This was such a fun interview to do. Nitya Shukla of The Times of India mailed across some incredibly interesting questions for me to respond to.
The edited version came out in NIE on Nov 15, 2017. Here’s the link to the online version.
And pasted below is the complete email interview! 🙂
Thank you, Nitya!
NS: Please share a list of picture books, authors or books that amazing examples of creativity.
RJ: Don’t make me do this, please! I have so many sackful of favourites that it’ll be impossible for me to whittle it down to a list.
NS: What’s the most picturesque library that you’ve been to?
RJ: May I tweak this question a bit and make it ‘…some of the most…’?!
David Sassoon Library, Bombay
The NYPL’s Rose Reading Room, NYC
Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge
Archiginnasio Library, Bologna
Miranda House, Delhi University
NS: How would your fan moment turn out? If you ever met Lemony Snicket, what would you say to him?
RJ: I will be too tongue-tied to even mumble some fawning-over gibberish. But if I collect my wits in time to ask, it’ll be this: Will we ever have a book by Lemony Snicket on Snicket’s death?
NS: You probably meet a lot of kids, adults at publishing events. For the most part they want authors to sign a book, or express their thoughts. Yet publishing events are a wonderful opportunity to ask the author anything! What are the questions that you wish readers should ask that could help you guide them better?
RJ: a) is there a specific point in your books where you think the reader will get a lump in the throat, even in the funniest, zaniest ones? Do you choke while writing it?
b) which is the part that makes you crack up when reading aloud to a bunch of readers?
c) if this book did not end the way it does now, what would it have been?
d) what are the big tiny sacrifices you have to make in order to get these books out into this world?
e) how many rounds of revision did it take you get this 500-worder to a point where you felt it was done?
NS: Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
RJ: Each title is unique with its own set of challenges that my protagonists face. And I want each of them to have a soul that’s hard to miss.
NS: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
RJ: It didn’t! I wish it had helped me turn into a more disciplined writer.
NS: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
RJ: It’s a multitude of them – from memberships to libraries to going overboard at bookshops, no matter what corner of the world, to shelling out extra baggage charges to cart them home. J
NS: What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
RJ: Sharon Creech, Philip Pullman, Kenzaburo Oe, Michael Ondaatje.
NS:What did you do with your first advance?
RJ: It was a tiny one, but I withdrew the amount from my account, sealed it in an envelope and put away in my stationery drawer where it still lies untouched (rendered useless post demonetization).
NS: How do you select the names of your characters?
RJ: Always tough for me. I somehow never seem to get it right. But to answer the question, I list down all the possible things that the characters would do, if they were living, breathing beings. I then try and get the other characters in the story respond to them in those imagined situations. My ears can almost hear some names being called out, ringing out loud.
NS: As a writer of picture books I feel it might be great if you could literally write a how to draw their own picture book in five steps or less.
RS: Actually, I can’t! The process for each writer is different, and even with the same writer, every character or story requites a different approach. But if there’s one thing that I would want every book to have, it would be loneliness in any form to envelope the protagonist at some point in the book. Unless the character is allowed to sink into an absolute pit, it won’t desperately flap its wings to fly out of it and emerge a changed, stronger version of its self at the start of the book. To my mind, this is true of even the funniest of books.