The Perks of Patience – How One Story Had to Wait 7 Years

We were in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania at a Founders’ Workshop with Highlights Foundation. Jane Yolen was our guru at this workshop.

Farmhouse in Honesdale, at the Founders’ Workshop





One of the mid-week assignments was – pick an existing folklore character and write an original story for this character. The assignments were given late in the evening. That meant we stayed up all night and perhaps early morning to do it and read it out in our joint session, the next morning.

With Jane Yolen and our workshop group – many of us still keep in touch


I picked Anansi. Granted I didn’t know Anansi very well at that point. But I knew he was a trickster. I had assumed Anansi was a female because in India girl names end with an i. Jane and the rest of my workshop friends loved the story. But Jane the doyen of folk literature told me Anansi was a boy. Oops!

Encouraged by a great response at the workshop, I worked on this story constantly and I got some good feedback at a Picture Book Intensive in SCBWI Conference in NYC too. I was so confident of this text, so proud of it and I sent it out.

19I counted it today – I had sent it out 19 times before I sent it to OUP, Pakistan in 2013. Nineteen rejections with two close calls with agents. One agent loved it so much that she said, This is an absolutely lovely picture book text.”

She asked to see more. And my mistake, I hadn’t polished a few more the same way I had worked on this manuscript. The agent didn’t want to take me on, with these words, “As you know I really loved your initial submission but I’m afraid I didn’t like these subsequent stories quite as much. There is nothing wrong with them, far from it, but they don’t sing and sparkle in the way that your Anansi story does.”

Then I got some feedback that said retellings of existing Anansi stories were better than making up one of your own. So I rewrote my Anansi story as an Archie story. The Archie spider did get noticed by Templar – they loved it but unfortunately they had just published another spider story.

anansiThis was one unlucky spider, I thought. I started focusing on so many other things, I put away Anansi’s New Web for about 18 months. Then in 2013 I found out from my Indian publisher that OUP Pakistan had bought rights to one of my Indian picture books.

I studied OUP Pakistan’s list. Their picture books were great – more like the Indian lists. And I thought there’s no harm in trying one more time. Maybe, just maybe, they’d like my Anansi story. So I sent my Anansi version instead of the Archie version and I didn’t get a response for a long time. Then I was told to wait 3-6 months for a decision.


Then when I reminded them 6 months later, they asked me if this was a retelling and I said no. My heart sank.  I thought maybe OUP Pakistan too didn’t want me to write an original story about Anansi – and I realized this was not meant to happen. I put away the story forever. I would never resend to anyone again.

But every 3-4 months, the junior editor from OUP, Pakistan would write to me saying the manuscript was still under consideration and I would thank them and get on with life. At least it wasn’t yet rejected.

For a writer who doesn’t have an agent, the slushpile is a mountain of hope. If the manuscript is not rejected but not forgotten, then at least it means it is on someone’s desk waiting to be read. But a lot of “Thank you, but No,” letters have taught me to expect the worst. Hope for the best, expect the worst.


And then it happened. Yesterday! On the 1st January 2015, the same junior editor told me OUP Pakistan was accepting the story for publication, contracts to follow. I read the email a few times to make sure I was reading it right. After a wait of 21 months, Anansi’s New Web has found a home.


Since I wrote Anansi in 2007, it has taken 7 seven years to be accepted. Perhaps another 2 years would go by to be illustrated and published. Who said patience is not an essential ingredient to writing and getting published? But if I had sat at my doorstep waiting for the postman, I wouldn’t have published another 5 books since then.

Saint Monica is the patron saint of Patience
Saint Monica is the patron saint of Patience

Patience does pay off. If you believe in a story, keep at it. But learn from my mistakes – work on other stories too. If an agent likes one, they do want to see others. Since that rejection from the agent, I have never waited by the door for the postman.


I would send my submissions out – by post and increasingly by email and then forget about it. If they love it, they would let you know. Work on the next one. Polish the third one. Edit a fourth one. Especially in picture books, you can’t rely on one manuscript to make your career.

During the New Year’s party this year, a few hours before the acceptance email came through, a dear friend told me – believe in yourself, keep writing and do what you think is best – stop asking too many people for feedback. He’s right. I rewrote this story a million times as different people told me different things. But the original version (minor editing aside) was liked by many people and has been accepted now.

Sometimes it is tough to keep faith in the story that as been rejected so many times. It’s okay I think to set it aside and work on something else. Every story I wrote and didn’t get published adds to the learning experience of the next story I write.

So my friends, keep the faith. Tell your story – only you can tell it.

Balu’s Basket – the journey

Balu’s Basket is the first book where I’m going on a journey from the germ of an idea to actually marketing the book – of course, all in under two years.

Before this when a book came out, I was naive and inexperienced to do anything about it. Sometimes my books would come out only in some countries and I wasn’t sure what to do on the day of the launch, if I found about it.

This time though, I think I’ve picked up some tricks and tips along the way, I should say, thanks to SCBWI and its wonderful family – where people talk about how they do things so you could learn from them.

So, back to the story that I came to tell.

Balu’s Basket was an idea based on my eternal themes – I keep coming back to grandparents, villages, fruits and Indian motifs. I wrote the first 20 lines and I really liked the shape of the story.

Tulika accepted it early this year and confirmed that it would come out in 2013. Hurrah!

Lucky for me, this year I also had plans to go home to Chennai in India. Guess what? Tulika, my publisher is based in Chennai too. The last time I had been to India was four years ago and I thought this was divine coincidence.

People at Tulika were absolutely amazing to me. Right from the receptionist who said, “You’re Chitra Soundar, I recognised you from your photo.” to the publisher Radhika Menon who gave up her valuable time to talk to me.

Deeya Nair the editor who I’ve been working with, since my first book with Tulika introduced me to the illustrator who was working on my book. Uttara a digital design student and an illustrator was right there in the next room working on my book – giving it finishing touches.


That was fun – I could see her originals – she flipped through them. She is an amazing artist and so young. This was her internship project and what wonderful work she has produced.

When Deeya gave me the original contracts to sign, she remarked that this was the first time a contract was being signed in the office by the author and witnessed by the illustrator. A good first, I’d say.

Then I met with the amazing duo – Aneesha and Pallavi. Aneesha manages marketing for Tulika and she is very positive about Balu’s Basket as she loves my first book too. She is my partner in crime, as we plan marketing across two continents.


Pallavi had literally joined that week, but was no stranger to Tulika. She’s going to spread the Tulika word in the UK and US and gearing up for it.

[Pallavi (far left), Aneesha, Uttara]


So from manuscript to illustrations, the first part of the journey is almost over. While Aneesha plans the book launch in Chennai, here I am planning the book launch here in London.

Here is the sneak preview of the coversBalu's Basket Eng-Tamil F.pmd Balu's Basket Eng-Hindi F.pmd! I love the colours, don’t you?

The first one is the English-Tamil version

and the second one is the English-Hindi version.

And of course, this time I am also doing events in the UK where I will sell all my Indian books.  The full circle – from being a writer to an author to a full-fledged author-machine. I kid myself – I’ve just begun this new aspect of my unknown courage. I have signed up to the book launch, I am telling stories to young children (we all know how intimidating that can be) during autumn and winter of 2013.

And guess what the next book will be out in early 2014 from Karadi Tales and the whole thing will start again. I’m excited. Perhaps this book came out at the right moment of my maturing author life. Perhaps the wind was blowing in the right direction.

Going Wild During National Stationery Week

Never knew people celebrated stationery with “National Stationery Week”! Growing up as a compulsive reader and a scribbler, stationery was fascinating even when I was 3 or 4. My parents recall that when they take me to the shops, the only thing I’d ever ask for was a pencil or a pen. Also according to my grandma (bless her, she told me innumerable stories), as a toddler, my favourite pastime was “Writing ABC”. I never asked for toys and stuff as a toddler.

Wherever I travel, I try and find the stationery shop in that city and look at what innovations they have – like newly shaped post-its, notebooks on keyrings, different types of notebooks – shapes, sizes, thick lines, thin lines – the myriad of stationery.

And then I find out there is a National Stationery Week in the UK. How cool is that? Here are what I’ve come up with that I should try:

  • Buy a new notebook
  • Open and write something on a notebook that has been waiting for a long time.
  • Write a few pages by long hand and decorate with color pencils and crayons
  • Send a post-card to someone for no reason

Hmm, can I get more creative than that?

How about I create the Notebook Fairy? She controls the movements of notebooks, she manages the lines on the notebooks, she decides how big the margins should be? She decides whether a notebook has to be or stitched. A Notebook Fairy to whom you can pray for the perfect notebook that never challenges you with a blank page. A notebook where every word you write is perfect!

And then notebook fairy has an army of workers – the eraser fairy and the crayon elves.  The notebook fairy has an arch-enemy – the badly-spelling-text-message devil. He hates writing anything down. He controls his world in badly formed text messages that spell cud for could and LOL for laughing.


Before I get carried away and write an entire novel from these characters (they are my characters, invented on the fly, as I am writing this blog), I’ll let you celebrate your stationery week with pens, pencils, notebooks, sharpeners, erasers and paper-clips

My next picture book

After a long wait, I have placed a picture book with Indian publisher Pratham Books. Pratham in Sanskrit means “First”.
Pratham have been working as a Non-governmental organisation to put a book in every child’s hand. Indian children do not always get the opportunity to learn to read and write. When they do go to school or lucky enough to have parents who can teach them, they cannot afford the books that most 1st world kids take for granted.
While there is no dearth of creativity, there is a certain reluctance to waste time on fiction. It is not always understood that fiction is the channel of growth. When schools and councils are struggling to find money for text-books, there is no argument when it comes to fiction.
I am so proud to be a part of that movement. I will be very happy when many eager children read my story and enjoy it. While I want to  be someone like Julia Donaldson and have millions of your young readers buying Gruffalo and equally rewarding is the other spectrum where thousands of kids will read my book and all I get from it is the satisfaction, the knowledge that someone smiled from reading my book.
Pratham Books have been very selective in their content creation and I am very glad that their editorial team loved my book.
Here is to a new beginning  – a new relationship with Pratham Books.


Under the Influence

How do writers write under the influence of alcohol? I can barely keep my eyes open after a glass of red. While the cocktails and spirits with mixers can hit me quite late in the night, the wine hits my sleep nerve directly.

I won’t be able to write a single coherent sentence after a large glass of red. And for that matter white.
Like tonight – after two wonderful glasses of red wine from the hills of Montepulciano, the Montepulciano_d’Abruzzo, my brain seems mellow. I want to call all my old boyfriends and tell them about how good life is now. But when I try to write a rhyme or a sentence that describes an emotion, I fall flat. Not literally, but close.

So on days when I have to write a lot, when I set myself a target, wine becomes a reward. Something to look forward to, after a session of writing, after meeting targets, after meeting deadlines. I once had a boyfriend who was more obsessive about my writing targets than me. He used to make sure that we never got anywhere near the wine before my quota of words have been completed.

So I wonder about writers, great ones, who cannot write without the drink. Is it because they wanted to escape into the world of fantasy? Or is it something chemical in their brains? Or maybe they had a better reaction to alcohol than me.

So, instead of an enabler, it is a reward. Instead of drinking and then missing deadlines, I finish deadlines and indulge.

I was at a workshop once with other children’s writers. I saw a couple of them literally write all day energised by wine. They had a bottle next to their computer, a glass fully filled and they typed away. I envied their stamina because the more I looked at the bottle, the more tempted I was. But I knew that my body worked in a different way. I couldn’t write and type at the same.

Do not operate heavy machinery is the key warning for many people who take medication. For me, it would be do not drink before churning heavy words. The words would slur on paper, smudge on rhymes and meander on the lines.

What is your relationship with the bottle? Does it make you write better? Or you drink hot tea and look for chocolates as reward?