Day Two I’d like to say dawned bright and early and I was raring to go for the writer’s masterclass I’d signed up for. Once there I kicked myself for being only one and not three, because I was also dying to attend Sophie’s illustration class and Pratham’s session for teachers. This is the problem with having multiple interests and no focus!
Moderator Samina Mishra had mentioned early on in the event that children’s writers are nice people. I wondered what she’d meant. About ten minutes into the event I understood. Nury Vittachi was to take our master writers’ class and I was surprised to see it being attended by well known and published authors. Which says something about the humility that a lot of Indian writers for children have in common. They’re not ashamed to go back to class.
Nury had us laughing through the class with his trademark sense of humour and I realised how humourless I am when people started writing about pigs falling from the sky and what not. I have a biting sarcasm that I can employ when necessary, but I cannot, absolutely cannot talk nonsense with the abandon that he did.
I met so many interesting people doing so many interesting things and I realised none of them would qualify for the question – Where do you work? This is a question I have learned to ask after having made friends in the corporate world. But I had to put that question away and just sit back and listen to these others talk of the many projects they were working on. It sounded so interesting. A paper on this, a column there, a commitment here. They were not working from home for their kids. They were many-fingers-and-pies people. And then they asked me and I realised with a shock, that..that… I was one too! I don’t work from home for my kids. I work on multiple things at once because that is who I am. I find new reasons not to go back to a full -time job and swipe in and out of office because this fullness suits me.
Nury started by asking us about the common thread that ran through the most famous stories – Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Buddha, Jesus, Krishna – they were all men who had a bearded man come up to them and say – You are not an ordinary man, you have a mission. Irreverent though the notion might seem to some, it suited the atheist in me and of course rang completely through. Be it an award winning story or a religious myth, they all have their basis in the same primal story – a man who loses/leaves his parents, makes a journey, either mental or physical and comes into himself. There is something about this story that makes us react to it positively. That makes us bring it into our lives in the form of religion or film and love it.
Every story has a deeper message to it, even if it is a child’s story and one must be alert to that message. Those who think children’s stories can be written without a layer and a depth, are doing themselves and children a disfavour.
He then gave us a writing prompt – write an attention grabbing first line to the story. I racked my brains and came up with a few good ones. But I also heard some fabulous ones that made me wonder how Chetan Bhagat had made it to where he was when some of the most arresting writers were in the same room as I was.
This was followed by a series of writing prompts and a study of the form that stories can take. Throw in an unexpected twist, ensure conflict, resolve it so that the audience is satisfied. Mind you, Nury was here to teach us how to write for an audience, not how to write for ourselves and his plan was to show us what makes a book a hit.
The session ended after lunch and I walked away feeling wiser, yet foolisher. I suddenly realised I didn’t know as much as I needed to know. I also knew that it would only come with experience. And for that, I have my blog and you guys and the years ahead to keep writing, keep trying.