Bali Rai tells us about a Punjabi tale from his childhood, which later inspired his writing.
Many things inspired my novel, Rani & Sukh. The first major inspirations were stories of star-crossed lovers – tales repeated to me by my mother. This was back in the 1970s, when every Punjabi household I knew had the same painting on their walls. It depicted two lovers, struggling through a dark and desolate landscape, leaning on each other for support, and fleeing certain death at the hands of each other’s families. The woman was called Sohni, and the man, Mehiwal, and theirs was a forbidden love. The tale is a classic in Punjabi folklore, and there are others too – Heer Ranja being particularly popular. These tales were full of melodrama, passion and intrigue. They were tragic too, and they fascinated me. There were heroes and villains, rich and poor, fairytale-like incidents, tragedy, and drama galore.
At the same time I was equally fascinated by Bollywood movies. We didn’t have anything to watch them on, however, so my first taste of the films that would later help to inspire Rani & Sukh came at the homes of uncles and aunts who hardly ever watched anything else. Down the street a young couple that knew my parents would take my sister and me to the local cinema too. It was there that I first saw classics such as Suhaag and Sholay – films that encompassed the entire range of human emotions in three and a half hours. Oh, and about fifty songs too . . .
Like the folk tales, there was passion and intrigue. There were family feuds, love and hatred, long-lost siblings and absent parents – in fact any emotion or family situation that you can think of. I loved them and I even sang along to some of the songs too, much to the annoyance of my sister who would hit me with things whenever I opened my mouth. There was one line from a song in the film Sholay – a tale of outlaw buddies, evil men and beautiful women made to dance on glass – which I sang over and over again:
‘… yeh dorsetay hum nahe toren geh…’
At least that’s what it sounded like to me.
But eventually I grew up and neither Bollywood nor my mother’s Punjabi tales felt cool anymore. They weren’t The Clash or Bob Marley – they weren’t even Eastenders. I was far too trendy for them. But in my heart something remained . . . Then, one day in 1986, I walked into my English Lit classroom and was given a play called Romeo & Juliet, written by some dead old white bloke called Shakespeare. I had never experienced his work before that point, and immediately assumed that it would be boring. Yet, as my amazing teacher, Nigel Gossage, explained the story and it unfolded, I was taken back to the tales my mother told me, and to the films that I had watched as a child. The similarities between Sohni Mehiwal and Romeo & Juliet were striking. Within two scenes, I was hooked to the play, and to Shakespeare in general. And I realised just how wonderful and important those old Punjabi stories were. So important, that somewhere in my head a little nugget of an idea formed. One that would go on to become a novel.
And Rani & Sukh came from that. It’s a tale of star-crossed lovers and blood feuds, family honour and passion, played out in the present day and in the Punjab of the 1960’s – the land of my parents. It is a love story and at the same time full of action. It has killing and emotional blackmail, illicit affairs and murderous villains. A true mash-up of Shakespeare, Bollywood and Punjabi folk tales. I’m not sure my mum realises just how important those story-telling sessions were. I guess I should go thank her!
Bali Rai has written nine young adult novels for Random House Children’s Publishers, as well as the Soccer Squad series for younger readers. His first, (Un)arranged Marriage, created a huge amount of interest and won many awards including the Angus Book Award and the Leicester Book of the Year. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious Branford Boase first novel award. Rani & Sukh and The Whisper were both shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Prize.
Madhvi Ramani shares a terrifying tale from her childhood!
My mother told me many stories, but the one that stuck with me is slightly disturbing and enigmatic. It goes like this…
Once upon a time, there were two sparrows. One was called Chucki and the other was called Chucko.
Now, Chucki was diligent, while Chucko was lazy.
One day, Chucki said to Chucko, ‘I’m going to fetch some water from the well. The kicharee* is cooking on the stove. Turn it off when it’s done.’
‘Sure,’ said Chucko, but as soon as Chucki went out, Chucko went to sleep and forgot all about the kicharee.
An hour later, Chucko was woken up by a mouth-watering smell. His stomach rumbled. He went into the kitchen and lifted the lid off the pot. The kicharee was done! He turned off the stove.
Chucko knew that he ought to wait for Chucki to return before he ate, but maybe he could just have a taste . . .
Mmmm, delicious! He had a little bit more. And then some more . . . until he had eaten the whole lot! Chucko put the lid back on the empty pot, and yawned. He was sleepy after such a big meal, so he went to lie down again.
Before long, Chucko was woken up once more. This time, by Chucki, returning home with the water.
When Chucki took the lid off the pot, she said, ‘Chucko! What happened to the kicharee?’
‘I don’t know. I turned it off in time. The cat must have crept in while I was sleeping and eaten it all,’ lied Chucko.
Chucki thought about this. She had noticed that the lid was on the pot. Why would the cat replace the lid after stealing their food? Chucki suspected that Chucko was lying, but she did not say anything. Instead, she waited until Chucko went to sleep again, thinking that he had gotten away with his lie.
Then, Chucki took a knife and cut open Chucko’s stomach. It was filled with kicharee, and Chucki’s suspicions had been proved right!
Like all good stories, I’ve thought about this one in different ways throughout the years. As a child, the rhythm and the sounds were pleasurable (chucko, chucki, kicharee), especially as told in Gujarati. Then, there is the moral, which seems to be ‘don’t be a lazy liar.’
Later, however, the question of whether what Chucki did was right occurred to me. How could she have taken such a decisive action without being one-hundred per cent sure that Chucko had lied? What if she had been wrong? And even if Chucko had eaten the kicharee, wasn’t Chucki overreacting? And where did this story come from? Did some Gujarati housewife, harbouring thoughts of killing her lazy husband, make it up? And what happens afterwards? Does Chucki live a happy life, or is she lonely without Chucko? Does she regret what she did?
*Kicharee is a Gujarati dish, consisting of rice and lentils.
Our intern Joe considers the European fairytale tradition . . .
Jacob and Wilhem Grimm didn’t live in a vacuum. They were politically aware academics collecting stories (often from the upper and middle classes) in the brief decades between The Enlightenment and German unification. They lived in a unique place and time within the evolution of European society. And yet, the stories they collected have been retold and beloved at least in part because they cover subjects of such authentic humanity as to make the tales seem timeless.
In Blackberry Blue, and other fairy tales, Jamila Gavin offers six brand-new stories inspired by the tales of the Grimms as well as Hans Christian Anderson, but updates this tradition to reflect our ethnically diverse population. On the surface of it, this collection is for girls and boys who have ever fallen down and noticed the ‘flesh-coloured’ sticking plaster doesn’t quite match or wondered why Father Christmas doesn’t look like their father but, as we learn in Gavin’s tales, appearances deceive. With stunningly beautiful (truly stunning) illustrations, these tales speak to the same authentically human power as what we have from the Grimms because Gavin, like Europe itself, has invited a wider audience to join.
In the 45 years between their first and final editions, the Grimms added and edited and altered their collection. Society was changing, the Grimms were changing, and so their stories changed. They were not the first to tell most of their stories and, two centuries on, we continue to add to and edit and alter the pantheon of European faery tales. With Blackberry Blue, Gavin gives us the next incarnation of this long and ever-evolving tradition.
In just a few days, Nina begins her next globetrotting adventure!
Blessed with a travelling spice shed and her new best friend, Lee, Nina is on a mission to solve a very tricky riddle. Her first stop is Aunt Nishi’s garden shed, a secret teleportation machine that promises to help the young explorers with their quest.
WELCOME TO BEIJING, CHINA reads the message on the travelling spice shed and soon Nina is exploring the sights of China, including the Forbidden City, a kung-fu school and the terracotta army. Along the way, she learns all about Chinese customs and traditions. But she mustn’t forget the mystery of the riddle, which desperately needs solving.
Perfect for both boys and girls, Nina’s second magical adventure explores an exciting new country and culture. Featuring fascinating facts about China, a mini guide to chopstick etiquette and an introduction to the Chinese zodiac, Nina and the Kung-Fu Adventure is both fun and educational.
Nina and the Kung-Fu Adventure is published on 3 October 2013. For further adventures with Nina, check out Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed.
Candy Gourlay is a Filipino author based in London. Her debut novel Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe and the National Book Award in the Philippines. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for 13 prizes including the Blue Peter, the Waterstones Prize and the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Shine (published by David Fickling Books), is out on September 5th.
Can you sum up your new novel, Shine, in a few words?
Shine is set on an island where it never stops raining. It’s about Rosa, who suffers from a disfiguring condition that means she must stay hidden from the gaze of superstitious islanders. Her only social life is the internet, where she meets a strange boy named Ansel95. She yearns to see the ghost of her dead mother. Every day she lights a candle in the window – on the island it is said that this is a sure way of summoning the spirits. Then one day, there is a knock. Her mother is on the doorstep.
What inspired you to write Shine?
One of my favourite scary stories when I was growing up was the story of the Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs – it is now in the public domain and you can read it here . In the story, a man makes a wish and it is granted in the most unexpected way. He tries to rectify the problem by wishing again . . . and only when he hears the knock on the door does he realize that no good can come out of yearning for something you cannot have. I retell the story in Shine and there is a motif of doors and unexpected things behind them.
In my travels, I met a medium who told me that ghosts were souls trapped in a moment that they had to relive over and over again – and the only way to free them from such bondage was to help them realize that they were dead. I thought about this – and I couldn’t help thinking that this sort of entrapment happened to the living as well. People who were unable to let go, who were unable to move forward with their lives because they clung to something. They were as good as ghosts.
Growing up in the Philippines, all our books were imported from America and featured pink-skinned people who lived in places that didn’t at all resemble the edgy corner of Manila where my family lived. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those books, but the fact that they were populated by only one type of person embedded the idea in my DNA that books were the preserve of only one hue of character. Besides, I had also never met any authors with the same background. So even though I was always writing, I never really believed that a book with people who looked like me would stand a chance of publication.
To what extent do you think that UK children’s books feature a diverse range of characters?
It is improving all the time – and rather than dwell on the lack of diverse characters, I would rather celebrate the exciting work that publishers like Tamarind are doing, telling stories that reflect the multiple heritages that make this world such an exciting place. And I salute author colleagues whose casting couches send characters of all hues on adventures for the sake of the adventure without reference to the colour of their skin. Paraphrasing my friend Sarwat Chadda (author of the Ash Mistry books), ‘A kid should be allowed to have a badass adventure even if he or she’s got brown skin!’
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I had a LOT of favourite books but if I really had to choose it would be The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s a kind of trickster story – about five Chinese brothers, each of whom had a power which they use to great and hilarious effect. The Five Chinese Brothers at one point fell out of favour, critics pointed at how the illustrations portrayed the Chinese brothers as look-alike, inscrutable, yellow-skinned and slant-eyed. They called it racism. I dunno about racism. I just thought it was a GREAT story.
Why is it important for children to have books with central characters that look like them and share their experiences?
I was in my forties when I finally allowed myself to have a go at realizing my dream of writing a book. Before that, I didn’t believe I could ever become an author because I had never seen anyone like me in a book or writing a book. I really believe that I would have given myself permission to write much sooner if I had seen myself in books when I was a child.
The Newbery winning author Richard Peck said: ‘If a child does not ﬁnd himself between the pages of a book, he will go looking for himself in all the wrong places.’ I know that there are many children like me out there, looking but not ﬁnding themselves. My hope is that Tall Story – and all the books I write in the future – will act as a mirror. And that young readers, looking into the mirror and seeing themselves, will like what they see.
What for you would be important in terms of reflecting your heritage in a book?
Permission is important here – that a child of any colour will give permission to himself and others to become the heroes of just about any story. If they can do this with books, think of what they can achieve in every other thing that they seek to do!
Have you got any plans for a third book?
I am currently working on a book with a historical aspect to it – but told from the point of view of a people who have not previously told their own story. It’s challenging and very, very exciting. Watch this space!
Candy’s new book, Shine, comes out on 5 September 2013. You can order it here:
By Jamie Smith
I feel very lucky to be illustrating Ann Cameron’s series; the stories are jam packed with special moments and the characters are so vividly drawn. This makes illustrating the books a lot of fun – and there are always lots of options for the cover illustration.
I grew up in a family of four with a younger brother and unruly dog, so I really relate to the stories. For this reason the Tiger Tells All cover is one of my favourite illustrations. I’ve spent many hours chasing dogs around a back garden, with cats fleeing up trees and discarded socks strewn across the lawn. I too would struggle to resist dipping my finger into a voluminous lemon pudding, such as the one found in The Julian Stories. I really enjoyed this cover and one day soon I will follow the recipe in the back of the book, and see if it’s possible for the pudding to see out an evening unscathed.
My path always seemed destined towards a career in illustration, from the moment my grandmother first stepped into my classroom as a substitute teacher and instructed us to draw something. My efforts were doubled; I surrounded myself with coloured crayons (no doubt a little pink tongue was protruding from the corner of my mouth!) and produced a colourful hamster. It actually looked like a hamster, and from that day forward a sketchbook was my constant companion, even on holiday. I would devour comics, studying the artwork of Leo Baxendale in the Beano and recreating his characters.
My working process today is constantly evolving, and sometimes it still involves coloured crayons. I started life as a watercolour, dip pen and ink artist, but the Ann Cameron books are created with an array of pencils and some splashes of paint, and are brought together on the computer.
John Burningham was the first illustrator of children’s books to demand my attention, and though my influences are numerous and change daily I always return to the likes of Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey. There are so many characters that I would have loved to create, but I do have serious beard envy when it comes to Quentin Blake’s Mr Twit.
I work in a little studio at the bottom of my garden, flanked by apple trees and in the company of a huge array of birds and hungry insects. I could do with a friend like Gloria, to point out when my backside is covered with ants!
Jamie Smith illustrates the Julian and Huey books by Ann Cameron. To see Jamie’s work in action, check out Tiger Tells All, The Julian Stories and Julian’s Glorious Summer!
I live part of the year in Guatemala, and part in Portland, Oregon, USA. One summer day in Portland I was walking in a park with two friends, Cati, who teaches seventh grade, and Dave, a doctor, who started telling me about their dog and cat. Their dog, Tiger, was very smart and very patient, and took care of the cat, who was a terrible risk-taker. The cat climbed up a tree and sat on a branch a man was sawing off the tree. The cat actually got stuck in the toilet while trying to drink the toilet water. And then, unnoticed, the cat jumped into the freezer with all the frozen food, and Cati didn’t notice and shut her inside. Could the wise dog save her from that? He did.
Tiger – what a hero! I wanted to write about him and her. I didn’t need to make anything up. The whole plot for the book had just fallen into my lap. All I needed to do to write it was to see things from Tiger’s point of view. I wrote Tiger Tells All in just three weeks, and it turned out really good and funny. Just as if Tiger was dictating it to me. Maybe he was!
Ann Cameron is the author of seventeen books, including the timeless series of stories featuring brothers Julian and Huey, and she has been a finalist for the U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Please visit anncameronbooks.com for further information about Ann and her books.
Don’t you sometimes wish you could skip all those long, boring journeys and just get from one place to another at the click of a button?
In my book Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed, my character discovers a way to do exactly that! Just imagine being able to go anywhere in world in an instant! Impossible! I hear you cry, but there are scientists working on it at this very moment. It’s called teleportation.
Teleportation means that you would be able to get from one place to another in seconds.
This year, scientists have been able to teleport a teeny particle called a photon a distance of 140 kilometres. It’s still a long way from people being able to get around without using cars, buses, trains, and planes, but it’s a start.
So, what would you use teleportation for? To get to school in the mornings? To go to a warm sandy beach? The North Pole? Maybe even the moon?
Right now, I would teleport myself to the kitchen to make a nice cup of tea…
You can follow Madhvi on Twitter at @madhviramani and Tamarind at @TamarindBooks
Download the latest Children’s Reading Partners Chatterbooks poster featuring Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed here.
It seems that every day I’m adding to the list of fans for Now is the Time For Running by Michael Williams. This book was acquired quietly, thus without an auction or much fanfare so perhaps you haven’t heard of it… yet. Of course, it can be fun (and nerve-racking*) to win a book in a heated auction, but there is a particular delight in acquiring a book quietly, like finding a precious gemstone which you slip into your pocket and treasure, sure that you will delight everyone when they finally see it…And delighted they are:
Today I received a lovely email from the latest fan, Jason Wallace, who said: Thank you for letting me read it, that said, I did find it quite difficult keeping my enthusiasm down to a minimum number of words!!!!. Jason’s quote (see below) will join the inimitable Bali Rai whose quote will also feature on the front cover. And there’s more: Michael Williams has fans at the Bookseller, Bookbag, Goodreads and Kirkus. That comes on top of a marketing, sales and publicity team who have phoned and emailed me to say that they were touched by Michael’s writing, that they shed tears and that they simply love the book. High praise indeed – our sales team don’t cry easily.
With all this good will, what next? Well, the book hasn’t been published in the UK yet, so we wait and hope that it will find a home in the hearts and bookshelves of those who love children’s and YA literature. As a reader, an editor, I wish this with all my heart.
*obviously not nerve-racking like heart surgery but for the delicate sensibilities of an editor, auctions can be rather heart pounding.
REVIEWS SO FAR
The triumph of human endeavour against a harrowing landscape… A gripping, powerful tale that will more than touch your soul. Quite simply, this story needs to be read. Jason Wallace
A wonderfully written, thought-provoking novel that brings the grim reality of life for ordinary Zimbabweans into sharp focus. It deserves a wide audience. Bali Rai
Heartbreaking, unputdownable tale of prejudice, resilience and brotherly love. Fiona Noble, Bookseller
I found this story incredibly troubling and moving; Deo and Innocent will stay with you. Clare Poole, Bookseller
Extremely powerful and it wrings every possible emotion out of its readers. The football is as exhilarating to read about as it is for Deo to play. Bookbag
Gripping, suspenseful and deeply compassionate. Kirkus Review
Wonderful. A must-read for anyone who loves international YA fiction . . . very brave. Goodreads
Author of Skin Deep and Spike and Ali Enson, Malaika Rose Stanley, contributed a fantastic blog post for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure last week. In Black, White and Just Right Malaika compiles a list of children’s and young adult fiction which feature mixed-race and mixed-heritage main characters. The list includes titles from authors such as Bali Rai, Philip Pullman and Rick Riordan. However, it was not easy to put the list together. As Malaika says, ‘It’s a short list – and not in a good way – but in the end, isn’t quality always more important than quantity?’ We couldn’t agree more Malaika.
To read the full article, follow this link: http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com/2011/11/black-white-and-just-right-malaika-rose.html