Friday, October 29, 2010

Padma Venkatraman (T.V.Padma) speaks to Saffon Tree

It's been two years since hosting author, TV Padma and Climbing the Stairs blog tour on Saffrontree. This CROCUS, we have the honor of hosting her once again on Saffrontree. Please join me in welcoming Padma! We would love to hear the latest buzz in her writing career, and also discuss her experiences writing for children.

1.From being a chief scientist on cruise ships to being the Director of a school in England, and later a PhD in Oceanography and a post-doctoral research stint at Johns Hopkins, your scientific and academic pursuits are goosebumpy and awe-inspiring! Could you tell us a little bit about the aspects that shaped your writing career? And in general, what inspired you to write for children?

Writing has always been my first love - even if I never admitted it to myself. As you know I've written for children and adults ... and I think both types of writing are equally challenging... writing for children inspires me in particular, though, because children are so honest in their appreciation. Adults may read a book and pretend to like it even if we didn't just because of peer pressure...and while children do succumb to peer pressure as well, at least they'd never pretend to like something just to make others think they're intellectuals!

2. Your book, The Forbidden Temple that we have particularly devoured in our family is a breath of fresh air in the genre of Indian historical fiction for children. Is history a passion as well, like Math and Science? Any interesting anecdotes on the research aspect of the book that you would like to share?

I confess I don't feel quite the same passion for history as I do for maths or science. Yet, my first novel is historical fiction (CLIMBING THE STAIRS) and I spent years researching the background for the stories in The Forbidden Temple. I'm not sure if it's an interesting anecdote or not, but I started historical research at a little library in Yorktown, Virginia, where I sometimes ran away to hide and read, just like my heroine, Vidya, in CLIMBING THE STAIRS.

3. After your debut novel for young adults, Climbing the Stairs, we are thoroughly excited for your upcoming novel, The Island’s End. When can we expect your next novel to be out and what are some of its highlights?

Thank you so much for all the lovely things you've said about CLIMBING THE STAIRS and all you've done to let others know about it. ISLAND'S END will be published in 2011 - late spring/early summer. It was inspired by my time as a researcher on the Andaman Islands. While there, I had the unique opportunity to be close to a tribe that preserves an ancient way of life - and it's about the clash of cultures between them and our invading modern lifestyle. It's also about their surviving a calamity that wreaked havoc in our modern world.

4.You have worked with publishers both in India and the US, and leading magazines. What is your advice to aspiring authors?

Be professional and be yourself. Be honest and be hopeful.

5. Your Diwali story in the Highlights magazine is one of our favorite holiday stories. What are some of your observations on stories and books that reflect the Indian-American immigrant experience? And also, how important is it to read a variety of books across varied cultures?

I think it's important to read books that AUTHENTICALLY reflect the diverse and increasingly global world we live in. For a while I left the topic of the Indian-American immigrant experience alone because I thought a lot of excellent books already had been written on this topic - but my third novel reflects on this question of identity.

6. Like many, having been fed an overdose of children's books set in the west growing up, it’s great that the Indian publishing for children (in English) is blossoming. What are your thoughts on books coming out of India these days?

There are several wonderful authors who write about India without making it extra-exotic - and I'm really glad about that. It's important for children to see active, positive portrayals of characters who are like them - heroes and heroines in whom they can see themselves - and there wasn't a whole lot of that when we were growing up...

7. Some of us are ardent fans of your writing and books. Anything in particular that you would like to tell our readers and contributors passionate about children’s literature.

I want to thank all of you who take the time to read my work. We are all so very busy with so many things and I truly am grateful that people read and respond emotionally and positively to my work. I would like to say something though - reading a book is wonderful, but unfortunately some of us stop there. We don't go the extra mile and buy the book - we even shamelessly say things like "I'll wait till it comes out in paperback". Well, here's what I think: go to libraries to read dead authors and go to bookstores to buy the books of living authors. Librarians should of course buy books of living authors and keep them on library shelves - but if all you do is read in the library, it doesn't help preserve and promote authors who are alive and need to make a living. I want to borrow a sort of npr-ish approach sometimes and say - a book is usually less than a week's worth of coffee...or a manicure... and it lasts your entire lifetime! Don't we all love to dip into books again and again - rereading our favorite bits at least? I know money is tight these days but do support art and buy books as well as read them!

I can't think of a better gift for a child - any child - than a book written (or better still signed) by an author you love or know (or maybe both)!


artnavy said...

"...children are so honest in their appreciation..."

This is so true and makes it more demading to write for them in that sense...

Would love to read more of Padma's work

Choxbox said...

So agree with the borrowing/owning bit. The only limiting factor is shelf space, but they after bookshelves the wardrobes are being invaded into in these parts!

Came across Mathematwist a few years back and LOVED it. Have bought at least a dozen copies since then and gifted it around. Forbidden temple is a fav too. Will check out Climbing the Stairs - is it available in India?

Look forward to more from you Padma. Thanks for this Praba.

Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan said...

Thanks for this lovely interview, Praba. Have long been an admirer of T V Padma's, her science articles in The Hindu's Young World were so good! I haven't come across her book Climbing the Stairs so far, but will look out for it now.

I so agree with you Padma about supporting writers/ buying books (and also with Choxbox about shelf space). It's not only about making a living, but also a validation of your writing. I think writing is a bit like searching for extra-terrestrial life -- a reaching out to others who have the same brand of lunacy. If you don't know whether your books are being read (and royalty is the one sure way of knowing), you don't know why you're writing at all.

sathish said...

"I can't think of a better gift for a child - any child - than a book written (or better still signed) by an author you love or know (or maybe both)!"

I whole heartedly agree.

Meera Sriram said...

"There are several wonderful authors who write about India without making it extra-exotic-" that's a very good point with the a great choice of words.

A very engaging coversation - thank you Praba and Padma!

sandhya said...

An excellent interview, Prabha. Can identify with her re being grateful that readers take the time to read and positively respond to one's work. Also re buying books.

Was smiling through Chox' comment too. Wardrobes are indeed being invaded by books- with quite a few lying in piles outside them. In fact old clothes are being regularly being given away so that they do not take up space where books can be kept!:)

Praba Ram said...

thanks all for your loving and thoughtful comments.

art ~ yes, you can pick it up for yourself.

chox ~ like I always say, you are the treasure-trove, cornucopia of children's books! Some day, I am going to raid your shelves so you get some room and fill up with more! :)

Praba Ram said...

harini ~ honored to have you here! LOL at "extra-terrestrial life" and "same brand of lunacy". You see, waxing and waning shades of lunacy can be closely linked to the phases of the moon, if you know what I mean! errr..did I just prove your point?) :))

Praba Ram said...

@ S - me too! :)

@ M - yes, liked it a lot. Interestingly, Sandhya also mentions the exotic aspect in the context of understanding cultures...-"without being frozen in one exotic time" (from her interview.) It made me pause and think.

Praba Ram said...

@sandhya - thanks! After Chox, will trick-or-treat at yours for a nice bag of goodies to take home! :)

utbtkids said...

Great interview Praba.

Loved ques 7 and Padma's answer. I like buying books. But the only thing for me is, I tend to read lib books better because it comes with a deadline. Some of my own books, I never get to them. I kind of think, "Oh I have it I can read it anytime, but this book has to be returned in a week, so let me do this first."

But as far as gift giving goes, if it is not a hand made gift, I always, always, always go with a book.

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