We are talking today to author Mamta Nainy, the wordsmith behind the delightful book Milky Way. Read what she has to say about penning this story, her writing process and the importance of children connecting with the natural world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you start writing for children?
I’m a children’s writer and editor based in New Delhi. Milky Way is my seventh book for children.
I’ve always enjoyed writing. And I’ve always been interested in children’s literature – in fact I collected children’s books even when I was well into my adulthood. So writing for children, I would guess, was a fairly obvious choice. Though I rambled through the long road of writing copy for advertisements, dabbling into some media writing, copy-editing self-help and coffee-table books, and dreaming up a magnum opus under my name before a small girl inspired me to write my first picture book for children. When that got published, I felt brave enough to write more for children and haven’t stopped since then.
What was the inspiration for ‘Milky Way’? Why did you set the story in Ladakh?
Tashi’s curiosity is trifle inspired by a star-gazing kid I know. But more than the inspiration, I think it was the desire to tell a story that captures the colourful, vibrant and diverse world we live in – in a way that children can enjoy.
Why Ladakh? Well, I have always wanted to write about Ladakh. The place has a persona of its own — with its fascinating landscapes, lakes, monasteries, and, most importantly, its people. The people in Ladakh survive one of the harshest winters on the planet, and, paradoxically, the cold winters only seem to make them warmer in their hospitality. I wanted young readers to know more about this amazing place and its people. And the expanse of Tashi’s imagination fitted in quite naturally into the vastness of Ladakh.
How did you develop the characters and plot? Tell us a bit about your writing process.
I wish I could say that the characters and the plot were very neatly etched-out in my head before I began to pen the story down. But that was not at all the case. The characters and the plot saw several versions of themselves before they met their final forms. In fact, it was one of the very first stories that I’d attempted for children, and it remained a work-in-progress for a good couple of years before it was shared with a publisher. I did draw a mental picture of the characters and had an inkling of how I want the plot to progress, but these evolved over time after several revisions and well-directed nudges from the publisher.
As for my writing process, usually an idea surfaces at the oddest hour – quite often from something that I’ve read or heard. Then it jostles in my head for space, amidst a rumpus of other things. It’s attempted to be banished on several counts. If it still survives, I start working on a mental draft. And then, when I’m ready, I try to sit down and write at a stretch. Then, of course, it goes into the loop of reading, re-reading, re-writing, reading, re-reading, re-writing… till it’s sent to a publisher.
What do you think of Siddhartha’s artwork for the book?
Siddhartha Tripathi’s artworks have a distinct style that not only complements the storytelling but also takes it forward. It is vivid and colourful, and is laced with gentle humour. I’m sure the illustrations in the book will make the reading experience more alive for its young readers.
In ‘Milky Way’, Tashi looks out of the window to understand his world better. Can children with access to instant information relate to Tashi? What can parents and educators do to encourage an interest in the natural world?
I hope I have told a good story that will engage young readers! I believe nature is a theme that will always be close to a child’s life. Whether in the cities where children have access to instant information, or elsewhere, the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars are still the same and get children dreaming and imagining. So, the curiosity remains the same – the core of the emotion remains the same.
I think as parents and educators, we need to make sure that children are in touch with nature. What children learn from nature stays with them for the rest of their lives. So, it’s important that we leave children some time to observe and engage with the natural world, even if it’s just sitting under a tree, watching the birds, or exploring their own backyards.
What advice would you give writers who would like to pen a picture book?
Write because you enjoy it.
Write something every day. (Go for long walks. Watch birds and animals and people. Go to the market. Travel as much as you can. And make sure you write about each of these things.)
Read something every day. Writers read … a lot!