I’m grateful for the joys of this year, spending more time with my family, not having to see a dentist or find an excuse to eat ice-cream. I went through a range of emotions from loneliness to despair to joy. I wrote a number of new books under lockdown conditions, preferring to stay inside my head than read the news. I focussed on the detail, ironed everything possible in my closet and organised my ear-rings into pairs. All those little things helped me focus on the big picture.
I miss meeting friends and family, miss school visits which gave me the inspiration and energy to keep being creative and the festival circuit that always comes with a new book. Nevertheless, I did try and do most of that virtually – through the help of technology. Ironic that the large scale urban growth driven by technology caused the pandemic and we relied on tech us to keep us distracted from that chaos.
I really hope that this changes our collective humanity and we strive to work smarter to protect our planet. In my own little ways, I’ve been brave this year, spreading my wings, getting a new agent, writing new and different things.
International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th March worldwide. While Italians celebrate it by giving women yellow mimosas, some countries celebrate it with gifts and cards. Did you know it is a public holiday in China for women only?
In 2018, the UN is observing it as Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.
The Time is Now to do so many things –
To acknowledge the contribution of women to the betterment of this world.
To say No to abuse of any kind
To say Yes to adventures of all sorts
To lead from the front.
Growing up in India, in a society where a woman’s place was a few steps behind a man, I had always rebelled. The women in my life were both caring and strong without actually taking credit for it. But they let me rebel without fussing too much.
My mother wanted me to conform to norms because she was a woman of her time. Ironically she was proud of me every time I broke a rule, or pushed the boundaries. She wanted me to have the opportunities she never had. But then she also led by example. For someone who was from a conservative Hindu family, she did a lot of social work outside the home, she wrote and acted on stage, even if it was her local neighbourhood community theatre, she did one-woman monologues dressing up in homemade costumes. She pushed the boundaries in her own way and she shouldn’t be surprised when I followed suit.
Even today as I write books and go into schools and perform in festivals, she lives her own dreams through me and cheers me on. She reads every book I write and she reads it to my nephews and her pride keeps my energy going.
So on this International Women’s Day 2018, I want to say thank you to all women who lead by example, who encourage others with a smile, who push boundaries and who hold the gate open for others to come through.
I want to say thanks to Mum, who has gave me rebellious genes and infinite dreams.
learnt to dance Salsa a little bit, still learning,
started to learn photography,
finished my Masters,
rode a horse
visited California, Spain and Rome.
It was a year of the Great Bucket List.
Notwithstanding the political and natural disasters this year that we all suffered through, on a personal basis, I met many wonderful new people, reconnected with old friends, met children in classrooms and bookshops across the UK and US and wrote a lot of new stories.
Professionally I had multiple milestones this year – I met my agent and they signed me on. I finished my MA in Writing for Children, albeit with a lot of tears, nail-biting trauma, and a lot of drama.
Pattan’s Pumpkin got brilliant reviews in America and got included in the Read Across America calendar for October. A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice has been shortlisted for the Surrey Libraries Children’s Book Award and Farmer Falgu makes new strides in Germany.
Sometimes it felt like I was shuttling between things, or living in train stations and lounging in airport lobbies, but I managed to combine book tours with holidays, squeezed time out of every day and night and I’m still here, unscathed, a little wiser, a lot more childish (I seem to grow down than grow up) and I can’t wait to find out what 2018 will bring.
Thank you to everyone of you who came to my events, talked me through a bad draft of the novel, gave me advice, encouragement and support. Thank you to every teacher, librarian, PTA organiser, parent and literacy activists who brought diverse books into children’s hands. Thank you to all my family who hardly saw me this year as I breezed in and out of family gatherings and celebrations.
I thought just a couple of photos looking back wouldn’t do. So here is a quick recap of the year.
Most of you know I have a day job. That means I’ve to operate in the real world like a real person. I can’t daydream endlessly or treat my day job as a school visit. Of course if everyone who likes my books reviews them, puts stars on them on online retail websites and recommend to their friends, soon I could stop going to work and write all the time.
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to tell you how my boss at the day-job gets exasperated with me when I forget I’m not a writer on those three days.
PLEASE DON’T TALK IN RHYME and other exasperations!
The above video was made at home! Full disclosure!
Chitra please don’t correct sentence structure in every business email
and please don’t ask your staff to imagine an alien and a cow during work hours
Chitra please don’t read out minutes of the minutes like a story
And don’t illustrate your meeting notes
Chitra please don’t clap your hands when you want attention
And don’t organise team meetings into groups of 3
Chitra, please can you stop staring out of the window
and get back to your boring paperwork.
Well, I try most days to be good. Some days, I scribble on the side and some days I get grumpy because I want to be somewhere else. But I should say I have the most understanding day-job ever. They support my writing in very big and small ways. So this is just a tongue-in-cheek poem I wrote, on the way to work.
In part this is inspired by a post that Sarwat Chadda posted on 17th May titled “Shane’s World” about a Walmart employee (from Thunder Dungeon).
It’s that time of the year again when everyone looks back at the departing year and introspects, ruminates, sighs.
2016 was one such year – where the world’s balance was shaken, politics everywhere has been less about the people they serve, natural disasters occurring more often and some bright lights switched off.
2016 for me personally was a mixed bag as well – but I should say if I don’t count the collective disappointment of Brexit and the US elections, and if I just focussed on the inner nucleus of my writing, it has been a good year. 2016 has been a culmination of hard work from many years and some of those have paid off.
My first picture book came out in the UK – Pattan’s Pumpkin (illustrated by Frané Lessac and published by OtterBarry Books) and that definitely gave me a place in the space, a small seat at the table, even though Farmer Falgu has been a roaring success worldwide. And then of course Farmer Falgu himself has decided to fly to the UK with Red Robin Books, which is amazing. Three picture books in the UK certainly gave me some elbow space at the table.
My second title in the Prince Veera series came out with Walker Books – A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice. And it rekindled interest in the first title too – A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom.
I got mentioned in a few diverse books list, did a novel length amount of blogging and officially become a Picture Book Den-er. I used to have my nose pressed against the Picture Book Den window and I’ve now been invited in. How cool!
I was at many amazing events this year – as usual the SCBWI conference was a highlight, but more important to that, I proved myself as an accomplished liar at the SCBWI anniversary party. I reconnected with SAS and went to Folly Farm and of course also joined Picture Book Den.
At my MA, we celebrated a summer of events with Vermont MFA students and I made some lasting friends, stood in a queue next to David Almond and listened to some great writers read and speak about their stories. I should mention that a few months after the summer celebrations, recently, in December, I had a one to one session with David Almond (yes, have you fainted?) and he was so inspiring and encouraging. He in fact wanted to read more of the story he had reviewed and it was uplifting.
A bunch of us, from the MA and SCBWI and non-SCBWI friends attended a seminar by John Yorke. What I hadn’t expected was that I would pitch a screenplay on stage on behalf of five of us who worked on an assignment and get commended by the judges and by John Yorke. Small things like these keep me going in search of whatever is the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
As an author, I was proud to be asked to be Patron of Reading by West Earlham Junior in Norwich. My first trip to Norwich was fabulous, the children so enthusiastic about reading and a wonderful team of teachers, literacy coordinators and believe it or not, a school librarian for real too. Over this year, I’ve visited schools in London, Lincoln, Norwich, Liverpool, Wiltshire and Somerset and performed in festivals in Linton and Medway.
On a personal note, I set aside my shyness and went to a Bollywood dance class., moved to a Wiltshire town to spend half the week writing and playing house like a grown-up when there is no evidence of me ever turning into one. I’ve been watching and photographing birds around where I live, going on walks in the countryside and generally filling the well in my soul.
I’m thankful to so many friends and all of my family for being there, for booksellers, librarians and teachers who invited me to their schools and children who were kind enough to read my books and tell me about them too. I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents who take joy and pride in my success even if it is as small as placing my first poem in an anthology (Yay!) or releasing two new titles in the UK in their presence. My sister and her brood and my brother-in-law have been enormously supportive and I cherish my time and love of my little nephews who draw with me, play with me, listen to my stories, make up new stories and demonstrate car-crashes almost causing bodily harm.
I don’t know what 2017 will bring. It’s starting with a bang with appearances at the Jaipur Lit Festival, two new book launches and a family wedding. It has the promise of more joy – more festival appearances, more WBD visits and more stories to write. I wonder if I would get comfortable driving a car again next year, see the world around where I live, have a sleepover with my nephews at the new place, transition from part-time writing to full-time writing, perhaps even unagented to agented? Who knows? That’s what makes it exciting – the not knowing, the struggle, the unexpected success and the cycle of it.
I wish you all a wonderful 2017 and I hope your dreams come true and you get both what you want and what you need. Read widely, share a lot, smile more and I’m sure we would have chased 2016 back to where it came from. Let’s welcome 2017 with open hearts and warm hugs.