Posts Tagged ‘meet a writer’

Meet a writer series – Sowmya Rajendran

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Sowmya Rajendran has a BA in English from Stella Maris College (Chennai) and an MA in Gender Studies from the University of Sussex (UK). She has published 12 picture books, a YA novel and has also written several short stories for Chandamama magazine. She blogs at

What were your favourite books growing up?

I grew up on a staple diet of Tinkle, Champak, Gokulam and Chandamama like any other kid from my generation. The first book I read from end to end was The Adventurous Four by Enid Blyton. And for a very long time, I never read anyone other than her. I read children’s books by Indian authors much later.

The genre of children’s literature, what made you take it up?

Nothing made me take it up as such. I like imaginative writing that has a touch of humour. I enjoy creating quirky characters, absurd situations and make-believe worlds. All of these characteristics go well with children’s books.

You’ve published many picture books for children. Can you describe the process of writing one?

A good picture book is one that has a strong concept. And by concept, I don’t mean a moral or a message. There should be an idea in the book that propels it forward and captures the child’s imagination. For me, the writing process starts with this idea. Sometimes, I already know how the story will end. Most times, I let the idea lead me. A lot of people assume that writing picture books is easy because you don’t have to write much. But the art of writing with simplicity and minimal words is a hard one to master. After writing the story, I make it a point to read it aloud to listen to the rhythm of the words – that is how most of my readers will ‘read’ my book, too – and make edits as required.

You’ve said writing for children teaches you ‘not to be a bore’. What is your secret recipe to capturing a child’s imagination?

There is no magic wand you can wave to achieve good writing. What you need to do is work hard at your writing and be open to criticism. Reading a lot helps, too. I can’t stand children’s books that talk down to children and are bent upon drilling morals into their heads. I believe in respecting my audience and creating work that I can enjoy reading, too.

As a mother, has your perspective on writing changed from before? Do you write for ‘her’ now?

I think motherhood is a wonderful learning process on all accounts. As a children’s writer, this is especially so. My daughter is only a year old but we read many books together. I’ve been reading one of my books, Monday to Sunday, to her since the time she was about a month old or so. It’s fascinating to see how her reactions and responses have changed as she’s grown older. Earlier, it was simply the colours in the book and the rhythm of the words that interested her. Then, it was the physical feel of the book itself and the act of turning pages to see the same-but-different-every-time pictures. Now, she loves identifying objects in the book that she’s familiar with – a banana, a pair of shoes, a clock, a bag etc. She even sticks her tongue out like the boy in the book does! You wouldn’t think looking at a simple picture book that children can get so much out of it, but they do! And as a writer, this has been an absolute joy to discover.

In terms of ideas, how do you know a certain theme resonates with an age group?

To start with, I’m not too old myself 🙂 I remember my childhood very well – I had a fantastic time growing up. I was bratty, angsty, dramatic and difficult. This ensured that I had a very colourful childhood with several memorable episodes. Many of my books usually have an autobiographical element in them. Like in The Snow King’s Daughter, the boy, Keshav, rolls himself into a mat and imagines he is in distant lands. I used to do that all the time as a child. The girl in School is Cool plays several rounds of make-believe games inside her head and dawdles around before going to school. Much of Mayil Will Not Be Quiet, the young adult book I co-authored with Niveditha Subramaniam, is also based on real life experiences. When you are not afraid to be proud of the truth, what you write will resonate.

What are your sources of inspiration?

Children who will tell you in the blink of an eye that your story is boring.

Do you think children’s literature has come of age in India?

Yes. This is a very exciting time for children’s books in India. There are several new publishing houses that are bringing out children’s books that are of good quality, lit fests for children’s authors and illustrators, awards and better sales. But there is still room for improvement. Indian children’s books hardly get any display space in big bookstore chains that choose to dump them all into an untidy pile. You only see the Hannah Montanas and Wimpy Kids everywhere. Not that they shouldn’t be around but it is time Indian children’s writers get some space, too. Not because they are Indian but because they are good.

How important is marketing your book? What are the relevant avenues for a genre like yours?

I’m not going to be saintly and tell you that marketing doesn’t matter. I don’t think marketing somehow cheapens your ‘art’ either. If your work is good, telling more people about it makes sense to me. Sending the book out for reviews, organizing events around the book like a launch, story-telling/dramatized readings etc are some ways of doing it. You can also explore options on social media. Merchandizing is another option. For one of my new books, The Pleasant Rakshasa published by Tulika, Jeeva Raghunath, the well-known storyteller, is performing at a children’s store-cum-activity-center. T-shirts with an image of the main character will be sold during the event.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished working on a four book adventure series with Karadi Tales. It should hopefully be out next year. Then there’s the sequel for Mayil Will Not Be Quiet. I’m also working on a book for adults – a satire on moral policing and the absurd patriarchal constraints in our society.


Meet a writer series – Sonja Chandrachud

Dubbed the ‘Desi Rowling’ by the media, Sonja deftly brews up fantastical tales filled with magic, mayhem & mischief. The Potion of Eternity & Pearls of Wisdom are the first two novels in the much loved Hilarious Hauntings Adventures five book series. As part of the DOA Detective Files she has written ‘Trouble at the Taj’ and the new book ‘Revenge of the Pharaoh’ which will be released on December 22. Sonja currently resides in Pune.


What got you writing? Can you please share your story?

With my dad in the Army, I had an extraordinary childhood growing up on the NE border with goats, hens and Sherpas for friends. Then came Africa with its black mambas and joyous people, next was the mystical Bedouins of Oman, the frenetic energy of the Big Apple, laid back prairies of Wichita and finally, home, the Peshwa city.

With people floating in and out of my life, reading was my only anchor and local stories became my friends, my window to the vastly different worlds I was lucky to experience. Writing was and still is, my way trying to connect with the world and a chance to share my passion to travel to spaces unknown.

You have lived in Africa & the Middle East as well.  What was it like?

Africa is truly the Dark Continent with its rich and diverse history, unexplored lands, lyrical languages and multiracial culture, all of which transformed and liberated my thinking at very early age. The Middle East is another exotic experience that opens your mind to a culture steeped in tradition and yet in sync with modernity. Living in a country takes you back in time, infusing your senses with infinitely unusual perspectives that emerge years later to shape the way you live.

Your books are for children and young adults. Any particular reason for choosing this genre?

Children’s literature is the most liberating and imaginative platform for a writer. Unlike adult fiction, it has no boundaries or preconceived prejudices or limitations set by society, you can truly write from your heart as your reader is all embracing and enthusiastic in their response, which makes it so very worthwhile.

Both Hilarious Haunting & DOA Detective Files have really wonderful and quirky characters. What are the other secret ingredients in creating a good story for children?

Secret ingredients for creating a great story for children are five – Strong, believable plotline, quirky and believable characters, a sense of humour, dollops of adventure and no moralizing.

Marketing books for children is very challenging. Can you please share the steps taken to promote your books.

Apart from updating my website and FB author page regularly, my book launches are very interactive where dramatization, dance and quizzes based on the current story make the evening a memorable one

What is your view on the reading habits of children today?

Children are reading though what they are made to read and what they would love to read are poles apart – it is time to throw out the old fashioned, moral filled stories and write what they can relate to so that the love of reading becomes a habit be it a paper back or e book.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading two stories right now – re-reading Life of Pi and Asterix and Cleopatra – I love Asterix and Obelix comics – so brilliant!!

When can we expect your next book? Any plans on writing a new series?

My new book DOA Revenge of the Pharaoh will be officially launched on 22nd Dec 2012.  No plans of a new series, I have to complete the Hilarious Hauntings third book first!!

For more details, please visit

Meet a writer series – Ashwin Sanghi, author of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant & The Krishna Key

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About :
Ashwin is an entrepreneur by profession but writing historical fiction in the thriller genre is his passion and hobby. Ashwin was educated at Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai, and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He holds a masters degree from Yale and is working towards a Ph.D. in Creative Writing. Ashwin lives in Mumbai with his wife, Anushika, and his son, Raghuvir.

Ashwin Sanghi’s first novel, The Rozabal Line was self-published in 2007 under his pseudonym, Shawn  Haigins. The theological thriller based upon the theory that Jesus died in Kashmir was subsequently published by Westland in 2008 in India under his own name and went on to become a national bestseller, remaining on national bestseller lists for several months.

Ashwin’s second novel, Chanakya’s Chant, a political thriller with roots in ancient Mauryan history, shot into almost every bestseller list in India within a few weeks of launch. The novel went on to win the Crossword-Vodafone Popular Choice Award and UTV acquired the movie rights to the book. The novel has remained on AC Nielsen’s India Top-10 for over 18 months.

Ashwin’s third offering, The Krishna Key, a fast-paced and riveting thriller that explores the ancient secrets of the Vedic age and the Mahabharata. It was released in August 2012 and shot to #1 on the A.C. Nielsen all-India fiction rankings within the first week of its release.


1. You have successfully balanced the roles of a businessman and a writer. What was your greatest challenge during this transition?

There was no ‘transition’ because I did not really change roles… I simply decided to pursue a hobby rather passionately. Even when I wrote my first novel, The Rozabal Line, I did not know that my writing would eventually evolve into a parallel career. Although I have written three novels, I continue to work five days a week as a businessman. I only write in the mornings, on weekends and during an annual writing sabbatical. The challenge, if any, is to create walls between business, writing and family so that one does adequate justice to each element.

2. Your three books have been widely praised for their methodical research. Can you give us an insight into your research process?

Let’s take The Krishna Key as an example. The research was at several levels for this book. First, I wanted to examine historical material that could tell us that Krishna existed, not merely as a mythological character, but as a historical one. Second, I wanted to examine the events of the Mahabharata in order to interpret them in a contemporary frame of reference. Finally, I needed to study archaeological evidence in relation to Dwarka. I ended up reading over fifty books—including the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, and Kalki Purana—besides more than a hundred research papers and spent several weeks on travel. After having collected over five hundred pieces of historical material, it was very difficult to decide which ones would make it into the book. I eventually used only two hundred. That’s the nature of thriller writing, you can never compromise pace or plot even if you have very interesting material.

3. You have spoken of the importance of the plot in your novels. Can you describe your method to developing such interesting plots?

There are three things that make the novel—plot, plot and plot. I always start with the plot. Initially, the plot may not be too detailed but I will have an overall idea of the direction that the story is meant to take. Having developed a rough construct of the storyline, I then plough into my research. This may take several months or even a year. During this phase, I make meticulous notes and ensure that all the interesting material that will eventually be part of the story is filed correctly. Post-research, I revisit the plot in order to flesh it out with the knowledge acquired from my research. This entire process of plotting, researching and then plotting yet again can consume well over a year. Only once I have the entire book mapped out chapter by chapter in excruciating detail do I begin the actual writing. Characters are always incidental to my plot.

4. What is your view on the current scene in Indian fiction writing?

I believe that we are seeing the effect of one key demographic: the fact that over 35% of our population in India is below the age of twenty. We have a huge surge in first-time readers and their numbers are absolutely staggering. It is this young demographic that is fuelling the sales of campus romances, chick lit, and IIT/IIM inspired novels and novellas. On the other hand, there is an entire generation of Indian readers in its thirties and forties that had remained starved of commercial fiction written in an Indian voice. For most of my growing up years I had to depend on foreign authors for my dose of genre fiction. Most publishers were only interested in promoting either non-fiction or literary fiction. This has changed dramatically in the past decade and the result is a flourishing commercial fiction segment written by authors whose sensibilities and stories have some deeper emotional connection with Indian readers rather than the average foreign paperback. This is a wonderful development.

5. How do you deal with the constant feedback-both encouraging & discouraging that is the internet?

The only views that I always listen to are the views of my readers and fans. The problem, however, is that one can never create a work that will appeal to everyone. No matter how good your work, you will always find someone who didn’t appreciate it. That’s the very nature of a creative pursuit. I don’t discount readers’ opinions when they criticise, in fact, I listen to them very closely. But the ultimate decision on whether I wish to incorporate their advice into my next work is entirely mine and I would never give up that liberty. The day that the direction of your work is determined by assorted opinions you cease to be yourself.

6. Going forward, what themes are you looking to explore in your upcoming books?

All three books penned by me as of date have been in the historcal-mythological space. I do plan on writing a few books that stray from the historical element soon. My next two books will be pure fiction. One will be a business thriller and the other will be a crime thriller. I hope to complete both books by end-2013.

For more on Ashwin and his books visit his website

Meet a writer series – Rupali Rotti, author of The Valentine’s Day Clue

We’re kicking off the ‘Meet a writer’ series at TenderLeaves. We interview local writers who are just about taking off in their writing careers – and have them share their experiences – so YOU can see behind the scenes about what it takes to bring out a book. We start our series with an interview of Pune-based writer Rupali Rotti, whose book The Valentine’s Day Clue came out a short while ago.

Rupali Rotti

The Valentine’s Day Clue


Q: After working for eight years across major companies, what got you into writing?
Rupali: Writing a book and getting it published was a childhood dream. I used to write poems, short stories, thoughts and articles as a school kid. But then after college, when I got busy with my career, the hobby took a backseat. But there was still a small flicker in the back of my mind somewhere. It was in the darkest hour that the books I read came as a ray of light. How the protagonists overcome every difficulty taught me to hold on just a little longer. I only hope that my writing could do for the readers, what those books did for me. If I could inspire a single person, I’ll be at peace with myself.

Q: Your first book, The Valentine’s Day Clue is now available. Can you please tell us your experience writing this book?
Rupali: It was very funny, actually! Sometimes I’d spring up on my bed in the dead of the night and start scribbling away. I called these as “write attacks”. And sometimes, I’d go days without writing a single word. I’d ask an out of the blue question to my colleagues,to my bosses even! And they’d be like: “What’s happened to her?” I’m a very straight forward person. And if you ask such a person to immediately start writing suspense, they’ll ask you, “Woh kis chidiya ka naam hai?” I knew what suspense could do – make you bite your nails; make you sit at the edge of your seat. But how to create it in my writing was the biggest puzzle.

Q: Detective fiction, especially featuring amateur detectives is a very challenging genre for a new writer. What prompted you to pick up this subject?
Rupali: I’ve always been a big fan of detective adventure stories. I’ve even tried a hand at practical sleuthing. I’d once followed a lead to find a thief who’d stolen my bicycle. I managed to find him even! But then I chickened out looking at the sheer size of him. I thought that since I personally have no exposure to formal ways of sleuthing or police work, it would be better to start my characters as amateurs. Then as ‘I’ gather knowledge, contacts, and experience, I could advance ‘their’ skills as well.

Q: What did your routine look like while writing the book, The Valentine Day’s Clue? Did you write daily and according to a schedule?
Rupali: I was running a business back when I was writing this book. So, there was no schedule as such. But all my ‘personal’ time would be spent in writing, or at least thinking about it.

Q: How did you market/promote your book?
Rupali: I’ve become a member of International Thriller Writers (ITW) Association, which provides a lot of help to the new authors, including promoting their books internationally. I’ve registered with as an author. I’ve created a Facebook page: I also have created a website: I even went to college and public libraries in Pune.

Q: In one of your posts at , you mention that as a woman, writing for male protagonists was a challenging task. Can you please elaborate on this?
Rupali: Girls and guys think differently. For example: The Nayak brothers pataofy their friend Dev by telling him that his brother was beaten up because he’d proposed to a girl. A ‘sister’ would have been angry at whoever beat her brother up. But as brother, Dev feels proud about this. So there are very slight differences in the thought process of both sexes, which can easily be mistaken. I don’t use any bad words (in fact, if any of my friends uses a bad word, he apologizes for it, because I don’t like it). Moreover, I don’t like hurting anyone – physically or even emotionally. Though I know guys (and especially criminals) would not find it difficult to even ‘do’ those things if the situation so arises.

Q: What kind of research did you do before writing this book? Did you visit places in Pune mentioned in the book to better illustrate the story?
Rupali: Yes, I visited most of the places mentioned in the book, clicked relevant pictures, and then shared them in the book for the readers. In fact, I’d never been to Sinhagad before writing this book – I went specifically for my research and loved the place! I pataofied a doctor to help me with the medical details mentioned in the book. Like when the Nayak brothers are attacked with chilli powder, I asked the effects and remedies of such a situation, if it arises in real life. There’s another incident in the book when Sandy is held captive with his hands tied behind his back. I wanted to find a way for him to free himself. So, I found a kid trained in gymnastics and made her try that.

Q: On a related note, what are your favourite places in Pune? Where would one find you on a weekend?
Rupali: JM Road, JM temple, Pashan road is fantastic for long drives, Sinhagad is cool for trekking, Phoenix and Inorbit Malls in Viman nagar (me being a movie fanatic), and Peth areas for shopping. I like long drives – sometimes I go out alone, with my husband working all day long and having only one week-off. Sometimes I go to small villages around the Nagar Road, sometimes Hinjewadi, sometimes Chikhali, Pradhikaran, Kalyani nagar, wherever the road takes me.

Q: Does writing keep you financially independent? Do you think India’s literary ecosystem is ready to support writers completely?
Rupali: I haven’t started earning through my writing yet. But I’ve heard from many writers (across the world) that it is better to have a second source of ‘supportive’ income. I think India is yet to develop its literary ecosystem fully. It has seen a sudden crop of new writers, older being just a handful (especially in English lit). So we should be patient, observant, and progressive. At the same time, this whole industry itself is going through a big change with e-publishing picking pace all over the world. Who knows what’s in store for us now?

Q: There has been an explosion of new writing in India – but there is also criticism that ‘elitist’ writing is dying and writing for mass audiences has picked up. What are your thoughts?
Rupali:  I think in case of writing in India the reader base has just increased multi-fold after Chetan Bhagat. This also has encouraged the story tellers in India to become authors. It was thought that in order to write, you have to be perfect in English. But now, the story tellers are realizing that they can tell their story in whichever way they prefer. There’s a huge difference between ‘buddhu’, ‘chaman’ and ‘Chatursing’/’Birbal’. But does the word ‘stupid’ communicate the exact feelings like all those Hindi words did? Such a thing was long due – Indian authors writing in Indian context for Indian readers in Indian English.

Q: Who are your favourite authors? What is your favourite book?
Rupali: Franklin W. Dixon, John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, J K Rowling. I like the ‘Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators’ series, Nancy Drew series & the Hardy Boys series. I can’t put a finger on just one book as my favourite.

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Rupali: I am currently reading books by Lee Child and ‘Immortals of Meluha’ by Amish Tripathi.

Q: When can we expect to read the next adventure of the Nayak brothers?
Rupali: I’ve given myself a target of pushing one book out every year. Let’s see how it works out.

Q: What advice do you have for budding writers?
Rupali: Well, something that the Nayak brothers learn the hard way in this book series, and something that applies to all of us: It’s easier to break your will when you don’t have a purpose to go on. And a kick in the a** is also a step forward.Most importantly, enjoy your writing & do well. God bless!