Dhriti Menon caught up with children’s fiction author, Payal Kapadia to talk about her latest novel ‘Wisha Wozzariter’ and her take on writing for children. ‘Wisha Wozzariter’ is a quirky story of a girl with a vivid imagination who yearns to be a writer. With the help of her confidant and guru, ‘Bookworm’ she explores the world of ideas, and different elements that go into writing a book.
How did ‘Wisha Wozziriter’ happen for you?
I just delivered my first daughter. I was on maternity leave and was going through the emotions of being a new mother and wondered what would happen to my career. That’s when I thought I’d write a book. The character of Wisha was me wondering what I would write about, knowing what I wanted to write about but not knowing where to begin. I needed a voice in my head like the ‘bookworm’ to tell me to make a start and not be daunted by what will come ahead. So yes, there is a semi-autobiographical element it.
What made you interested in writing children’s fiction?
For a few years I worked at a newspaper in Japan as an art director. There I started a children’s book review column as I felt it was a good way to get children to open a newspaper. It worked well and received a tremendous response. That got me started on the act of writing to children. I would review two books every week that a child should read. So that way I read a lot of children’s fiction too.
Is it tougher to write a children’s book?
To be fair it’s tougher in some ways and in some ways it’s easier. I mean if you’re an Amitav Ghosh writing adult fiction you can’t compete with that. It’s important that the tone has to be honest with a children’s book. Pretenses do not work on children. If the child reads something they can’t believe or doesn’t like they’ll just drop the book.
As a children’s book character, Wisha is quite complex. Did you intend for that?
When I was growing up I read a lot of Enid Blyton, but you know lot of her books have one-dimensional characters. When I started reading contemporary children’s fiction I found it more complex. However, the characters aren’t always good e.g. Artemis Fowl. Kids, these days prefer authors that talk to them rather than talk down to them. So I wrote Wisha with the entire world of contemporary fiction behind me. Seeing where we are today with children’s fiction and also having this little story of my own.
Your book houses profound and witty lines like ‘The World isn’t ready to get rid of some of its bad ideas’ and ‘No style, but her own’. Was it part of the plan to bring in such philosophic discussion into the narrative?
The odd part is that I didn’t plan it all out, it just flowed. And there were these concepts that I was trying to push. Like the world being full of bad ideas. I was trying to communicate with a child that the world you’re inheriting is not perfect but avoided sounding preachy about it.
Do you have a favourite children’s book or author?
As a child I was way too much into Enid Blyton. ‘Faraway Tree’ is my favourite book. And while I do enjoy many contemporary books, Roald Dahl remains my favourite as he appeals to a child’s wicked side.
Coming to education, do you thing a book like this can be used in school curriculum?
I think the book is an excellent teaching tool at a school level. For many reasons – you can get the child to read, to understand the world of writing and story creation. It’s got a road map of good books to read, like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and it’s a damn good story. In fact my plan is to try and take it to different schools and to try and read a teaser section from the book for kids of the age group of 6 to 10. I’m also developing an activity kit with scenes from the book, but include crosswords and word scrambles and everything to do around the Wisha book. Also the book is about ideas put into character form, so in a way I’m urging kids to be imaginative in their ideas. That is what I’m aiming for.
Do you have a ‘Wisha’ sequel in the pipeline?
I actually think some parts of the book do lend themselves to a sequel. Before I take up the sequel I would really want to see how this one was received. There is something I’m considering for 13-14 year olds but that’s historical fiction. You could call it an attempt to get teenagers interested in history. (Laughs)