I first came across the name Sutapa Basu as the winner of the Times Of India WriteIndia Contest. The name stuck and I wished I could speak to her, get to know her prize-winning story. Little did I know that I would be tagged by her, (her!) on Twitter to notify me about a wonderful children’s story project she has started. I was thrilled to connect and we got talking. She graciously agreed to be our guest on the Momspirations column and my admiration turned to complete awe as she unraveled the various roles she has played, the challenges she took up and the lessons she has soaked up – so much so that it has become her talking intuition! And a renewed inspiration for me, and many other writers!
Read on as the wonderful Sutapa Basu reveals her journey to being an award-winning author and a grandparent!
Welcome to Kidskintha, Sutapa. Thrilled to have you here.
Thank you for having me.
After being a teacher, publisher, and writer for 28 years, you recently gave up your job to focus on writing. Not many people step bravely into this field. What inspired you to take this step? Please tell us about your journey of coming to as a writer.
I wrote my first drama/story when I was around eight years old. I believe I wrote play scripts those days because acting out plays was a game that I played with my brother and friends and we needed scripts for the game. So I just sat down and wrote them in old school notebooks. My mother found them flying around the room when we finished with our games and preserved them for posterity.
Stories and lyrics have been whispering in my head as long back as I remember. I happen to be a compulsive bookworm and loved reading books…books that carried tales, poetry, dramas and what writers wanted to say. When I was quite young, I wanted people to read what I wanted to say. Since then, I have constantly been scribbling in dairies, on bits of paper, on the phone.
As I grew up, during my school and college days, I wrote tales and poems whenever I felt powerful emotions about anything. It could be joy, sorrow, anger or despair. The trigger could be a spectacular sunset or the death of a friend.
By and by, it occurred to me that I had a special affinity for words. I was fascinated by the fact that they could be devised into a variety of patterns. The same words just arranged differently could mean so vastly different from each other. It was a natural choice for me to take up undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in English Literature but my interests also veered to European, American, Russian, Chinese and Indian Literatures.
Travel has been my middle name ever since birth. I am daughter to an Indian Army officer and married into the army, as well. Later, it was my publishing career that took me globetrotting. Travel is known to open our minds, refresh us with new experiences and amaze us with the unknown. I responded to it the only way I knew—by writing.
Egged on by my mother, I started writing short stories, poetry and features. Some of these were published in Army journals, magazines and newspapers. In the meanwhile, I was teaching which naturally transited to a publishing career. Being in a senior management position, I was unable to focus on writing for a while. There were times when poems or storylines would drop into my mind during long drives to and from office. The moment, I would reach office or home, I plonked at the computer and punched in words as fast I could before I forgot them. My co-workers found me crazy.
A lot of school textbooks that I designed, developed and published by Oxford University Press and Encyclopædia Britannica, South Asia carry my stories and poems. I would write them on the spur of the moment when we could not find suitable stories for the textbooks to teach the English language to students.
Then one fine March day in 2013, I decided that this could not continue any further. I could not but listen to all those voices chattering in my head and focus on giving birth to their stories.
I quit my job and seriously buckled down to writing.
It was around that time I discovered Readomania. Dipanker Mukherjee, owner and publisher, requested me to edit their first print book and therein began a fruitful and mutually satisfying relationship. For a year, I edited and wrote many shorts. Some were entered for contests and won accolades such as the First Prize I won in the Times of India WriteIndia Contest under Amish Tripathi. Many of them were published in print and online magazines and blogs like Readomania.com and Cafe Dissensus, New York. I also began my own website StoryFuntastika then. While all this was going on, the premise, plot, and structure of my long fiction was churning inside me.
In 2014, I began writing it. Despite the basic plot very clearly delineated, writing chapter after chapter of a story of around 60,000 words was a formidable thought. However after eight months when I showed my first draft to my publisher, he was happy with it but suggested a lot of revisions that I incorporated. I decided to call the novel, ‘Dangle.’ Editing being second nature to me, I would keep editing the book at each successive draft stage.
My brother, Debashis Bose, an artist and branding expert designed a wonderfully evocative cover that has been applauded by publishers, booksellers, and readers. It even won an online cover design contest. I firmly acknowledge that if a book reads and looks good, it is never solely due to the author. I credit my editor, publisher, and designer for Dangle’s acceptability.
Nevertheless, I still could not believe that my solo novel was about to be published—a dream I had nurtured since childhood. To reach this place I had climbed many a hill and trudged down several valleys. Challenges were many: lack of time, commitments to work and family, sheer frustration when words would not come and so much more.
My only weapon to combat them was to grit my teeth and give myself daily writing deadlines. ‘Write at least one chapter a day even if it is shitty writing,’ I told myself.
My motivation to write was the magic of seeing my name under the ‘by’ on the front cover of a novel. Still, there were nights when I dreamt that my book was gathering dust in a dark warehouse because nobody wanted to read it.
I am still walking the road. The journey is not easy and needs a great deal of perseverance, but each time readers tell me that they enjoyed a story, poem or feature that I wrote, I smile, keep my chin up and walk on.
Congratulations on your first bestseller! As a person who has spent years in the company of kids, what is your idea of the evolution of this generation? How do you think we should approach this generation as parents and teachers?
As a parent, teacher, and writer myself I would say that nobody evolves faster than children. As target audience, they are not just volatile, but their likes, dislikes, needs, interests change by the month- by the latest film, latest cartoon, latest advertisement, latest book and the most current global occurrence.
This is a generation hooked on to visual and social media, video games, the Internet, electronic toys. They take minutes to figure out a new electronic device and age is no bar. I have seen a little girl yet to start speaking browsing cartoons on an Ipad.
We need to approach this generation keeping in mind that they are trillion times more observant, intuitive to external stimuli and have minimal attention span than generations just ten years ago. We must accept that they are way ahead of us in imagination and intelligence. So never talk down to them. That’s a sure way to lose them. You have to become one of them and navigate their world to be accepted by them. Children don’t come with baggage. They are not cynical or hypocritical. They connect through the heart rather than the head. The secret to hooking them is to find the emotional equation. If you are excited, they are excited. If you are sad, so are they. When I used to teach, if I ever entered a class feeling bored with the day’s lesson, in a few minutes the kids would be yawning. I don’t know how but their antennae instantly picked up my disinterest.
Do you think today’s children are reading less? Any tips on how to inspire the love of reading in today’s children?
Well, books are certainly competing with films, video games, and TV programs but if you can hook them by stories that appeal to them, you will have an established following.
One way is to read to them when they are too young to read themselves. I think parents should start reading poems and simple stories to babies when they are six months old. Bedtime stories are a must. Kids love looking at picture books and deciphering tales that pictures tell.
Storytelling, dramatizing, and playacting stories absorb kids because they are audio-visual. When they become familiar with the stories, they want to read them too. Older children love books where children have adventures because they can identify with the protagonists. I am convinced that to inspire kids to read, we must expose them to written stories, poems and plays from a very young age and let them easily access books by subscribing to magazines and libraries.
Also Read: 10 Breezy Ways To Raise A Book Lover
What is the one trick that has always worked for you in persuading growing children to give you an open ear?
Relevance to their own needs, emotions, and worldviews in both the written and oral word is what triggers their interest. Besides, I have always appealed to their logic, sense of justice and judgment. I never take a top-down approach. I ask them for suggestions and advice. It always works because children are very observant and their perspective is without prejudice. Usually, one gets unique viewpoints from them which help to temper my opinions.
You were the winner of the TOI WriteIndia awards under Amish Tripathi and your debut novel, “Dangle” is getting rave reviews. Congratulations! What is your message to aspiring writers?
Keep writing and never give up. Other than the established print publishing houses, there are many other ways to take your writing to your readers. If you have the skill, people will read you and appreciate your work.
You founded StoryFuntastika.com as a reading repository for children. What is your vision for it? How would you like us to help you?
StoryFuntastika is a reading site not only for children but also for young and grown-up readers. There are tales, poems, plays, articles, blogs and reviews on it. I want to make it a repository for the loads of work that I am constantly doing. In fact, there is a great deal that I still have to put on it. My intention was to take my writing to readers and get their views about it. I also wanted it to be a source of entertainment and joy to readers.
As a person wearing multiple hats for such long years, here’s the question I always ask all wonder women. How did you do it all? How did you manage your time between all your passions?
Well, it is not easy. However, passions exist because the personality is shaped by them. I could not rest until I had focused on aspects that captivated me. I would jump from one area to another until I realized that I needed to put in more effort to do them justice. So I took some hard decisions. I decided to call it a day as far as my corporate career was concerned. I could not neglect my writing anymore. And not to forget that all along these years, I have also been playing the roles of wife and mother. For the last eight years, a grandmother too.
What are your best time-saving /productivity hacks?
Planning my day has helped a great deal. I slot essential but routine jobs so that I can retrieve time I need for doing the most important job -which is writing.
Another thing that works for me is giving goals and deadlines to myself. While many of my educational projects already have strict submission deadlines, I usually have daily goals to reach too.
I follow a regime that allows time for everything that I want to accomplish during a given day.
Do you have any recommendations for writing apps or rituals that other writers can use?
I don’t depend on any writing apps, but one ritual I try to follow is to write every day. I do not believe in the idea of a writer’s block. While it is true that there are days when writing is like squeezing water from a rock and other days, your fingers will not be able to keep pace with your thoughts, writing a minimum number of words each day helps me to keep writing whatever may happen.
Another way is to have a certain time of the day which you keep aside for writing. Different people have different times when they are most alert or can think very clearly. For me, it is early morning. I try to ensure that I do some amount of writing during the early hours. I believe one must use their best time to its full potential.There's no such thing as a writer's block Click To Tweet
What does your typical workday look like?
My typical workday is about the number of hours I spent writing or work related to writing. Usually, I start with two hours of writing before my morning tea. From around 10 am to 1 pm, I answer emails, work on social media and write. After a break for lunch, rest and a walk I am back at my laptop at 6 pm and write till 10/11pm with a break for news and dinner around 8 pm. Usually, my working hours are about 7 or 8 hours.
What personal habit do you have that you recommend for other writers-cum-parents?
If you are a parent-cum-writer, you couldn’t be in a better position to channelize your own as well as your child’s creative thoughts. A personal habit that I have developed is to discuss with my eight-year-old grandson, what story themes or storylines would interest him and his friends. He comes up with wonderful suggestions along with the logic for them. Often he tells me what younger kids would like to read too. So I believe, it’s a great idea to consult your child about your writing and let him/her be your beta reader too.
What’s the best advice you have received?
The best advice for writing I have received and which I follow is: Always write for yourself… not for others, not for your publisher or market requirements. Let your writing be true to yourself.Let your child be your beta reader. Don't underestimate their perceptiveness Click To Tweet
A few words on what you like most about Kidskintha?
What I love about Kidskintha is the range of topics about childrearing it carries…right from whether to use a pacifier to facts about teens. Kidskintha is a complete parenting guide.
Note: Kidskintha is considering teaming up with Sutapa to bring her writing to others readers, especially children. Any ideas will be welcome.
About the author:
Devishobha Chandramouli is the founder of Kidskintha- a site dedicated to helping millennial parents raise happy kids. She believes that growing up well and happy is a function of growing up with well-informed adults. This site aims to deliver research-grounded and bite-sized pieces of information on two important facets of a child’s life- parenting and education. You can find her voice on the Huffington Post, Addicted2Success, TinyBuddha, Citizen Matters , Nectar and Lies About Parenting.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- an online parenting resource repository dedicated to jumpstarting conversations around millennial parenting, encouraging parents to bring their attention to words, thoughts and actions that will enable them to raise a well-rounded, empathic and motivated generation. You can also find her on the Huffington Post, Parent.co, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha and many other publications.