Inspired by India’s Traffic

My writing is like the Indian traffic. 


It’s chaotic , it is filled with impatience, blaring horns and swerving bikes. I don’t plan much when I write just like the city planners in India. If I plan, I lose my interest to write – at least at the beginning. I have some stories mapped out fully, with outlines, chapter breakdowns and character sketches. Then I put them away because the joy of the telling was satisfied with all of the work I put into the prep. There was nothing left to tell the full story.

Perhaps my impatience is the reason I prefer writing in 12 spreads. Not because I don’t want to write longer text. I want to and love to. But I want the story to be told quickly and with little words. I imagine the pictures. I know what I am saying in the pictures and what in the text. Sometimes I wish I could draw or learnt drawing. I grew up without drawing a single picture, colouring or painting. Except for the once-in-a-childhood experience of egg-shell painting, I stuck to writing, stamp-collecting and reading. It never occurred to me that I could draw or even try learning.

Now I am learning to doodle and the children in my school visits tell me I’m not that bad. I guess it is all in the practice and of course if I start now, perhaps I could be an illustrator when I am 75.

I digress. I’ve been in India for a week now for my book-launch and related stuff. And I’ve been thinking of my writing as the traffic that moves around here. There is no lane discipline – but in many roads, there are no lane markings. Like when I write fiction – there are rules, but no formulae. I just have to figure it out as I go and if I have gotten lost in the melee, I have to find my way back.

IMG_0727I have so many new ideas since I came a week ago. I went to some beautiful old places in Delhi and Chennai, listened to sounds and breathed in smells of this place. Now what I need is a route map to convert one of the ideas into a story without getting lost. It needs patience – the patience to find my way, the patience to finish the journey even if i have to make a lot of detours and wrong turns. I need to trust my driving and not worry about the lanes. I need to make eye-contact with the characters I create and not just wait for traffic lights to tell me how to proceed. IMG_0718And of course call upon the myriad gods in bronze, wood and stone to guide me . 

Connemara_Public_Library_Chennai_18212I am heading to one of the oldest libraries in Chennai – the Connemara this week before I head back to London to find some research on the ideas I have. This trip has been inspiring in many ways – and the traffic is one of those urban miracles in India that has triggered me to draw the parallels with my writing.

My joy for the Umbrella

brolly1I like umbrellas. No scratch that. I like the concept of the umbrella. I never owned one until two days ago.


I always find them impractical – they are suitable for light rain – but for rains with windtakeones and stormy weather, they are practically useless. Then you have to stand near the doors of buildings, trying to push them through sticky transparent plastic in an effort not to drip – but you have already dripped all over the place.If Health & Safety goes more mad, all umbrella-touting people should wear a fluorescent vest that says “Person Carrying Wet and Dripping Umbrella, Pass with Caution.”

I came from a sea-side city in the country of the monsoon. We didn’t get drizzles and rains. We had downpours, low pressure in the bay and dark and stormy nights where it bucketed the skies for hours on end. I grew up with storms where fishermen were warned not to leave for fishing or reports of fishermen missing came through the wires. So the umbrella was just a concept.

But for me as a little girl, mind a girl who had never seen Mary Poppins in any form or shape until she was 30 years old, thought an umbrella was a magical concept. It could help you fly.

I was very thin growing up. People called me the grass-girl or pencil-girl or sometimes wire-frame girl. Or if they are funny (they thought they were), they called me the strong girl who would be tripped by a grass – it is easier to say this in Tamil, trust me. For a thin girl like me, flying away holding on to an umbrella was magical. poppins1Didn’t know it had already been perfected by Mary Poppins and I could borrow her magic and her manual.

I imagined flying over Chennai, over the oceans, over the islands and far away. I always wanted to meet interesting people, see things I had never seen before and just be off. Didn’t matter where I went – I just wanted to be off.

The only thing was my Dad’s umbrella was black. My mum’s was black. I wanted a colourful one – with intricate design of things I liked. With lots of colours. I had always imagined my umbrella to be a big one with buttons that would open them up and display the cloud of colours, colours that could change as I flew over different places. Designs that could reflect the places I’d been too.

And then I came to live here in Britain. The first thing I fell in love with – the brolly. What a fantastic word for the umbrella. The brolly. That works even in plural better than the plural for umbrella – is it umbrellas or umbrellae ? Brollies – I have scribbled down a thousand ideas for brollies and adventures.

Every time I step out into the rain without one and see people carrying brollies, I check the colours, the size, the patterns, the new designs. I always wonder why brollies are so expensive – rain has been perpectual on this earth (let’s hope it stays that way). So why hasn’t he invented something better than a brolly for the windy days? Why do we always struggle with the brolly in the street as it folds upwards? Why do we find abandoned brollies (that’s a crime), by bins because their spines were broken? Why are the brollies so expensive?

Then I realized because brollies are magical. You need to activate their magic, believe in them. An umbrella is a magical thing. You can’t uninvent it. It won’t go away quietly in the annals of inventions like the cassette tape. People like carrying an umbrella than wearing plastic ponchos. (Although that gives me an idea about a plastic ponchos for my next story).

So anyway, I knuckled down and bought an expensive umbrella from Boots over the weekend. It set me back by 18 pounds. But it is colourful, playful and has a button to open and shut it. The last two days I’ve been using it, I have been flying over the Thames, knocking on windows at the Shard at the top where only elves live, and visiting the pigeons on top of St. Paul’s.

My joy for the umbrella is only matched by my joy for the balloon – the ones with a basket that would take you over fields. The Phileas balloon1Fogg adventure – I have it on my bedroom wall. That’s still one of my achievable dreams – however I am holding back paying the 99 quid for it to go up in one, lest it should shatter my dreams and fantasies and just be like a tram ride.

Although tram rides are brilliant – aren’t they? Not the ones that take you to Ikea – I mean the ones you can get on to go into Santa’s workshop or when you get on one in Switzerland and see the cuckoo clocks?

My adventures with Series Fiction – Just Starting

I have been working on a series-fiction character for two years now. I have rewritten the story many times and each time I start I think about the approach- should I do in-depth character studies?   Should I write it as it happens and figure out as I go?

I always thought preparing for a long time, interviewing my characters and writing about their features and likes and dislikes will take away the pleasure of discovering it. I always get put off by the lists, the interview questions, the forms that are available on the Internet to do character studies.

But this time I had to do it. My writing mentor Tony Bradman at Golden Egg Academy, said I need to know my characters in depth and I should spend time on the preparation so the writing is more focused. My groan must have echoed through the city if not muffled  by the constant noise of engineering works on the tracks near my flat.

So how does one plan a character for a series fiction for children? Most character trait charts and interview questions were aimed at fiction for adults. Some were genre specific like world building for science fiction and fantasy.  I decided to start with the hint that Tony had given me – think about why sitcoms like “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Big Bang Theory” work? They are comedies, they are situational, but are heavily character based.


So that’s where I started. I trawled through episode guides of my favourite character-sitcom – Big Bang Theory. I studied the tropes that feature in popular sitcoms. That gave me the basics of how characters should be structured and why these characters have to be exaggerated.

Then I studied the basics of writing a character based sitcom. What goes into? Why is the character important and why does everything has to centre around the character traits.


That gave me the basics. But I still needed to know more about my characters. So, firstly, I decided what I wanted to know about each characters. I trawled through many character study charts and synthesized what I wanted for a young fiction. I created my own character chart (which you can see here). But again, I was bored filling in a chart with traits. I didn’t think it would wake up my creative spirit. I wanted something playful, something fun and something I could enjoy doing.

After a lot of pondering, trials of form-filling and trying out various things, I decided I liked to brainstorm about my characters using the questions. The questions are the guide but the responses won’t be in the form. I would reflect the character’s personality in my character study notebook.

Oh yes, I needed a chance to buy new drawing notebooks. I can’t draw at all – but this exercise made me so adventurous – I started using colours, speech bubbles and all sorts of drawing and pictures. Some I tried to draw using websites that showed me how to draw and some I cut and pasted in my notebook.

I had discovered my most productive form of creating characters. I was able to have fun, confuse the person sitting next to me in the pub and use all the stationery I had in the house.


So there was one notebook for the main character, another for the kids who are part of the main character’s life and then the adults in a separate notebook. What fun!

Then when I thought I had reached my personal heaven, guilt crept up on me. I wasn’t writing. I was playing. Is that good? Am I wasting time? Is this all going to be of any help when I write? I hadn’t written for 4 weeks, working on 6-7 characters, plot ideas, research on background, dogs, cats and all sorts of related things.

Oh and I listened to loads of youtube songs figuring out what songs my characters would like, watched cartoons and worked out what my adventure holiday camp would entail. It was loads of fun!

I  went to Facebook SCBWI group for help. I fretted that I was going to squander away my part-time life. That’s when it hit me and was also advised of the same thing in the Facebook poll – write vignettes, write short essays about the characters. Yes, that would work. That would help me focus on the writing, allow me to experiment with voice and also with tense.

But what should I write? That’s when WritingMaps came to my rescue. I had bought a whole pack of them a few months ago and one of the maps was about characters.

character_cover_compact character_side2_grandeSo on a train to Lille in Paris, at 7 in the morning, I unfolded the map in the train and started to write character episodes for my characters.

That definitely made me feel better- but something else happened. I discovered more things about my characters than I had known before.

This could become a habit – the avoiding of writing doing character studies and vignettes and colouring and drawing and doodling. That’s kind of what David Almond said in a recent masterclass I went to – have fun, doodle, scribble – don’t worry about having fun!

Soon the writing will start and I will report back on how I used the character studies and all the brainstorming I did.

The Part-time Life

I’m not used to the term part-timer simply because I give 100% to everything I do.  But when you do a lot of things, it is 100% to one thing at one time. I worked in Information Technology (computers as others call it) for many years in India and then moved to do the same in Singapore and then in the UK. I worked in a bank during the financial crisis and worked 16-18 hour shifts and was proud of holding the fort.

I never gave up on writing. I wrote in the mornings and nights, on trains and bus-stops and all weekends. I used to get up at 4 am in the morning when I was in a demanding and stressful relationship to ensure I get my writing done irrespective of how the day turned out to be.

Then early this year, I spent some time evaluating life. The mortgage was paid off, there is no husband or kids to look after, just me, the laundry, the dishes and what I wanted.

What did I want to do with life?

I was working regular hours, but to write I was giving up my evenings and weekends, and precious time with my nephew growing up.

I was giving up on experiencing life so that I could work and write. My life experiences with spreadsheets and conference calls weren’t going to feed my muse to write stories for children. Writing comes from inside me and inside me was underfed with richness and tired with office politics.

Could I have both? I didn’t want to be at home full-time. I’m a natural loner might end up finding my haven inside instead of exploring the world. I would need to keep my mind sharp and my day job was very good at doing that. So maybe I could step off the pedal and not worry about whether I had a powerful and high-paying job but find my work-writing-life balance.


After a lot of chats with my sister and my parents, I decided to float the idea to my bosses. My family was supportive of my plans – albeit my Dad a bit worried about leaving a permanent job.

Oddly enough and pleasantly surprising my bosses were supportive of my decision as well. My divisional manager was keen to keep me onboard and allow me the time to write. So I went in with a resignation so I could find contract jobs that would give me freedom, I came back with a part-time offer with job security and time away to write, to go into schools and pursue storytelling.

imagesIt’s been six weeks now and it has been fantastic. I was thinking if I could have done it sooner and realized not really. I had taken advantage of the first opportunity to scale back one part of my life and create a bigger pie for other things.



I have been into many libraries telling stories. I’ve done storytelling in summer fetes and community gatherings. I’ve been part of CWISL’s first ShoutWest event and I’ve been writing more.



I now work three days at the bank and have the rest of the week to write and have fun. I see more of my nephew, I have found myself a writing mentor with the Golden Egg Academy and I’ve met some interesting people going on walks discovering the heritage of London.

I’m asked if going into work for the three days is difficult. It is actually fun. I feel less guilty about going into corporate work at the cost of life or writing. I’ve wanted to do something for myself, I didn’t go out and buy a Ferrari, (in my case it would be the Fiat 500)


– but I thought about what I wanted and bargained life for what it’s worth and I have more time to spend the money I make.

In a way, I am the husband and wife at ti_m_getting_married_____to_myself__by_veeutiful-d5vyhf1he same time in my own life- the bank employee me makes the money and the writer me, spends the money on notebooks, books, stationery, going to events and such!


I’m more productive as a writer – I’ve time for experiments, I can now write and put it away because time is not that scarce. It is still precious, but I have no plan to waste it.

Who said lounging in the park watching cloud shapes is wasting time? That’s research, that’s observation, that’s fodder for the writing. Who said walking my story by the riverside is a waste of time? It is a gift that only I could give myself.

Some people tell me I’m brave to step off the ladder, or off the treadmill or the accelerator whatever you call it. People in my position at my work are now furiously looking for the next big promotion.

But I am free from all that stress and it has liberated me at work. Not that I was one of those people led by a chief whip – I had opinions of my own and never kept it to myself. But I’ve now given myself permission just to enjoy the work. I think I now understand more the maxim that is in the Bhagavad Gita that I gita-war-to-beginalways believed in – “Do your duty and do not expect a benefit from it.”

My HR contact will check in with me after 3 months, and I hope I’ll be able to say “Can I stay forever part-time please?”


I learnt one new thing yesterday, maybe two, maybe three, actually four.

cwislCWISL was at the Read, Write, Perform Omnibus event on Friday and Saturday this weekend. 

omnibus-claphamWhat a wonderful venue – the old library transformed into a cultural space. Drama classes for kids, poetry, music and a café/bar too.

CWISL setup the stall on Friday and even had one of our team-meetings at the wonderful café.


Then on Saturday, we came bright and early while the skies rumbled and rained. And then it was time for the drama classes to begin – and the hall was filled with young boys and girls running around, talking, preparing for their young-theatre class.

CWISL  members got to meet with parents, children and the drama teacher who was trying to convince his students that he wrote Jack and the Beanstalk. We also told everyone about the creative writing workshop for kids that was at noon.


Learning #1 – How to unlock a story


I learnt from Margaret and the beautiful treasure box she shared with Beverley, how to unlock a story. As a writer, storyteller and as a creative writing mentor – it was fun to watch her unlock the story with our workshop attendees.





Learning #2 – Making connections

I lead a double-life. I have a corporate persona when I am at my day-job and then my creative side when I am writing, telling stories and selling my books. Here time is of value, but not as valuable as it is at the day-job. Here it is always about finding creative connections, meeting interesting people and connecting with one reader – if that’s all we get throughout the day.

We spent the whole day, explaining our mission at CWISL to visitors to the Omnibus. We chatted about the workshops and the new postcards. And we met librarians, bookshop people, festival organisers and that’s valuable. You don’t get that by selling books just on the internet.

I met the librarian from Clapham Library who not only bought Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip, much to my joy, he invited me to tell the story at his library. image descriptionWe shook hands on a date and time. Check out the Events Page for more details. 

I met the festival organisers of Omnibus along with other CWISL members and we talked about how we could collaborate.

I even walked into Clapham Books on my way back to the station, to look at their shop and ask if I could do an event there. That was brave of me. I am usually very very anxious to do things like that. I almost walked out without making contact. But I realized the worst that could happen was they would say No. Well they didn’t. I would be writing to them for sure.

Learning #3 – Be Specific

This one is a writing tip. Courtesy of Sam Osman and Paul Bryers. I attended their adult creative writing workshop – I had time on my hands, remember. This is what I don’t get to do when I am in meetings and conference calls at work.

We learnt how to bring a scene to life, how to make the reader feel the same thing as the narrator.

When Sam said, “Don’t be general. If you say I went on a roller-coaster ride, each reader is going to imagine their own roller-coaster ride experience. It might be scary or fun for them. But you need to make the reader feel what your narrator is feeling, not what their own experience was.”

Aha! Now I have an anchor for my descriptions. I always knew descriptions have to be specific. I always  knew “show not tell.” I was taught to write descriptions with all five senses. But Sam gave me a reason for it. A damn good one.


Learning #4 – Start with a small object that has big impact

And when I thought that was the most important tip I’ve ever got from an award-winning writer, Sam gave me another gift.

In each of the scenes we all described in the workshop, we were asked to find a single object that can anchor the scene. That object could also be the starting point of the story.

While one person brilliantly chose a pencil shaving, another chose an abandoned shoe, there was a sharp knife and of course mine was a screw.

screwA screw that my narrator was focused on, as she went up the roller-coaster.




Sam told us to start our stories with an object – focus , zero-in, pan-in the shot, don’t do a wide angle. Both Paul and Sam have backgrounds in film-making and I could see how that has enriched their writing as well.

Paul then showed us how “show not tell” can be brought to your writing by highlighting some of the descriptions we had used in this exercise.

Signing books, unlocking imaginary worlds, zooming in the camera, having wonderful soup and corn bread at the cafe, all in all, it was a fantastic day in when the skies rumbled and rain tumbled outside.

I was tired at the end of the day. I needed chilled white wine and a couch.  But it was all worth it. Time needs to be measured in terms of what you got out of it, not how much money you made out of it. At least for me, that’s the motto I hope to live by.