Tales from the jungle

June 22, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 03:51 am IST

Ecologist Karthik Shankar on his foray into writing a novel for children

Ecologist and director of Bengaluru-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Karthik Shankar has made a foray into fiction with a book for children, Lori’s Magical Mystery .

Karthik says, “I have written a few stories for children before, but not pictures books for younger kids. The idea of a full fledged book came a couple of years ago. My wife, Meera, had been saying that I should write a murder mystery for kids. And then I ran into a really talented illustrator, Prabha Mallya, who convinced me it would be fun to do. A mystery is at the core of the story, filled with a variety of animals, from a loris to a drongo.”

He adds, “Though everything that happens in the book is obviously made up, the animals in the book, their personalities and their behaviour are based to some degree on field ecology. Though lorises and drongos don’t hang out in reality, drongos are active participants of mixed flocks, and they do feed along with tree-shrews (another small mammal) in the Nicobar Islands. As an ecologist, it was easy to write a book based on things I’ve seen and observed in the field over the years. It took me six months to finish the book.”

Writing fiction tale, he found, was quite different from writing non-fiction. “My first book, a non-fiction account of the history of sea turtle conservation in India, took me almost six years to finish, with the research itself taking up more than a year. In Lori's Magical Mystery , I drew on my experiences in the field and wrote during any free time I got outside work. Often a good plot idea would come while I was on a flight or on the road, and I would incorporate it into the manuscript. I enjoyed writing it a lot because I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” contends Karthik.

Karthik believes that fiction writing for children is getting its due, in India and the world.

“When we were growing up, we began reading with Enid Blyton and moved on to the Hardy Boys, before graduating to adult fiction. Children today have a much larger set of books to choose from, across genres from adventure, and science to fantasy fiction. In India, writers like Nilanjana Roy and Roopa Pai have written interesting books for children.”

Karthik is planning a sequel to Loris .... “I was not thinking about a sequel initially. However, once the book neared completion I began thinking about it. I have already started working on the next book. As Douglas Adams would say, I hope to write a trilogy of four books.”

Children today have a much larger set of books to choose from, across genres

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