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The secret of writing and other magic

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Just imagining Author Shreekumar Varma reading excerpts from his book
Just imagining Author Shreekumar Varma reading excerpts from his book

PHEROZE L. VINCENT

Writer Shreekumar Varma spills the beans on writing and royalty to Pheroze L. Vincent

“Everyone has an innate ability to write. We just need a trigger, to become a writer,” says Shreekumar Varma. Shreekumar is a columnist, novelist, poet, playwright and a former journalist, currently teaching at the Chennai Mathematical Institute.

He was at the Oxford Bookstore, Trichy Road, on December 12 to present his new, children's novel, The magic store of Nu- Cham- Vu. “Grammar comes later. Creative expression comes first,” he says, talking about students who come to his class without knowing a word of English, but start writing beautiful poetry in three weeks.

He humbly admits, “Nobody publishes my poems. I don't know why.”

His book is about a fantasy about a terrifying owner of a magic shop, into which only children are allowed.

They pay with a song or a dance for the items on the shelves; items which sell themselves to the kids.

The terror of Anchan Bay

Nu- Cham- Vu, who is best described as someone who looks like a barrel of oil, all suited up, came out of a volcano and bathes annually. He torments parents and teases children, until the citizens of the imaginary coastal village of Anchan Bay decide to evict him.

The plot is made up of the conflict between the children and the adults over evicting Nu- Cham- Vu. The book has been recommended by Ruskin Bond. Shreekumar conceived the book, initially as a short story, while he was a Charles Wallace writer-in-residence at Stirling University in Scotland, United Kingdom in 2004. “In Scotland you are just left to yourself and your imagination,” he says. The solitude, the terrain and the heritage of the place accelerated his imagination.

Talking about the success of “dark stories” for children, he explains, “Every society that enjoys freedom tends to crave for the forbidden. This attraction towards darkness is for the much needed conflict in tales.”

The illustrations have been done by his son, Vinayak, and Nu- Cham- Vu along with Maria's room, his Goa based novel, will also be released as audio books. This has been an exciting year for the writer, with six to seven years of his work fructifying.

Smart kids

On writing for children, he says, “Kids give you imagination a long rope but, if your logic doesn't work, they catch discrepancies.”

Shreekumar is a descendant of the artist Raja Ravi Varma and grandson of Regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the last ruling queen of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in modern Kerala. He says it bothered him when he would be introduced and people would only clap after the last line, about his lineage. Though he was brought up in Chennai, the traditional visits to Thiruvananthapuram and the memories of elders enriched him as a writer. His debut novel, Lament of Mohini, was based on stories told to him about the royals and the Hindu clergy. Shreekumar solution for a writer's block is to write plays. That's how Midnight Hotel happened. It was longlisted for The Hindu MetroPlus Playwright Award 2008 and, it played to full houses in Chennai and Bangalore.

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