Staring back at us, from the pages of a book, is a painting of a host of yellow tulips that appear to be part of a flower garden. White butterflies disarmingly hover over, while a tiny bug carelessly crawls on a petal. A 'short tale' accompanying this illustration, reads: "Each day she came, stood and stared — her obsession growing — he longed to ask her why, to know her — but he was just a painting."
UK-based author Julia Edwards may not have had such a dramatic imagery in mind, when she contributed this 'tiny story' to the Twitter project @TalesonTweet, which took off in September 2011. Now, New York-based Jap-anese illustrator Yuko Shimizu has breathed new life into Edwards' stories, and that of the greats — Salman Rushdie, Ma-rgaret Atwood, Teju Cole, Kabir Bedi — in a soon-to-release book, Tales on Tweet, published by HarperCollins India.
Curated and edited by Delhi-based adman Manoj Pandey, the collection of 50 short stories — contributed from across the globe by both heavyweight and aspiring writers — is part of a project which has been in the making for nearly four years. "It first started as a literary experiment in 2011," says 32-year-old Pandey in a telephonic interview.
"I was just treating it as an online digital diary, where I wrote stories within 140 characters, with the hashtag #talesontweet." He then started tagging his favourite authors, to check if his stories had any merit. "To my surprise, they wrote back, not with criticism, but with a story of their own," he says.
Writer and politician Shashi Tharoor was the first big name to contribute. Soon, others followed. What he had was a compilation of over 1,000 byte-sized tales, which varied in sentiment and mood.
Some were so good that Pandey felt they needed to be read and experienced out of the World Wide Web. That's when the idea of a book took germ, he says. Meanwhile Pandey, also an illustrator, thought of giving a face to these stories with illustrations.
He says, "I wanted to create something that would capture the feeling behind the stories, without it being a literal translation. I began by trying my hand at the drawings. But, I was very involved with the project and wanted an objective perspective."
Yuko Shimizu. Pic/Giorgia Arcelli
A self-confessed Shimizu fan, he decided to drop an email to the illustrator, two years ago. And she responded positively. "People are always contacting me for potential projects, but many never materialise. So, when Manoj contacted me, I initially didn't put much thought into it. But, despite moving back and forth on this project, I am glad we could make this happen," Shimizu tells us over email.
"Her work is evocative, beautiful and almost impossible to recreate," says Pandey of the award-winning artist, who has been listed by Newsweek as the 100 Japanese People The World Respects. "I also enjoy the process that goes behind her illustrations," he adds.
Manoj Pandey. Pic/Ajay Gautam
For Tales on Tweet, Shimizu created ink-drawings with digital colour. "The beauty of the tweets were that they all had unique voices," says Shimizu, about the tiny stories she created illustrations for. "Writing in English is hard because letters are just letters. In Japanese, you can write so much more in a tweet, because each letter for us is a word. There has been a debate over whether Twitter would take out the character limitation. I hope that never happens. It's an art to saying so much with so little."