Khyrunnisa A. tells readers what led her to write two sports-based books

A letter of appreciation from Tiger Pataudi for the first book and a musical adaption of the second! What more could Khyrunnisa A. have asked for? Howzzat Butterfingers, the debut work with cricket as the subject, was hardly surprising. She comes from a cricket-loving family. And Goal, based on football, was an equally enthralling offering.

Rave reviews did encourage this Thiruvananthapuram-based Professor of English. But the Pataudi letter is Khyrunnisa’s priceless reward for Howzzat and Goal. “What great fun. It brings back long lost memories of my Prep School days. This is the first book or story written by you that I have read but I shall now look for others to read and to give to my grandson,” said Pataudi.

Recently, members of a Thiruvananthapuram-based children’s book club, The Sparks, adapted Goal Butterfingers as a musical and created a two-hour performance. “The children who wished to raise money for charity received a standing ovation. They said they chose the book because they had all enjoyed it and could relate to it. They raised more than 5 lakh for the show and donated it to Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) and National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH),” said Khyrunnisa with pride.

What prompted her to create Butterfingers? “Butterfingers was my first story for Tinkle. It was my entry for the Tinkle Original Short Story Competition for Adult Writers of Children's fiction (1996). We used to get Tinkle for my son and seeing the announcement, I entered just for the heck of it. Since there are very few sport-based stories, I decided to write one. Coming from a family that loves cricket, I chose that sport and since we are all rather clumsy people and refer to one another as Butterfingers when we drop something, I thought of creating a clumsy accident prone character who loves cricket but whose slip grip has given him the nickname Butterfingers. Also, Butterfingers is commonly used to refer to fielders who drop catches. So I decided to weave a cricket based story with Butterfingers as the eponymous hero.”

In 2006, Khyrunnisa was asked by Tinkle to create a regular character for the magazine. “I chose Butterfingers. He soon became a great favourite with children. Though clumsy, he is well intentioned, funny and an endearing character. Children tell me they love him because they can relate to him. They love his imperfections.”

Why cricket and football as the subjects of stories? “I always felt my first story, Butterfingers, had enough meat in it to be expanded into a novel, Howzzat Butterfingers! Since the first BF novel was on cricket and was well received, I thought I’d move to another sport and chose football, which is another favourite sport. Also, when we have been subscribing to The Sportstar for almost 25 years, how can sports not figure in my books? I love sports!”

There were certain factors that she kept in mind when writing these two wonderful books. “I wanted to evoke a realistic school atmosphere. I deliberately didn’t give Green Park School a definite location for I wanted it to have a pan Indian appeal. I wanted the books to be humorous and enjoyable and the language to be right. I didn’t want to go wrong with the dates of matches, who is playing whom, and results/points scored. In fact I took a great deal of time over this. I also wanted the descriptions of matches to be exciting, funny and free from mistakes.”

How tough was writing for children? “Clarity is of prime importance. Children are very demanding and at the same time very honest. They will tell you to your face if they liked something or not. You don’t have the freedom to write any which way you please as you can with adult fiction. I keep these always in mind. I used to make up a lot of stories for my son when he was small. He kept me on my toes for he wouldn’t allow me to repeat an incident or a character. And he would demand consistency in my creations. In fact the tutoring I got from him was invaluable. One should try and think like children, and never talk down to them.”

Would she like to complete the trilogy with hockey, tennis or athletics? “The third will also be sport-based since my readers expect and seem to want that. I should be starting on it soon. I’ll think about it (which sport). A schoolboy told me to centre the third novel around swimming and call it Splash, Butterfingers!'”

We are waiting for Splash, Ace or Stroke!