Making of an Award-winning book!

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Shals and Shreya share how they came up with the award-winning book Timmi in Tangles in conversation with Varsha Verma. Timmi in Tangles is about this young girl Timmi and her world, which includes her home, the neighbourhood and her school, and the adults and friends in her life. Two of her closest friends are Juju the giant, and Idliamma, who loves idlis, stories and trouble. The closest adults are Amma, Timmi’s mother, and Kamal Mausi, who takes care of her and the household. The book was recently in news for winning the Kotak Junior Children Writing Award.

Shals Mahajan and Shreya SenThe author Shals (also, Shalini) Mahajan has recently realised that publishing is not life-threatening and writing can continue in the hereafter. Ze is thus pursuing talking to trees and cats in between brief bouts of writing and other necessities. Ze has studied English Literature and is also a queer feminist activist and researcher.

While, the illustrator Shreya spends most of her time contemplating about all the world changing things she can do. But most of them stay in her head, and sometimes she can’t even speak. Human beings, fairy lights, news papers and watermelons, amuse her.

Other than that she studied animation and film design from NID. Currently she is working as a full time graphic designer. Here, Shals and Shreya talk about their recently awarded book Timmi in Tangles and more.

Varsha (ABP): What was your reaction to being awarded at Crossword Awards?

Shals: Timmi is a delightful and imaginative person and I have been entranced with her world since I first met her in my stories almost fifteen years ago. I was, of course, quite delighted and happy to get the award, and more so since it means my love for Timmi and her world is shared by others as well.

Shreya: I fell in love with the script the moment Anushka handed it over to me. I was supposed to read just a page. But I spent the entire night reading it. Just couldn’t stop myself it was so good. When we won, I called up Shals and she said, “Dude we have won”.

I was like, “Yay!”

Varsha: Describe your journey as a children author/ illustrator so far? In what languages do you write? Shals: I write in English.

There is not much I can say about my journey as a writer for children, because I have not, so far, really sat down to write saying, “Okay, this will be for children.” I write about characters and people I fall in love with in my head and see where they take me.

Shreya: Its’ been great and really satisfying, right from my internship in Tulika and up till now. All the people that I have come across and the response that I have received from people have been very great.

Varsha: When did you “know” you wanted to write/ illustrate professionally?

Shals: I began writing when I was in my teens as a way to deal with things jumbling about at superspeed inside my head and am glad that I have continued with it. I am not sure that I write “professionally” since it is not what pays my bills, but yes, over the last two decades, I have learned to give more space to myself as a writer and be comfortable with it.

Shreya: I realised that this is one thing that I loved doing. In spite of full time jobs I always found out ways of illustrating.

Varsha: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing/illustrating a book? Why?

Shals: I guess that would be the writing of it. The way it works for me is that till I actually write it down, I do not know what will happen next. So the suspense adds to the frustration and to top it off, I am an excruciatingly slow writer.

Shreya : Sometimes catching up to what works for the publisher is demanding. More than anything I have understood it’s very important to understand who you are doing the book for- the writer, publisher and the reader. If you can crack this well then everything falls into place.

Varsha: What factors are kept in mind while writing for children?

Shals: For me it is only about the people in the story and staying true to them.

Shreya: To depict the story well and always try to go a little beyond the words.

Varsha: What comes first – the illustrations or the story?

Shals: In this case it was the story for sure. Then the publishers searched for an illustrator who would be able to capture Timmi and her world without making it something other than what it is. And Shreya came in and loved the stories. After that it was a long wonderful collaboration between Shreya, Anushka and me till we all were happy with each of the illustrations.

Shreya: Both happen together I guess.

Varsha: What publishing advice do you give to aspiring writers/illustrators of any age?

Shals: I do not think that I qualify to give any such advice. I can only say that I decided to begin publishing only after I turned forty though I have been writing for more than two decades.

Shreya: Don’t be scared of what might work and what may not work. Do things from your heart and it will be conveyed to another heart. Don’t be too disheartened because some day people will understand you!

Varsha: We live in a time when young people have numerous choices for entertainment. What would you like to say to children who may be hesitant about reading a book for “fun? Shals: Try it out – there is a large world waiting to be explored, many adventures to be had, many friends to be made, and all this without the interference of adults. Shreya: Read as many books as you can. You and I might read the same book but we will definitely find different stories in them.

Varsha: Which is the next book that readers can look forward to?

Shals: This year it is a work of non-fiction on understanding and living gender differently, that I have co-authored with three of my friends and colleagues. There are a couple of novels and stories that I am working on but since I am still writing them, it is rather difficult to say when they will be out.

Shreya: One for Tulika!

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