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I have seen some writers post snippets from their work-in-progress (WIP) on their blogs last week and found that a cool idea. So, here’s one from my manuscript. (Is my manuscript close to being finished or is it a WIP? The answer to that depends upon the day you’re asking me the question; and that is a topic for a whole series of posts… so, moving on…)

Where was I? Oh, yes, my manuscript — it is a multicultural fantasy, targeted at middle grade children (ages 8 to 13). This also sort of acts as a precursor to the topics I’d like to discuss in the next few days…

Comments? Suggestions? Critiques? They are very welcome – please send them my way!

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             wait for her mother to join us so they could all start grilling us.

kept fidgeting and looking at the doorway, as if she couldn’tMeenagchi

            “Mother!” she finally yelled, making me jump. “Come along,

Mother – everyone is waiting for you.”

            “You have to learn to be patient, Daughter,” her father chided her gently.

            “Yes, Father.” Meenagchi lowered her head, but her tone made

it obvious that it was something she was reminded of constantly.

            For a few minutes everyone was quiet. Then Meenagchi suddenly

turned to Nitu, her eyes intent. “Why would you wish to wander around

in the company of two boys?”

            At first, Nitu looked confused; then her face lit up with amusement

and she grinned in my direction. Ankit pressed his hands to his mouth, trying

hard to smother his giggles.

             The blood rushed up to my face and I glared at Ankit — not that it was

effective in shutting him up or anything. Then I looked down at myself. Here

I was, dressed in a drab pair of pants and a pale colored t-shirt, with my

long hair pulled into a tight ponytail. By contrast, Nitu was dressed in

a bright-colored skirt and a pretty blouse, and her long hair tumbled

loosely over her shoulders.

            I found it annoying, not to mention humiliating, to have to justify my

sense of style, or lack of it, to someone I met only minutes ago.

            I looked up and stammered an explanation. “Um… I’m a girl, too. Girls …

can dress this way, too, in my country.”

            “Really? You are a girl? It never would have occurred to me.” Meenagchi

burst into gales of laughter.

            Frowning, I looked away from her.

            “She doesn’t mean that, Jiya!” Nitu poked me playfully in the ribs,

trying to pacify me.

            Cheliyan, who had been observing the whole exchange with interest,

turned to his sister. “Will you ever learn to behave properly?” However, from

his reddened face I could tell that he had originally mistaken me for a boy,

too. Just great!

            Grinning, Meenagchi flicked away a lock of her hair in response to her

brother’s reproach.

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I present to you the different (very much simplified) perspectives a book engenders, right from the time of its conception up to the time it makes it to the bookstalls … and beyond.

Author: Writes the book based on her: research, past history and experiences, sensibilities, inspiration and motivation.

Publisher: Acquires a manuscript, which gets eventually published, based on: concept’s salability, market direction, industry’s current trends, economy, marketability of the author’s name.

Bookseller: Displays a book on the shelf based on: salability, cover art, name of the author, reviews, hype produced by the book in the market, bestseller list.

Librarian: Orders a book for the library’s shelf based on: genre, reviews, awards won by the book, concept of the book, author’s name.

Reader: Picks a book to read attracted by: the genre, the cover art, the flap copy, the name of the author/series, excerpts, assignments, current fads, his taste and sensibilities.

Parent: Chooses a book for his child based on: genre, child’s taste, his own taste, concept, price of the book, awards won by the book.

The perspective changes even for the same set of people, given a slight change in the circumstances. For instance, the same parent might not choose the same book for another of his children.

And these are only a few of the points of view that a children’s book produces. If it were a book in adult category, that too, one with political or religious context to it, then the whole ballgame changes and the perspectives multiply.

The adage Don’t judge a book by its cover isn’t really such a cliché, is it?

Hope you can find a book this weekend in which you can lose yourself willingly!

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Continued from Enid Blyton -1

Soon, I graduated to the Famous Five series. These books feature the four cousins Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog. (I can hear the tune in my head as I’m writing these words: that was how part of the title song went for the TV show made in the UK based on these books, in the late 1970s.)

Most of the adventures in this series took place on the sea or close to it, where George lived with her parents and Timmy. The four cousins – none of them older than sixteen, if I remember it right – could take a picnic hamper and row in a boat by themselves to the small island (called Kirrin Island, and owned by George’s father, incidentally) in the middle of the sea, which had the ruins of a castle on one side of it and the remains of a shipwreck on the other. They could camp away for days inside an old and abandoned lighthouse or pack themselves into a caravan and travel to the Mystery Moor, all without any adult supervision.

Can you think of anything more adventurous and attractive for a ten-year-old reader?

Blyton wrote numerous books and series targeted at toddlers all the way up to teens. After Famous Five, I barely skimmed through one series called Malory Towers. None of the other books she’d written were available in the libraries where I lived, so I never got much into any of the other ones written by her.

Her books are readily available in the bigger book stores in India (and probably in various countries in Europe, too? I’m not too sure), but, sadly, not so in America. Very few have even heard of Blyton in the U.S. To the best of my knowledge, none of the bigger chains of book stores have her books on their shelves. You’d have to buy them online or borrow from those public libraries that carry them.

It is with some reluctance, at this point, that I bring up one thing about Enid Blyton’s books. They are not politically correct, at least for this day and age  – the narration sounds as if girls are supposed to behave a certain way and boys need to be given upper hand by default. For instance, as you read the books you can’t help but perceive that the prim-and-proper Anne’s actions are approved wholeheartedly, whereas tomboyish and headstrong George (christened Georgina, but shortened to George by the girl who hates being a girl) is tolerated with patronizing indulgence.

However, given the time period that she wrote these books (1940s to 1960s), those were probably the sensibilities that were in vogue. As a child, I just took it in stride and never bothered about it much. Being a girl myself, my reasoning was simple: those were the author’s opinions about the subject. That didn’t necessarily mean that I had to agree with her. It didn’t take anything away from the books for me, so why fuss over it?  

There are some who claim that Blyton’s continued success is an enigma because her work is exceptionally poor. Hollow plots, repetitive storylines, two-dimensional characters, limited vocabulary and bland, unliterary penmanship are all evident throughout her 700-plus books**. May be so, but being as they are, her books sold 60 million copies and were translated into nearly seventy languages over the years. Need I say more? (Actually, I do: It is either “To each his own” and all that or “A case of sour grapes”. You decide.)

If you’re an adult who hasn’t had a chance to read Enid Blyton, then snuggle up with one of her books today (under the pretext of reading to a child, if you’re shy about reading a children’s book for yourself). The child will love it anyway, but you may soon find yourself putty in the hands of a masterful storyteller, who makes the craft seem beguilingly simple.

As time went by, many more authors came into my life and took me to a great many places and reinforced my love for the written word. However, Enid Blyton was not going anywhere – she had lodged herself securely into a niche inside my heart.

If the book that I’m currently writing manages to induce the same strength of emotions, at least in one child, which Enid Blyton’s books did in me, then I’ll feel that I have earned the right to aspire to write for children.

** – Excerpts taken from an article in Fiction Circus.

Check out  The Enid Blyton Society that I found online a few weeks ago. It has charming illustrations for her first edition books and all the information you want about the author and her books.

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“Mummy, have you got anything we could have to drink?” asked Janet. “And to eat too? We’re having a Secret Seven meeting this morning.”

“I’ll give you lemons, and some sugar, and you can make your own lemonade,” said Mummy. “You like to do that, don’t you? And you can go and see if there are any rock-buns left in the tin in the larder.”**

This is how my introduction to Enid Blyton came about, and I never looked back. Enid Blyton and I have shared many an adventure together in my childhood. Is she a friend of mine? She very well could have been, for all that I felt for her and experienced with her by my side.

Enid Blyton can be considered probably the most prolific writer of children’s literature (she wrote over 600 children’s and juvenile books over her forty-year career), and she hails from England. I speak of her in present-tense, even though, regrettably, she passed away quite a few decades ago – in 1968, to be accurate. But authors like her never die – they live on in the hearts of generations of readers that come after them.

I happened upon a book from her Secret Seven series when I was seven or eight years old. And my world turned upside down – in the most pleasant sense, though. (Upside down IS good sometimes, isn’t it? You get to view the world in a whole different manner.)

My eyes, and those of my like-minded siblings, would automatically scan for Blyton among the rows of books whenever we came across a well-stocked bookshelf — a habit I retain to this day. I began to find excuses to visit the school library – a large, musty, cavernous hall with tall bookshelves teetering under the weight of books, which were neither well-organized nor well-kept – more often than was allowed.

Soon it got to be where the tall, rail-thin librarian (who had hitherto had an unnerving habit of looking at kids disdainfully down her nose) became my chum. She got into the habit of hunting for Blyton’s books among the mildewed tomes arranged in the forgotten shelves in the far recesses of the library. And on my next visit to her, she would produce for me a moth-eaten, dog-eared copy (of one of Blyton’s books or others that were close to Enid Blyton’s books in genre and setting – I sadly forget the authors’ names now) that I had yet to read, with an air of a wizard conjuring up a rare gem — which was exactly what the book was for me. With each new book that I read, my love for reading strengthened, until it metamorphosed into a desire for writing.

The Secret Seven series is set in a village in England where seven kids, obviously, found a secret society and solve crimes, big and small, in the neighborhood. There is also Scamper, the golden spaniel, who is always tail-waggingly ready to do his part in digging up clues.

In all of Enid Blyton’s books food features prominently, and the characters are always either having smashing teas or settling down to tuck into the contents of laden picnic hampers. The books are sprinkled with references to eatables such as: currant buns, ginger biscuits, meat pies, boiled eggs, scones, lemonade, sausages, egg and lettuce sandwiches, ginger-beer and chocolate éclairs. For a child brought up on a steady diet of idli, chapati, dosa***, and chicken curry, among other things, those foodstuffs were as exotic and mouth-watering as they could get.

As I read about: the foggy autumn morning with smoke spiraling lazily up the chimney of the shepherd’s cottage; or the children biking to school along narrow lanes bordered by celandines, violets and primroses; or the gardener dressed in a patched tweed coat and hat working in the vegetable plot in the back of Bramble Cottage on Hawthorne Lane, my heart would ache from nostalgia.

Nostalgia? I was all of seven, for crying out loud, and all I’d experienced until then was only hot and humid tropical weather. What could I possibly be pining for? I have yet to figure that one out, but that was exactly how the books left me feeling.

To me, Enid Blyton is, and always will be, a sorcerer who, with a wave of her magical fountain pen, created a cozy and charming world, populated it with simple, lovable characters and then softly breathed life into the both of them.

To be continued…

** Excerpt from “Secret Seven on the trail” by Enid Blyton.

*** idli – steamed rice cakes

      chapati – unleavened bread

      dosa –  crepes made of rice and white-lentils soaked and ground into a thick batter

Check out Enid Blyton – 2 also. (Edited 3/17/2010 – Link added retroactively.)

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Just a note before I begin: I aim to keep these pages completely clean and kid-friendly. I would love it if you brought the children in your life to these pages once in a while — with you supervising them, of course, if they’re very young.   

Now would be a wonderful time to do so: starting today, I’m going to do the next few posts with the young (in-earthly-years or at-heart) as my target audience.   

Do you read books?   

Do I hear a “yes”, followed by muttering to the effect of “but only because I have to. Not because I like to”?   

I also heard some resounding “yeah”s to my question, which means that some of you are avid readers already. Good! Keep at it now. And persist even later, when distractions stare you in the face and try to take you away from this passion of yours.   

Let me tell you why you should keep on reading, whether you love it or loathe it. Think about this: when you find a book that you like, you have made a friend forever. And what a friend that book will turn out to be!   

A book is a friend who:   

  • Does not judge you.
  • Does not impose its personality on you.
  • Listens to whatever you have to say to it.
  • Never brings its problems to you.
  • Is opinionated — make no mistake about that – but it does not shun you if you disagree with it.
  • Does not label you “geeky”, “popular” or “nerdy”.

This Hema P is such a dork! Just because I don't speak out loud, she assumes that I don't label her? Hmph!

 

  • Makes no demands on your time. It sits there waiting for you patiently, so it can open up to you the minute you wish it to.
  • Doesn’t need cleaning and feeding, just gentle handling.
  • Will accompany you around the world without you even having to leave your house.
  • Doesn’t pressure you into doing things that you don’t want to.
  • Doesn’t need you to dress up to go meet with it. Lounging in pajamas is the best way to cozy up with your favorite book.
  • Is you best confidante.
  • Will wait for you, years on end at times, when you grow out of it and drift away. It will remain on your bookshelf waiting  for you to come back, dust it and reclaim it as a friend.

Aren’t these reasons enough for you to set out on a search for a good book? Did I overlook any more reasons? If yes, I’d love to learn which ones — if only so I could feel all the more blessed to have made so many good friends myself.   

Come visit me again and I’ll introduce you to a bunch of wonderful books and authors. And who knows? There may be one or two among them that you’d want to add to your bookshelf.   

P.S: Thank you so much, everyone, for your support in following Mark McVeigh!! I think I may have earned that chat with him, after all!

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