course typical of all his trips, this too is fraught with unexpected problems. There is one difference in this book though, the bullocks come with him only until the railway station. And then he takes the train to Allahabad – which is great because I love trains.
Check out a video about Kumbh Mela here. It is noisy, colourful and full of music and religious fervour. It is a congregation of peaceful humanity. Now why would Farmer Falgu encounter problems here? Well, you have to read to find out.
While Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying has special connections to Rajasthan and Jaipur, Farmer Falgu Goes to Kumbh Mela will have connections to Allahabad and its festivities.
Kanika Nair has created brilliant illustrations for both the titles. Her colourful yet minimalist style conveys the busy-ness of India without actually overwhelming the reader. I’m sure children everywhere are going to love these two stories full of colourful imagery from India.
The festival bookstore is run by Full Circle Books who will be stocking my other titles too. So if you are coming to the festival, you have a double treat in store. Both the titles will be available to buy and I’ll be signing your copies too.
If you’re familiar with the Farmer Falgu series (published by Karadi Tales) that I write and Kanika Nair illustrates, you will notice that Farmer Falgu is always going somewhere.
It wasn’t planned – it just happened that way. And now, given my mild obsession with patterns, I always send him off somewhere.
I have a childhood reputation of “going somewhere” all the time. And even now as a grown-up people think I’m always on wheels. But in reality, I’m a homebody. I love staying at home and doing stuff, cooking snacks, reading a book. If I can help it, I won’t leave my cave for days. My alter-ego Farmer Falgu adds to the myth of my “wandering spirits”.
The trouble is Farmer Falgu’s trips are filled with surprises, some nice and some not so nice. But Farmer Falgu never loses his cool – he resolves them the best he can.
Keeping up with tradition, this time for the third book in the series, Farmer Falgu would be going somewhere too. This time too, not so far. But intensely exciting. He’s taking his daughter Eila to the kite festival.
In Rajasthan and in many parts of northern India, kite festivals are part of the Sankaranthi celebrations. The colourful kites adorn the winter sky adding more colour to the celebrations.
When Kanika made Farmer Falgu a Rajasthani farmer, I wanted to do a book that was unique to the land he was from. The book is full of Farmer Falgu’s charm – he takes his friends and Eila is having loads of fun despite the troubles.
Eila seems to be following in her father’s footsteps in helping and sharing and I like her for that. When Eila is devastated, Farmer Falgu of course has to save the day. He is her dad and we want dads to chase the monsters and bring order to the world. And that’s what Farmer Falgu does. And all’s well in Eila’s world.
Want to find out more? Want to listen to the story? Come to Jaipur Literature Festival and buy the book! It’s a free event. So drop in. And on your way back you can always fly a kite.
When I wrote the first Farmer Falgu story, I had specific goals.
I somehow wanted to convey that this earth is never quiet and Quiet is not necessarily a fun thing.
I wanted to write a story about an Indian farmer
I wanted music and dance in the story.
The quiet and noise thought has been rattling around my brain for years and I didn’t figure out how to tell that in a story until I found Falgu.
Falgu didn’t start out to be a Rajasthani farmer. He was a north-Indian farmer simply because I had chosen a Hindi name. I should thank Kanika Nair, the illustrator for giving him a setting, a place of his own and all the joy and colour of Rajasthan. You can find out more about the creation of Falgu here.
Like always I put something of myself into every story. Whether it is finding a home in Where is Gola’s Home? Or my Grandma in Balu’s Basket, there is a bit of me in every story.
In Falgu, I gave him my courage to plod on in spite of circumstances. He has an unbroken spirit, he is always thankful he’s got a glass, whether it is half-full or half-empty and he’s off somewhere doing something.
The music element of the book came from my desire to be a Karadi Tales author. They were traditionally an audio publisher and I thought musical elements in the story might pique their interest. Cunning of me? Sure!
When Karadi Tales accepted the first title Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip, it was like a dream come true in many ways. I was a KT author now, Farmer Falgu had a home – not long after he had set out in his trademark bullock-cart as a manuscript.
Then of course, the spirit of Falgu lodged in my brain and thoughts. He was a real person. And I wrote another story for completely different reasons.
I always believed – I think my grandparents and my parents taught me – to turn problems into opportunities. What can you do with the situation you’ve got? And my dislike of eggs and my fascination towards omelets.
I grew up hating eggs. But the thought of an omelet always fascinated the chef in me. I can see why an Indian omelet can be a great treat – it’s got all the spices, chillies, tomatoes and onions. I came close to eating an omelet so many times – simply because I liked it as a recipe. Alas, I don’t like eggs. The next best thing – put it in a story. Find out more about this story here.
And so, Farmer Falgu set out to the Market. With eggs. And of course all picture books believe in the power of three. So Falgu had to take with him – white eggs, brown eggs and duck eggs. I researched duck eggs a lot – I didn’t know what colour they were. I realized they come in all sorts of colours. I’m sure Kanika wasn’t too pleased with my egg choices.
Now there are 4 Farmer Falgu stories. The third one is almost ready and the fourth one is still being created by fabulous co-conspirator Kanika Nair. Look out for the cover reveals and the story behind the story right here at www.chitrasoundar.com soon.
So Farmer Falgu as far as I’m concerned has already gone places, right? From one story to four, from paper to real life, he has come to life for me in so many ways.He is a real person with a twitter account and all. Follow him @FarmerFalgu. But that’s not all.
Farmer Falgu captured more hearts at the various trade fairs where my publisher Shobha showed him off to lots of people. Her love for Falgu is second only to mine, I’d think. She’d argue it is the other way around.
Et croyez-le ou non , il est là en Europe continentale trop , en France.Maybe I should set a new story in Paris for Farmer Falgu. The power of bullock-carts and his positive spirit has brought him to so many countries.
The kids in Japan and Paris are lucky – they’d have Farmer Falgu in their own languages and can enjoy the stories just like the kids in India do.
And here is a hopeful thought – he might be coming to Germany too. Couple of weeks ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I dropped in on Falgu and Shobha at their stand. And lucky me, who was there? The German publisher who wants Farmer Falgu to come to Germany. Fingers crossed, the bullocks would take him across the continent to Germany.
What would he be called in German? Would Farmer Falgu have the same name? Or a different one? Who knows? Whatever he’s called he’d be still Falgu to me and he’d still be the same positive spirit he always is.
Shobha Viswanath is my publisher at Karadi Tales in India. She is also my senior editor and a writer herself. Shobha is also Farmer Falgu’s big fan.
As a writer it is a great thing if your publisher loves your character as much as you do. She is the main reason why Farmer Falgu has packed his bags and prepared his bullock cart and is now off to Japan and France to meet the children there.
I met Shobha 2-3 years ago when I visited Chennai before Farmer Falgu when came out. Then I met her again when we were preparing for the launch of Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip. She is everything you’d want your editor and publisher to be – funny, encouraging, determined and absolutely positive. I’m proud and ever so grateful that Farmer Falgu and I found a great home at Karadi Tales, which is an independent publisher in India, making forays into the world market.
Karadi Tales is primarily a picture-book and audio-book publisher – I love their songs and readings – my nephew has a stack of them and we listen to some so often that we know the words by-heart. Having said that, KT has just published a Middle-grade book too.
As the final instalment of the discussion on children’s book for this week’s twitter chat, I asked Shobha the same questions I asked Sayoni Basu. And this is what she said.
1) What are the major challenges for an Indian children’s book publisher on the world stage and within India?
– India lacks crossover books – books that can travel. Most of the books that are published by Indian publishers are too contextual to India. If the books have to travel, they have to have a universal appeal.
For example, Farmer Falgu may be a farmer from India but the central crux of each story in the series reveals his resourcefulness which in turn is universal.
The language too is quite important. Colloquial words and phrases may limit potential readership.
– Indian publishers lag behind the international publishers in terms of sourcing high-quality and diverse illustrators who have a repertoire of varied styles.
– Distribution in the foreign markets has been a challenge. Several things are required of a publisher, including a strong backlist of books.
2) When you go to Bologna, what are your impressions of the market compared to Indian books?
The books that are produced abroad are higher in quality – production and illustrations.
Do we have more variety?
– No. India does not have that kind of variety.
Are Indian books lacking in any aspect?
– Indian books lack in several aspects. The Indian market is heterogeneous – books are produced to cater to people from all walks of life. In terms of quality, unfortunately, it leaves us neither here nor there.
Until about 15 years ago, folktales and mythology based stories were regurgitated, but things are turning around now.
3) What is your experience in selling rights to world markets? Does the west want to buy very traditional content? Do they want to fit inside the multicultural box or are they willing to look at contemporary stuff too?
If a book is well produced, well illustrated and the story is well told then there are takers for the book in the market. They do not want to buy only traditional content. They are willing to look at contemporary stuff as well.
4) Do you get support from international and Indian bodies to help with the costs of attending world book fairs? Is your presence imperative?
Yes, we do. Bologna supports publishers and helps them attend the fair, as does Frankfurt through their fellowships and invitational programmes. However, this support is not meant to be continuous – it is only meant to give the publisher a platform. In India, Capexil provides the publisher with the necessary support.
If the goal of a publisher is to make the book travel then their presence is imperative. Agents may not know the books as thoroughly as the publisher does.
5) Should India carve its own space in the book market and not worry about whether US and UK buy rights? What other markets are more welcoming to Indian books?
Of course, we should carve our own space in the market and not worry about the UK or the US – as long as we do not compromise on the quality of the story, illustrations or production standards.
6) Can you recommend three Indian books that any child in any part of the world should read?
The Rumour | Written by Anushka Ravishankar and Illustrated by Kanyika Kini
Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip / Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market | Written by Chitra Soundar and Illustrated by Kanika Nair
Monkeys on a Fast – Audiobook | Written by Kaushik Viswanath, Illustrated by Shilpa Ranade and Narrated by Sanjay Dutt
Thank you Shobha – for recommending my book and also giving candid answers to my questions. It is clear that we have a long way to go to bring Indian books to world stage but it is not hard as we think it is.
We are chatting about Indian books and their place in the world stage at 6 pm GMT today, 24th April 2015, with hashtag #storiesfromindia – Don’t miss it!!!!