Children are as different from adults as chalk and, umm… ascorbic acid. Right? Everyone knows that adults are practical, business-like, preoccupied with solving all the troubles of the world. Adults sensibly work to advance their position in life, and hope their children will do the same. And kids? Well they’re silly and playful and have to be constantly ordered what to do. Children need those same practical, sensible and mature adults to constantly prod them to study and learn moral lessons, so that they in turn can grow into practical and insufferably boring adults.
If you’re among the few who disagree with the above premises, shake hands. Because I think children and adults all have the potential for rational and practical thought as well as imagination and the capacity to innovate. Children are as human as adults, as intelligent but more fresh in their thinking because they haven’t been hardened into the tried and tested practical and sensible rut yet. Children work just as hard as adults to tackle life’s problems.
The main difference between children and adults is that their situations in life are different. Therefore, the issues that concern them most are also different. So, we find kids deeply concerned about dealing with challenges such as sibling rivalry or playground bullies, while adults are busy dealing with dragon bosses or carefully considering which political party to support. Whatever it is they need to deal with, children and adults equally apply thought and intelligence to achieve their aims.
Another difference between children and adults is that children are more fresh in their approach. They are more open-minded to new ideas and people, and they have a natural capacity for imaginative thinking. Writing for children is vital for keeping this freshness and imagination alive. Good children’s books open them to new ideas in an interesting way. Children who love to read learn a lot more than what is taught in textbooks and the school curriculum. They also improve their vocabulary, comprehension and linguistic skills while having fun. Best of all, good books are cheaper than the junk food we love to spend our money on. And books are healthier for both body and mind.
That’s why I juggle writing for children and for adults. I think both genres are equally important. I put as much thought and work just as hard at my craft for both categories. It’s just that when I write for kids, I think like them and put myself in their shoes. And of course, I do the same when it comes to writing for adults. Simple, yet a challenge which many writers never take up.
Genre jugglers aren’t regular people. They have even stranger streaks of eccentricity than the usual eccentric writer. Most sensible people approach me, sniff and evaluate, and then run for their lives. I write what comes to me rather than writing what appears most publishable and market worthy at the time. For me, spontaneity is the key.
Writing happens best for me when I’m engrossed by the story and characters I’m creating. These stories, in turn, are shaped by the thoughts and concerns uppermost in mind at any particular time. When I started writing my first book, Riddle of the Seventh Stone, a fantasy adventure novel for young people, it wasn’t because I had deliberate plans of becoming a children’s writer. In those days, I was enjoying growing up with my son.
They say the best children’s books are created out of the stories parents share with their children. In Riddle of the Seventh Stone, my son had many suggestions. A much-appreciated touch suggested by my son, is the description of Geeta, the classmate for whom Rishabh has a massive crush.
To Rishabh, the rat-turned boy, Geeta’s eyes are round and black like manhole covers. Her hair flows like algae and her skin glows like nuclear waste. It was my son who had suggested these similes because he felt that Rishabh, wouldn’t have the same notions of beauty as regular boys. In the novel, Rishabh often thinks and behaves like the rat that he was born as. So this unusual description of Geeta’s beauty fits in perfectly with Rishabh’s character.
In this way, I try to think like the character whose story I’m writing at any given time. The process is the same even when I’m writing a story for adults. In my short story Flowers and Paper Boats, (Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories),the protagonist is a young man. I remember when I shared this story in the Internet Writing Workshop, an international writing community I swear by. An American writer read it and asked me whether the young man was gay, because a passage describing flowers seemed to him to be too feminine in style. He hadn’t deduced my gender from my name, so he was surprised to learn that I was an older woman writing from the point of view of a young man. The character was otherwise portrayed in a way that made him assume that the writer was also a man.
Everyone is good at certain things. I’m pretty good at empathising with others. So I’m a natural at juggling the requirements of the two genres. It all depends on which group I’m more drawn to at any given time.
Monideepa Sahu studied at Lady Shri Ram College and Delhi University. She worked as a bank manager before veering off into writing. Her books are; The Best Asian Short Stories 2017, Going Home in the Rain, and Other Stories (Kitaab, Singapore), Riddle of the Seventh Stone (Zubaan) and Rabindranath Tagore: The Renaissance Man (Penguin/Puffin). Her short fiction appears in collections from Central Michigan University, Northeastern Illinois University, Marshall Cavendish (Singapore), Puffin, Scholastic India, and elsewhere. She regularly writes for The Deccan Herald and other mainstream publications.