Saturday, October 27, 2012

Meet the Icky Yucky Mucky Author, Natasha Sharma

Author of the very popular Icky, Yucky, Mucky, Natasha Sharma quit the corporate grind to take a magic carpet ride into children's fiction. Her almost anti-establishment tale puts across her point in a humorous way.

In the face of moralising tales, what made you think of a nose digging, nail biting, messy family?
There was just too much inspiration on the subject from the world around to not write about it! I couldn’t moralise on the habits. Can you imagine a book that says ‘It is not good to dig your nose’, ‘Eat with your mouth closed’, ‘Don’t bite your nails’? I am sure children would switch off half way through since they get to hear their parents telling them the same thing. Over-the-top humour can work wonderfully for subjects like these. It gets the message across in a fun way and allows the child to come to the right conclusion. I also often find that tales with morals, while having merit, go down my throat in very small doses. 
Once I had the subject and direction I wanted to take, a royal family seemed a perfect fit for the plot. Maharaja Icky, Maharani Yucky and Princess Mucky were delightful to work with!

How did publishers react to the idea of something so unusual? 
I was blessed to have found an equally messy-minded editor in Anita Roy at Young Zubaan - one who would add that extra squelch and enlarge the squidgy splotch without any qualms. 
I first approached Anita with the seed of this idea in a completely different form – verse actually under the same title. She loved the concept and under her well directed nudges, Icky, Yucky, Mucky! evolved to what it is today.  

The illustrations are simply perfect. How did you work with Anitha Balachandran on them. What was your idea and how did it translate on to paper?
Anitha Balachandran has done such a fabulous job with the illustrations, surpassing anything I had imagined as I wrote the story. My editor gave her the brief and her first interpretation of it was brilliant. She really managed to evoke the messiness of the family with her ink splotches, squiggly lines and playful font.  I have so many favourite images from the book, so I’d say the translation was spot on. 

You’ve done a number of readings around the country – how did young readers react and did you find equally delighted parents or were they a little horrified?
It has been wonderful to reach out to children and see their response first hand to the story. The readings have been tremendous fun and are punctuated with delighted ‘ooh’s!’ horrified ‘yucks!’ from the children as they sit incredulous, wide eyed and gaping mouthed. Many parents have come and told me that the children love the story and read it often. A few grimaces can be found on parents’ faces, which are perfect and shows that the story is working. At the end when the children are posed the question: ‘Are you Icky, Yucky or Mucky?’ I always get a loud chorus of ‘NO!’ That is often accompanied by a collective relieved sigh from the parents.  

Tell us something about yourself and your childhood – how icky and mucky are you? Any secrets we can share with our readers? A messy wardrobe? A table laden with papers?
I am guilty of having nibbled nails. I also ate bits of paper as a child. I think a little bit of Maharani Yucky has reflections of my nail nibbling days! If I am particularly stressed, you might find a nail shorter than the others every now and then. 
In grade 10, no one was allowed to touch my papers and study books. My mother suggested some form of order. I had to explain that there was perfect order in my complete chaos…till the time I couldn’t find my notebook a night before the exam. 
I am now reformed to the extent of letting my papers tower only on one side of my desk. I file and sort before they tipple over though. Apart from that, I love a neat home! 

Is this your first book with Zubaan? Did you always plan to be a writer?
Yes, this is my first book with Zubaan. I have since published Kaka and Munni with Pratham Books that has been written and illustrated by me. My third book is non-fiction titled 366 words in Delhi with FunOKPlease and I have four more in the works with various publishers including Pratham, Zubaan, Tulika and Katha. 
Prior to writing, I was in the corporate sector. My last stint was brand manager with Yum Restaurants for Pizza Hut in India. I became addicted to coffee in a delightful year as brand manager at Barista coffee. I’ve also sold and marketed watches during my time at Titan. 
With my children, I found my way back to the wonderful world of children’s literature. I’ve always been fond of writing and am delighted to have discovered what I love doing more than anything else – writing for children. 

How did you make the switch from corporate to author? How and when did you realise that you wanted to write, and more specifically, write for kids?

A lot of changes happened simultaneously in my life that involved me leaving my corporate role for some time. After a period of angst on what I should do, I knew I wanted to write. Children’s literature was what came naturally. I’d always written small bits for friends and myself but this was the first time I seriously thought of myself as a writer! 

It was a two year long journey from there to figuring out the industry, many rejection letters for some stories I wrote earlier, writing, reading on writing and more writing… and then Icky, Yucky, Mucky! happened. I realized that despite rejection letters, delays and whatever else is involved in the journey of a manuscript from my computer to a book, I am happiest when I write. I know of people who want to make a change in their career but the uncertainty till the point of self-discovery can be daunting. All I can say is that it is definitely worth it! 

Zippy, a zebra trotted into my head in a cramped waiting room of a homeopath while my son was getting bored out of his wits. The persistent zebra kicked around for weeks and then took me on an interesting journey around the Serengeti all in my head. Zippy finally decided to make her way onto paper and there she sits till date, filed away. She however sparked off a flurry of ideas, sparked a desire to learn more on writing and better myself at it. There was no other thought apart from writing for kids!    

Are your own kids the first test? Must be fun for them to tell people that their Mum writes books for kids!
My children have been extraordinary in their excitement and enthusiasm around every new book and the multiple readings they have sat through. They are definitely the first audience for a story and I look for their primary reaction to it. I am mindful of the fact that they form a very biased audience. However children are also openly and often brutally honest! I look beyond their words and see if their interest holds through the story and their understanding of concept to reference age appropriateness. I basically don’t hold positive feedback as certainty that I have a winner but not so enthusiastic reactions definitely get me worried!    

What are your favourite books from your childhood? Who is your favourite children's writer?
All books by Roald Dahl have been and continue to be favourites. He would top the list of favourite children’s writers. Most bookstores in India primarily stocked Enid Blyton at the time and I loved the magical world of the Faraway Tree, the adventures of the Famous Five and the many other children gangs of adventurers. I love some of the books written by Anushka Ravishankar. Other writers who I think are absolutely incredible at what they do include Oliver Jeffers, Julia Donaldson, Eric Carle, Emily Gravett, Eva Ibbotson, Maurice Sendak, Munro Leaf, Shel Silverstein…the list is endless! 

What do you think about the Crossword Book Award's choice not to award a children's literature entry this year, saying that there was nothing good enough?
As a writer, I am driven by the same goals as I was before the award - how do I connect with a child in a manner that is fun, engaging, understanding and unique. How do I reach that core emotion? How do I be true to myself, my craft and continually better myself at what I do?

I know this has been said on various forums - my single biggest issue is with children’s writing being clubbed together across age groups as one gigantic category. How is it possible to judge a picture book for a 5 year old with a book for a 14 year old? Why then have categories in the first place? 


Anonymous said...

My son loves your wonderful book and we have so much fun reading it...I believe this is a perfect for all babies to get on the lighter side of manners!I cant wait to share it with my daughter soon. Thanks and keep them coming

Choxbox said...

Absolutely intrigued MM. Going a-hunting for this book first thing tomorrow!

Sheela said...

Thank you, Natasha Sharma, and MM. It was delightful to read this interview.

"How is it possible to judge a picture book for a 5 year old with a book for a 14 year old?"

Indeed, so true!

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