Nandini Nayar is a prolific children’s writer of 50 books for children of all ages. Her postal code says she lives in Hyderabad but in fact, she inhabits various worlds. Read more about her here.
I managed to catch her over the phone and have a quick chat with her about her new book for Ms Moochie, Not My Long Blue Skirt. Read more below!
How did you finalize the idea for Not my Long Blue Skirt? Why did you set it in a palace with just a Queen and a Princess?
I wanted to write an Indian story, something that every child would relate to. ‘Jugaad’ is an admirable quality in Indian life – nothing is wasted! I got this idea from my own family, where the concept of reusing things was an essential part of our life. My mother made her own clothes and later, I did the same. To this day, I never throw anything away. I feel that these days, the younger generation has not had the need to think about reusing things. They don’t need to because every child is a princess! Metaphorically, of course.
In my mind, these discussions are usually between a mother and a child. Mothers tend to broach what I think of as ‘difficult’ topics. And like every mother, I have had to negotiate with my son to give away his books and toys.
Do you think about whether the story would translate well as a storytelling piece while you were writing it?
No, I did not think about the storytelling aspect, but instead, I focused on what the girl/children in the story would feel. I concentrated on her emotions and thought process. The little girl wants to hold onto her skirt simply because it is hers and she associates it with the special feeling she experienced when she wore it. While writing the story, the focus was never about how the story would sound in a storytelling session, but about how the character in the story develops and deals with the situations.
Once you have decided to write a story, what is the process that you follow to bring it to completion?
An idea normally begins with an image or an idea. I make a note of it in my book and think about it. When I feel I am ready I write it down. I usually end up doing multiple drafts before I am satisfied. Then I put the story away and look at it later. This story was written about 2-3 years ago.
I felt that the idea of reusing things was very Indian and prevalent in many households. I thought it would be good to write about this aspect. I think that girls have a stronger connect and remember how it feels to wear a particular dress. They tend to hold on to these material objects for the comfort of memory. I can still remember how special it felt to wear a long skirt as a child.
Where do you come up with ideas for storybooks, since you mentioned that you don’t have a ‘great Idea Factory‘ in you?
Most of my early books were inspired by my conversations with my son or were stories that I made up for him. For example, Where is Amma? and Pranav’s Picture were originally stories I narrated to my son. Most of my stories had Pranav as the central character, which meant that the protagonist was mainly a boy. But I have managed to balance this out by introducing female protagonists in my later books.
What did you see? What could it be? What will you give me? Where shall we go? – you seem to have written several question books! How did this happen?
It’s true! Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that I am a very curious person. But actually, I never set out to write question books. I find it very difficult to think of titles for my books and sometimes my editors or my family has to step in to help me along. For example, my book The Curious Case of the Sweet and Spicy Sweetshop was initially titled ‘The shop around the corner’, The Great River Magic was titled ‘Number Magic’.
How did you start writing children’s books? Is this something that you’ve always wanted to do?
My first foray into writing for children was nearly twenty years ago when my story was published by Deccan Herald. This made me realise that I could translate my dreams into reality and I simply continued writing. From short stories I moved to picture books, then middle-grade fiction and now chapter books. Writing for children was a conscious choice because it is something that I thoroughly enjoy. It was one of my dreams that finally materialised and stories helped me to explore various aspects of childhood.
Hope you enjoyed reading this interview! Not My Long Blue Skirt is out now. Buy it on our website or on Amazon.