Payal Kapadia is an author of many bestselling books and is the recipient of the 2013 Crossword Book Award(Children’s Literature) for Wisha Wozzariter. She lives in Mumbai with her husband, two daughters who enjoy breaking the rules just as much as she does, more laptops than one family should own up to owning and no dogs. Yet.
Me: Congratulations Payal on the release of your new novel ‘Twice Upon A Time‘. It seems so promising. But first what I need to ask everyone is were you always a reader?
Payal: As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved reading. Perhaps it was because I had so much more free time than kids these days – no extra classes of any sort, no screens to distract me. I recall the neighbourhood librarian, a rather severe old man, calling my mother to complain about the huge library bills I was running up!
Me: Who were some of your favourite authors as a child?
P: I grew up with much more limited reading fare, but I read everything by Enid Blyton and still own my old copy of The Magic Faraway Tree. I also read Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis.
Me: What do you love most about writing for children?
P: The space it gives me to be recklessly imaginative! Children are so much more adept at suspending disbelief than grown-ups are.
Me: Where do you get your inspiration from?
P: From the world around me. From people, from the news, from books I read and things I see. And when the real world proves disappointing, I invent.
Me: Your debut ‘Wisha Wozzariter‘ met with so much success and praise. You even won the Crossword Book Award for Children’s Writing for it. How did you feel?
P: There’s nothing like an award to beat writer’s block. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was ten – and yet, when I sat down, at the age of 30, to write Wisha Wozzariter, I felt uncertain. At one point, I got so stuck that I put the book away, half-done, and returned to it only six years later when Penguin offered to run it even though they’d only seen half of it!
Winning the Crossword Award made me realize that I was on to something. That I could write. That I hadn’t been all that wrong as a 10-year-old who’d dreamed of being an author. It gave me the courage to keep writing.
Me: How has the journey been from there till today as an author?
P: It’s been a magical journey, and I’ve cut my teeth on different kinds of books. I like writing books that I have no idea how to write. Sometimes it’s frustrating, or downright terrifying, but at the end of it, like a hero in an adventure, I see how I’m better for attempting it anyway. I’ve written ‘Horrid High’ and ‘Horrid High: Back to School‘ – and I was quite unprepared for how popular they became with kids. I wrote a biography of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, drawing upon my background and training as a journalist. And I wrote ‘Maidless in Mumbai‘, a book for grown-ups though there’s nothing grown up about it! And with ‘Twice Upon a Time‘, I set myself the challenge of taking the tired old princess convention and doing something clever with it.
Me: Tell us more about your recent release ‘Twice Upon A Time’ and why is it important to you?
P: When my editor at Penguin suggested I write a princess story, my first response was to say no. Why would I tell a princess story when it’s been told so many times before? But then I thought of my two daughters. They’d both grown up reading princess stories. They’d both loved pink and gone through an ‘everything should be pink’ phase — and now hated the colour. And while they wanted to be in a princess story, I was afraid they were growing up too fast. And that they’d outgrow the princess story faster than I could write it.
This got me thinking. Could the classic princess story be tweaked to reflect what it’s like being a girl – or a boy – these days? Could I come up with a new sort of princess story for girls who’ve outgrown princesses? Even maybe, just maybe, a princess story that isn’t only for girls?
That’s when I told my editor I’d write the book. I simply had to.
Me: The book is marketed for 9+ audience. It’s such an impressionable age. How you to intend to impact their mindset/thought process through ‘Twice Upon A Time’?
P: I don’t write any of my books with the intention to alter how my readers think. I write to tell a story that reflects the world in a new and original way. And I can’t resist the temptation of overturning stereotypes.
Of course, when Princess Keya quits her princess job and a bubble-gum-chewing girl called Nyla lands up to fill some very fancy shoes, I’m hoping that my readers will want to know what happens next. Maybe they’ll find that there are many different ways to be a girl, a boy, or a person. That princesses – and people – don’t have to do big, bold things to become big, bold heroes. (Though there has to be a dragon in a princess story, and I won’t disappoint my readers there!) Maybe they’ll find that real courage lies elsewhere. Maybe they’ll feel like retelling other fairy tales to make them fit our times. I do hope they’ll question everything they read and be willing to rethink it.
Me: Do you wish there were more books like this that redefined femininity when you were young?
P: Yes, I certainly wish I’d read more books that redefined being female, if that’s what you mean, because the biggest challenge for princesses (and girls) today isn’t fighting pirates or enemy armies. It’s fighting mass-manufactured definitions of who they should be.
Me: Why do you think it’s important for children to develop a love for reading?
P: I don’t think it’s ‘important’ for children to develop a love for reading, and what I mean is, we shouldn’t force children to read. Reading is the last bastion of freedom. Children will read only if books bring them joy, not if we turn reading into yet another educational enterprise by giving them exercises to solve or words to look up. But we can – and should – expose children to as many books as possible. Children who love reading grow up being imaginative, articulate and empathetic. I can’t imagine the world being in better hands than in the hands of a reader.
What are your thoughts on redefining feminity? Do you too wish there had been books like these when you were young?🙂Let me know in the comments.❤