Writer-illustrator Niveditha Subramaniam speaks about what got her interested in children’s writing and her future projects
Mayil Will Not Keep Quiet! Jalebi Curls, Thumb Thumb Thambi, The Sky Monkey’s Beard, Musical Donkey, each story, as its title suggests, is different from the other. One wonders how such varied ideas come to author Niveditha Subramaniam. “Stories always come from pictures or begin with one image that grows in my head. Jalebi Curls, for instance, came from a photographer friend who once described a very orange moon to me. The Sky Monkey’s Beard from a seed (called grandfather's beard or thatha poochi in Tamil) which I had often seen floating in the air, as I took a walk around my street,” writes the editor with Tulika Books in an email interview.
Niveditha developed an interest in children’s writing towards the end of her under graduation in Chennai. “I started visiting every book fair and exhibition that I could find in the city. I would come back with a big pile of books and they were almost always children's books!” says Niveditha who loved books as a child. “I had a few wonderful pop-ups and Russian picture stories (thanks to my parents) and some of these images from these books stayed with me. When they surfaced much later, they made me want to create things badly!”
Niveditha’s illustrations are unique, like her stories.When asked to describe her illustrative style, Niveditha says: “Quite honestly, I don’t know how I would describe my style. I am inspired by all kinds of art, though, and I find that they influence my work, one way or the other.”
In India, children’s writers are often given the short-shrift though writing for children is often more difficult than writing for adults. Niveditha agrees, adding: “It often is more difficult, I think, because children are demanding readers and every word you write counts a great deal. And what is exciting, and slightly terrifying too, is that…children pay attention to everything, you can’t pin down what they’re looking for in a book, it’s never one thing.”
Niveditha also contends that though children love fantasy stories, they must be rooted in reality. “If you’re writing something fantastic or outlandish, your characters still need to be real, their actions ring true. And if you’re telling them a true story, it needs to be imaginative enough to hold their attention. Of course, this is true for any good writing, but with children, well, they always have questions you don’t have answers for!”
Many consider children’s writing as adult writing simplified, though Niveditha believes this perception is changing and explains why. “There are children’s book festivals, fairs, workshops connecting writers, artists and storytellers with children in big and small ways. Most major publishers have a children’s imprint and there are lots of new and emerging publishers on the scene. Independent publishers have poor visibility in bookstores, though, and that’s where discerning bloggers and reviewers on the one hand and committed educators on the other, can make a difference by promoting good books.”
Writer, illustrator, editor is how Niveditha is known, there is another interesting side to her. She also has a keen interest in photo journalism. “After working with a children’s magazine, I studied photojournalism in Light and Life, Ooty.” Some day, Niveditha hopes to make photo books for children and adults too.
As for her future plans, Niveditha has another picture book in the pipeline. “I have written the story and will be doing the illustrations as well, so very excited about it. And there is also going to be a sequel to Mayil Will Not Be Quiet!, which I co-wrote with my friend and writer Sowmya Rajendran.”