by Riyad Maroof Hassan
Niyatee Sharma is a children’s author, terrace gardener and a day dreamer. Her latest picturebook ‘The Runaway Peacock’ by Tulika Books was featured in the Parag Honour List 2020. Niyatee has studied design at the ‘Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology’ in Ahmedabad.
Following is the transcript of her conversation with Riyad
When did you first start writing ? And, what inspired you to write ?
I think as far as I remember, I was always writing stories of my own. Although I studied Interior Architecture, books were an important part of my childhood and formative years. I was always writing short stories, essays. One of my articles was published in the Tehelka Magazine during that time. I worked in the design field for 10 years. It is only after my first child was born, that I took keen interest in children’s books. I was fascinated with the new “Children’s literature” coming out of Indian Publishing houses. By the time my second child was born, I was so consumed with the world of Children’s literature, and I eventually decided to write a story of my own. I formally started writing for children in 2016. My first book was published in 2017.
What was your first book’s name ? And, what was it about ?
My first book for children is called ‘The Tomato Thief’ published by Tota books. It is about a small boy who grows tomatoes in his garden for the first time and is very excited to harvest it. His mother tells him to be patient and wait for a few days for the tomatoes to ripen. But well, when the time comes to harvest his tomatoes, he notices that his tomatoes are missing. He sets off on a trail to find out who stole his tomatoes.
When you were young, were you interested in literature ? Who was your favorite writer then ?
Most certainly yes. Being a single child and a bit of an introvert, reading was one of my most favourite hobbies. The local libraries in those days were such a boon. Even during my annual summer holidays to Mumbai, my Nana would get me tons of books from the second hand book stores of the Fort area in Mumbai.
Difficult to pick one, but, during my adult years I was reading a wide spectrum of literature. From Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, R.K.Narayanan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and many more.
When were you born and where ? Can you tell me some moments of your childhood relating to literature ?
I was born in Mumbai in 1980.
I have this distinct memory of reading in torch light under my blanket, after my mom had switched off the lights of my room.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing ?
I have two young children and my writing routine heavily revolves around them. I mostly write when my children are away at school or during the nights when my children are off to bed.
Among your written works, which book is your favourite ? Why ?
I have three published children’s books so far. The first one is ‘The Tomato Thief’, second is ‘The Tomato Flood’ which is a sequel to the first one. Both these are published by Tota Books. And the third book is ‘The Runaway Peacock’ published by Tulika Books.
As a story, I think I like my third book – The Runaway Peacock – the most. But the first two books (Tomato series) are more close to my heart as they were my first books and also they are inspired by my own gardening experiences.
What was one of the most surprising things you learnt while creating books ?
I think it has been interesting to see what the illustrator brings to the book (In the case of a picture book). Sometimes the illustrations can turn out to be entirely different from what you have imagined. But its always a pleasant surprise.
Which book took you the shortest time to write ? How much time did it take ?
I think my second book – The Tomato Flood – because I had already played out the entire story in my mind. I just had to copy it out.
Did you ever imagine that you’d be a children’s author ?
No, I had never in my wildest imagination thought that I would be a Children’s Author one day! I studied Design and I still love design as much. But this journey of writing was completely unexpected and organic.
Which book inspired you the most in your childhood ? Did it inspire you to become an author ?
Again so difficult to pick one book. I read so many wonderful books growing up – all the classics. They have all been inspiring.
For you, who is the best author of India ? What do you like about him/her ?
I think the first author that comes to my mind is Amitav Gosh. I absolutely admire his writing.
What do you think makes a good story ?
The one that wants you to turn the page and has you looking for whats going to happen next.
We know that literature is defined as books and other written works, especially those considered to have creative or artistic merit or lasting value. Do you agree with this ? Can you describe the meaning of literature by your point of view ?
I wholeheartedly agree with the above definition.
In one word I would say literature is the love of the written word – both for the writer and the reader !
Literature is your ticket to travel to another world…imaginary, wild or even just a world that is out of reach for the reader.
As many authors say, they get stories mostly at night, sitting by the Moon’s light. Does it happen to you too ?
Actually that is absolutely true. You will never get a good story idea when you are at your desk. Stories just come to me when I am playing with my children, taking a nature walk, or like you say sitting by the moon’s light.
How does an author attract readers ?
I’m not the best person to answer this question, but I think mostly a good book and a good story will attract readers. In terms of a picture book – the Title of the book and cover page do play a big role.
What is your way of inspiring readers, especially children ?
What inspires children in a book? Well it could be Humour, Emotions, Exaggeration, Imagination, something which a child can relate to or which takes him or her to an imaginary world.
What is the relation between authors and literature ? Can you describe this by your own way ?
I think for an author, literature is literally like putting a part of you in your book. A figment of your experience, your observation, your imagination, your inspiration, your love for art – all comes together to make a book.
There has been a massive growth of literature among Indians. What helped it to reach this level ?
I would say an increase in the number of wonderful Indian Authors. Also, easy availability of books and a number of book reviews which help you to decide what book to pick next.