Author Interview : Natasha Sharma

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Natasha Sharma has two books listed in our Parents and Kids Choice Awards 2014 Top Choices -  Category Books (by Indian Authors) - Icky Yucky Mucky for Ages 0-5 years and Akbar and the Tricky Traitor for Ages 5-10 years.

Here is our interview with Natasha.

Icky, Yucky, Mucky! And Akbar and the Tricky Traitor are distinct in the age groups and format, so I am going to answer the questions from both perspectives where required.

Tell us a little about your book. Your inspiration behind the story.

Icky, Yucky, Mucky! is a picture book about a royal family unlike any other. Maharaja Icky, the renowned king of Ikhtarpur slurps and burps his way through every meal and has the worst table manners ever seen. When the rosogulla-juggling Maharaja finds a soul mate in a nail-nibbling princess, all hope seems lost for the kingdom.

The story took birth as five poems, each on a terrible habit. Inspiration was all around … so the less said, the better for this one!

Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, is a part of a new series – the History Mystery series. These are mysteries set in history and while the stories are fictional, they are loaded with facts. It’s all the bits of history that kids are unlikely to find in their history textbooks. Did you know that Akbar used to watch spiders fight? Or that Ashoka (from the other book in the series) possibly had all women as his personal bodyguards? In Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, Akbar is furious since there is a traitor leaking secrets. The book follows Akbar and his set of super investigators, the Super Six as they set out to catch the culprit.

The story began in a Duckbill writing workshop. The inspiration, strangely enough, was a sock!

 

What is your favorite character in the book and why?

That’s a tough question with regards Icky, Yucky, Mucky! I love all of them! The Maharaja is unbelievably messy; I possibly see bits of myself in the nail nibbling Maharani; and the baby princess, well … she is at a whole different level.  

In Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, I would say Super Spy 3 from Akbar’s team of the five Super-Sixers.

 

Describe your journey as an author. Did you always know you wanted to write? 

Growing up, I wanted to be many different things. I considered veterinarian, architect, news anchor (I used to find it incredible that they knew SO much) and taking care of baby lions in Kenya, among other things. I went on to do an MBA and worked in sales and brand management. Through it all, I honestly never once thought I’d be an author, though I wrote bits and pieces right through.

I’d put the commencement of this journey down to a zebra trotting into my head in a doctor’s waiting room as I tried to keep my son entertained. While the zebra is still wandering around in search of her stripes, I changed my spots and am a very content and happy human as a result of it. 

 

Do you have a specific writing style? 

It’s been evolving over time with each book. I’d say it veers to humour being an intrinsic part of it. I like developing quirky and distinct characters who usually behave rather madly in a book.

 

How did you come up with the title? 

The initial five poems that I wrote on horrible habits needed a unifying title. Icky, Yucky, Mucky! popped into my head and stayed. It draws an immediate response from most people, so I’d like to believe it works well.

The title Akbar and the Tricky Traitor – I wanted to highlight who the ruler is in each book of the series and focus on the central problem. The other book currently out is Ashoka and the Muddled Messages. Alliteration, I felt also helped create another unifying theme in the format of the titles and lighten the tone in keeping with the writing style.

 

Is there a message in your novel that you want kids to grasp?  

I prefer not to spell out a message in my stories. They all speak to the child about something though. Icky, Yucky, Mucky! provides an extreme view of terrible hygiene and habits. Most children react with a ‘Yuck! Eew! That’s disgusting!’. I like delivering the message in this format where the child arrives at the understanding herself.

With all the books in the History Mystery series, I hope to make Indian history fun, fascinating and exciting for young children. Each book has a Fact or Fiction section at the end of the book and you realize that a lot of what you read in the mystery story is based on fact.

 

Please give us some Tips for parents to encourage reading and writing in their kids.

This is more from the perspective of a parent of a 9 and 7 year old. Here’s what worked for me!

For young parents: Read to them from the time that they are little babies. I read to my kids from the time they were 4 months old. Hand them board books and know that chewing off the corners is another way of experiencing the book. They will eventually come around to sitting still for a bit and listening. I used to take my kid’s hand and swipe it gently over the book and coo ‘nice book, good book’ till they got the idea that it needs love and care. J

For parents with older kids: It’s important to help them find great books. Discover new authors and titles. Don’t always look for books that will teach them something educational. Look instead for books that are well written and will peak their interest. Get excited when you discover a new book and that will rub off on your child.

Offer them diverse books, comics, magazines. It all opens their minds to the world, to varied experiences, sets their imagination on fire, helps them come to an understanding of ideas that they like or dislike, teaches them to form opinions…the list is endless. Isn’t that what we all really want for our children? Make it fun!

 

Which were your favorite books and authors growing up.

It was Enid Blyton back then. I also read Billy Bunter books by Frank Richard, a character that my father introduced me to. Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse were others that I loved.

Reading and buying books for my kids has been a re-immersion into the world of children’s literature. The variety that one has access to today is delightful. Many new favourites now!

 

What are your current projects? 

2014 should see the release of:

  • The third History Mystery – Raja Raja and the Swapped Sacks (Duckbill Books)
  • Anaya’s Thumb (Pratham Books)
  • Squiggle Takes a Walk (Young Zubaan)

I am currently writing the fourth History Mystery and will soon begin editing two other books that are in production with Karadi Tales and Zubaan.

 

What was the hardest part of writing your book? 

At the time that Icky, Yucky, Mucky! evolved, I believed that I can only write in verse. The hardest bit was pulling myself out of that and writing it in a regular story format. It was a hard habit to break!

For all the books in the History Mystery series, the challenge is to dig through tomes and do lots of research to come up with unusual, interesting facts that I can effectively blend into my story. It’s hard but probably the most fun as well.

 

Were you good at writing at school?

I’d like to believe I was! I do recall that I never looked at essay writing as a boring assignment. I loved coming up with a good first line and having a clear cut argument or plot. I loved writing!

 

What do you do when you get stuck for ideas?

Sometimes, I take a break and put the piece aside for a bit. Brainstorming on reams of paper helps to clear the head. I call my father and use him as a sounding board. He is incredibly patient with this sort of thing.

A shower is highly effective! Works wonders and is a huge idea generator for me.


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