‘Every story worth its salt is saying something of value’

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 7 September 2017

Children’s writer Paro Anand shares many a story about her writing and working with kids

Her book Wild Child and Other Stories by Puffin fetched her Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Purasakar for 2017. Her stories are simple, real and cut quite close to our bone. Would you consider reading a story about a child who lost her father to terrorism? You should. It’s not preachy, it doesn’t make you angry. It makes you believe in faith, friendship and love. There’s another story of a girl, who’s shunned by others. Because she is ‘different’, ‘weird’, ‘not like others’. She turns all the negatives into her strengths and comes back to fly high.

Excerpts from an email chat:
Are stories read or written to escape into a world of fantasy? Or come face to face with the reality that is plaguing us?

Why not both? Sometimes you need to or want to escape reality and sometimes you just have to face up to the reality that surrounds you.  Mine do a bit of both, I hope.

The stories of bomb blast, terrorism are tales of our torn childhood — kids born in late 80s and 90s. Many authors usually tweak their own childhood tales when writing for kids. Was this your reason too when you wrote these stories?

I was lucky to be born into peace and privilege. So I can’t claim these stories from my childhood. But I do work with children in difficult circumstances and those who are growing up within the backdrop of violence. And so it is their stories that inspire and compel me to talk about their realities. Of course, there are stories from my own childhood that have found their way into my books. Like Pepper the Capuchin Monkey about a lie that I told when I was just 12. It was the title story of my first book.

When you are writing for kids or young adults, do you write thinking ‘I am writing for children’ or ‘I am writing a story’?
Honestly, neither. I write. I dive right in or write in. And I don’t much think of anything else. I actually inhabit the world of my story and my characters. So it becomes very real and current and ‘now’ for me, so I don’t intellectually think of the writing process at all.

Considering stories meant for children are read by their parents as well, do you contrive to weave in a message that the adults can comprehend and inculcate in the younger ones?
I believe that every story worth its salt is saying something of value. I would like to think that anyone I write for is touched by what my story says. But I try very hard to stay away from being messagey. I actually only want to provoke thought. And independent, critical thinking. I only want my reader, whether child or parent to question and come to their own answers.

Can simply written A-Z stories hold against magic, vampires, werewolves etc? Do you enjoy reading Goosebumps or any such stories?
I think there is a space for every kind of story. And it is a question of the reader finding the story that ‘fits’ him/her. I say this from personal experience. I was a poor reader right until I was about 10-11 years old and then I found Joy Adam’s Born Free. It was the perfect book at the perfect time for me and I became a reader. I grew up in a house of books so there was a lot to choose from. After getting hooked onto books, I began to devour a lot of those that had been sitting on our shelves forever.

Do you like writing a story vis -a-vis ‘performing’ one?
Both and equally. I think these are the two sides of my coin. One is the working with young people and one is writing for and about them. I also often read some of my stories out loud before they even get published and sometimes I will make a change to make it more performable. I started doing this after I would read some of my stories to a group and feel that there was one word too many, or I could find a better rhythm in another way.

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