“Anushka has written more than twenty-five books for children, many of which have been published internationally and several of which have won international awards. She has worked in publishing, at Tara Books and most recently at Scholastic India as the publishing director. As an editor, she has worked with well-known authors like Paro Anand, Manjula Padmanabhan and Meera Uberoi, among others. She has participated variously as author, speaker and resource person, in many national and international publishing events and conferences, including Les Belles Etrangeres in France, the Children’s Book Tour in the UK, AFCC Singapore and Jumpstart and Bookaroo in India.”
In 2012, Anushka along with Sayoni Basu, set up Duckbill, a publishing house for children and young adults, in partnership with Westland.
The Dr. Seuss of India now also holds the title of Primary Platypus!
Thrilled to have you here, Anushka.
ST: How do ideas strike you?
Anushka: Quite often something I’ve read/heard/remembered is the starting point for a story or a character or a situation. But after that I make up things, and I really don’t know how the ideas strike me. I wonder if anyone knows.
Do you run looking for pen-paper/computer when inspiration strikes, or do you write every day? What gets you going?
I don’t write every day. I’m a moody, erratic writer. Usually things cook in my head for a long time before I’m ready to write them down, and when I’m ready I sit and write at a stretch. But there are also times when I write because I feel I must. Quite often I end up deleting it all the next day.
Nothing gets me going like a deadline!
Does writing in verse come naturally to you?
I enjoy rhythm so yes, I switch to verse quite easily. The great thing about writing in verse is that because I’m concentrating so much on the form, I police the content in my head less than I would if I were writing prose, which is how it ends up being whimsical and nonsensical.
You have a degree in Mathematics, and have worked in the IT industry. Has mathematics, logical and analytical ability had any impact – positive or negative – on your writing?
I do believe it helps. Creating a coherent plot needs logic and analysis as much as it does imagination.
And subversion of logic leads to nonsense.
So while writing both, fiction and nonsense verse, I like to think my mathematical training helps. But who knows, maybe I’m just trying to justify all those years spent doing differential calculus!
Picture books or chapter books? Why?
Both! Good picture books are exciting because of the way the words and the pictures balance each other and create that lovely tension.
Chapter books are fun because they allow you to follow characters and their idiosyncrasies and create plots that are rather more complex than the ones in picture books.
What does the editor in you say to Anushka, the writer? Now that you are publisher too, does it get complex at times, or does it help get the creative juices flowing?
Not to get them flowing, but certainly to stop them overflowing. :) I think all writers edit themselves to some extent, but editor-writers tend to do that a little more. As a result I underwrite more often than I overwrite. Which isn’t always a good thing.
Which are your favourites among the books you’ve written and edited?
No, no, I’m not going to play favourites with the books I’ve edited! One ends up getting attached to all of them.
Among the ones I’ve written: To Market, To Market; Today Is My Day; At Least a Fish; Moin and the Monster. (I actually have a sneaking affection for most of the books I’ve written, though there are a couple – which will not be named! – that I’m not happy with.)
Top ten children’s books!
This list will change every time you ask me. Today it is (in no particular order):
My Dad’s a Birdman
Danny, Champion of the World
Hunting of the Snark (not strictly children’s)
Bridge to Terabithia
William (any of the William books, really)
Harriet the Spy
Your first book was published way back in 1995. You also worked for Tara Books around the time. You have literally seen the children’s publishing industry in India from its infant days – what do you think about the growth and direction it has taken?
When I worked with Tara, in the early days, there was a sense of doing something that had never been done before; those were really wonderful days. But now, it’s even more wonderful to see how the quality of production of children’s books in India has improved to the point that they can compete with books anywhere in the world.
We still need more and better books, but there’s a lot of new talent coming in and I think there are exciting times ahead for Indian children’s books.
What has the feedback been from young readers who’ve read your books? Any anecdotes you would like to share?
They seem to like them and find them funny, which is very gratifying.
I’ve had friends complain to me that their kids sing the monster songs from Moin and the Monster all the time. I sympathise with them, but I’m secretly pleased.
But the best compliment I’ve ever got was from someone who told me she refuses to let her kids read my books at the dining table because they laugh so much that they throw up. That made me very happy.
Your advice to children’s writers?
Write because you enjoy it. Don’t preach or teach. And never write down to children.
There are very few films being made for children in India. If you were approached, would you consider a Moin and the Monster movie?
Sure, I’d love that. But I wonder if anyone would dare. :)