"Books will travel across Asia, just as ideas do"
A literature festival in swish, fashionable Singapore. Believe it or not but the annual Asian Festival of Children's Content has, and continues to be one of Asia's largest platforms to showcase children and young adult literature. At this year's edition, The Guide caught up with Singapore- based author Anu Kumar, to gauge this exciting time in the literary world
With two book releases this year, author Anu Kumar is sitting pretty. It Takes a Murder and Inspector Angre and the Pizza Delivery Boy deal with violence but both titles look at life and living from different lens. Novelist, essayist, children’s storywriter and short story writer, Anu Kumar is counted as one of the top women writers in Southeast Asia. Living in Singapore, Kumar confesses that she feels she never left Mumbai. Her love for the city is obvious in her work. She recently participated at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, Singapore where she held a session for authors and publishers on how to write a series for children.
What are the trends we are witnessing in Asia in context to children’s literature and writing?
For children’s writing in this part of the world, it’s an exciting time. There is so much interaction across the region so books travel just as ideas do. And then. books are produced in a variety of formats: digital, e-book and even as mobile apps. Children, especially, are getting to be quite adaptable to the sheer pace of change, even technologically.
You were one of the participating authors at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) this year as well as in the previous years. What does the AFCC stand for? How did the workshops go?
The Asian Festival of Children’s Content -- the brainchild of the National Book Development Council of Singapore — has been in existence for several years now. It’s just getting bigger in every way, from participants hailing from the region and all over: writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, readers, educators: anyone involved passionately in the world of children’s publishing and the lines are, of course, fluid. So, one gets to meet authors and people you’ve heard about and learn from them. This year, there was Anushka Ravishankar, Nury Vittachi, Mio Debnam, Shiron Yim Bridges, Wendy Orr, Naomi Kojima, and familiar faces from previous years too: Candy Gourlay, Daphne Lee, Myra Garces-Bascal and Hachette editor, Vatsala Kaul Banerjee and many others. You can’t fit in a five-day festival in a paragraph but it was just as tightly packed and time flew as fast as it took you maybe to read this!
You’ve done two books recently. The one you recently wrote is based on Mumbai. Why should anyone read what a Singapore-based writer thinks about Mumbai?
Yes, Inspector Angre and the Pizza Delivery Boy is a Mumbai story and the theme is universal -- a city’s redevelopment, migrants from outside and politicians seeking attention. That’s the plot while the broader theme is how the forces of good in the end do triumph over evil, no matter the odds. Crime stories travel well just as any good book will do, I hope. Inspector Angre, like his peers, has his own quirks and dilemmas, some of which do cause him immense heartbreak, at times.
Is Inspector Angre inspired by HRF Keating’s Inspector Ghote?
Not really, except that both live and work in Bombay. And yes, Inspector Angre in this first book, encounters almost the same challenges as Inspector Ghote was beset with: a corrupt bureaucracy, bumbling officialdom, though the latter in most senses was happily married. Angre’s battles sometimes tear his heart apart!
When did you visit Mumbai last? What is it about Mumbai that makes you want to write about it, years after you’ve left it?
I lived in Mumbai and its still Bombay to me, for a long while, thirteen years, actually. It’s a city where I began my working life, and it’s a city that gives much and in turn forces you to accept it, in some way or another. The challenges it comes up with, for example, heavy rains that can throw life out of gear in just one day, means you have to cope in a certain way and you learn so much from that experience. This is just one example but most of why you like a city and how it gets under your skin is hard to explain.
Although a lot of what you write is for adults, you are also known for your contribution in children’s writing. What are the trends to look out for in the latter?
There’s a lot of exciting work presently happening in the world of Young Adult (YA) writing and am happy to be part of it. YAs are avid, engaged readers, willing to explore and experiment with a great variety of writing. Writing for them is very challenging. One must learn to gain their attention and trust; and tell a story well. You can't goof-up especially with the latter aspect, they can see through you.
More Inspector Angre I hope and stuff on historical fiction and non-fiction. Am happy and grateful I’ve been given the chances I have, and all credit to my editors for their faith in me, always.
Vinitha Ramchandani is the author of 15 books on children including her soon-to-be released title, Vruksha
Letters for Paul, Mapin Lit
The Dollmakers’ Island, Gyaana Books
It Takes a Murder, Hachette India
Inspector Angre and the Pizza Delivery Boy, Popular Prakashan
Atisa and the Seven Wonders: Penguin India
Atisa and his Time Machine: Adventures with Hiuen Tsang, Penguin India
In the Country of Gold-digging Ants: Two thousand years of Travel in India (non-fiction), Penguin India
Puffin Lives: Subhash Bose, nonfiction, Penguin India, 2010
On Top of the World: My Journey to the Everest (with Arjun Vajpai), (non-fiction), Penguin India
Myth Quest Series : Animals (nine books: Jatayu, Garuda, Narasimha, Ucchaishravas, Sheshnaga, Airavata, Nandi, Jambavan, Sarama and Sarameyas),
Myth Quest Series : Asuras (three books so far: Mahishasura, Banasura, Mahabali), Hachette India
The Asian Festival of Children’s Content was initiated by the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 2010. What started as a place where content creators and producers; with parents, teachers, librarians, and anyone interested in quality Asian content for children came together. AFCC is now a mix of professional conferences, master-classes and workshops, rights fair and media mart, and public events. Based in Singapore, it has become a festival that tries to bring regional writers and quality translations to the fore. This year, Malaysia was the country of focus. Next year, India will be focused upon.