“A writer should be like a sponge soaking in all kinds of experience”

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Deepa Agarwal, a bi-lingual writer with about fifty books in English and Hindi to her credit, is known for her important role in children’s literature. She has written mystery and adventure novels, ghost stories, tales of everyday life, picture books and biographies for children, besides retelling folk tales and myths, etc. Here, we discover her passion for story writing and her connection with the hills, which makes her a natural storyteller. A regular contributor to children’s magazines both in India and abroad, websites and children’s pages of newspapers, Deepa Agarwal has edited and also compiled a number of anthologies. Her work has been translated into Korean, Japanese and Chinese, besides most of the Indian languages. Deepa has won several awards for her writing.

Early starter!

So, how did her love for books and stories actually started? “As a child, I was fond of making up stories and was enthralled by the magic of words, and often won prizes for writing. My tryst with writing began quite early, when I shifted from Adams’ School in Almora to St Mary’s Convent, a boarding school in Nainital, at the age of seven. The influence of books was quite strong on my imagination as my parents provided me lots of books and encouraged me to read which was crucial to develop writer’s instinct,” replies Deepa as a matter of fact.

But, it was not smooth sailing for her as she was busy juggling with professional and personal commitments. At one time, she was also on sabbatical. “When my children were growing up, it struck me that this skill could provide a profession I could practice from home. Ashok’s New Friends, a picture storybook, was my first book, published by Children’s Book Trust in 1990. This book, which shows that boys and girls can do the same things equally well, won the NCERT National Award for Children’s Literature in 1992 – 93 and has been translated into other Indian languages,” shares Deepa.

“I used to tell my children lots of stories when they were little. When they were younger, they read my stories and gave me suggestions and ideas. Now all my daughters are married. And my two grandchildren are already listening to my stories,” she further added smiling.

Author’s favorite authors!

Every author has some favorite books and writers, which they enjoy reading and also get inspired from them. On asking Deepa, about her favourites and inspirations, she added, “As a child, I read a lot of books by Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton and Angela Brazil, but among children’s and young adult authors which encountered later in my life, Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman and Cornelia Funke are worth a mention.

Other influential writers include Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Tolstoy among the classic writers and John Irving, Thomas Keneally, Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King and Amitav Ghosh among contemporary ones. But my all time favourite is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It has always been the perfect novel for me, whereas Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim is very high on my favourites list.”

On asking about her stories being inspired by Ruskin Bond, she replied that it is just because of hill connection they both share.“I get inspirations from real life incidents, chance remarks, newspaper items, unusual wayside scenes or anything else that moves me strongly,” she added.

Her best book…

“That’s a tough one to answer! Books are like your own children! Some books were fun to write because they came to me easily. I completed Hunt for a Miracle Herb in one and a half months. However, writing Caravan to Tibet too was joyous experience, though it needed a lot of research and a great deal of rewriting. Writing picture books for my Little Friends series was lot of fun,” told Deepa.

Message to aspiring writers…

“Read…read and read! Observe how people walk and talk, how they react to situations, what places look like and use this information when you write. A writer should be like a sponge, soaking in all kinds of experience. Keep a diary. This means that you are writing every day and honing your skills,” told Deepa.

What next?

Deepa’s recent titles include Write Right (Scholastic India) and Rajula and the Web of Danger (Hachette India) and Chanakya, the Master of Statecraft (Puffin Books). Her forthcoming titles include The Wish Fulfilling Cow and Other Classic Indian Tales (Scholastic India) and a non-fiction about the exploration of Tibet titled How Many Steps to Lhasa? (National Book Trust, India).

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