[Anuradha is a creative writer and a translator. Known more for her works for children, she is always equally revered in the world of writing and editing for adult readership. She writes in English and Nepali. Her works have been translated into many other languages including Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Danish and several local languages in South Africa. She has also been published in Braille. She has won the Bal Sahitya Bishesh Puraskar Award twice (2009, 2010). One of her works, The Story of Babur: Prince, Emperor, Sage earned a spot in The Guardian‘s prestigious list of outstanding new picture books and novels and securing a place in the long list in the ‘Best Historical Fiction for Young People 2023’ category. Presented herewith is an edited version of Uday Adhikari’s conversation with author Anuradha.]
What sparked your interest in literary books?
When I was just a small child, too young to read or write on my own, my father used to read out Asterix and Tintin comics to me. I cherish those moments of sitting on his lap, engrossed in the colourful illustrations and exciting adventures. Down the years, I also discovered a treasure trove of comics like Archie’s and Chacha Chaudhary. Those early experiences sparked my curiosity and love for books.
As an only child, I often found solace and companionship within the pages of my favourite stories. Especially, during my time at the hostel, books became my best friends offering me a world of adventure and imagination that I could explore on my own. My school had an incredible library and I made the most of any little free time I had by immersing myself in books. I found myself drawn to mystery and thriller novels more than the romantic books that many of my friends enjoyed. Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie became my literary heroes and I couldn’t get enough of their captivating mysteries. I even started creating my own stories in my head and diligently recorded them in my diary, alongside my everyday experiences. I did the same when I used to write letters to friends and families as well. As I grew older, I began to explore a wider range of reading materials. My father also subscribed to Wisdom and Reader’s Digest, which I eagerly awaited every month. Those magazines exposed me to a diverse array of stories, articles, and ideas that further fuelled my passion for reading.
Similarly, I observed my parents reading books, newspapers, and various magazines that were always lying around our house and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by their reading habits. I think my interest in literature developed organically through a combination of all these factors and helped lay the foundation for my lifelong love affair with literature and eventually led me to become a children’s author.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Well, unlike those inspirational stories you hear about people getting struck by a lightning bolt of motivation or having a moment of profound enlightenment to become a writer, my journey into this world of words was more like a comedic twist in the plot. Picture this: a reluctant author-in-the-making, driven not by inspiration or motivation, but by sheer terror of her mother’s wrath!
It all started when my mother, who is a writer herself, seemed to have this grand vision of me following in her footsteps. I recall the day vividly when she insisted that I submit a story for a competition. At the time, I couldn’t help but feel that she was pushing me into this world of writing just because it was her world. I resisted the idea, arguing that I had other interests and passions. But, as you can probably guess, mothers have a way of being persistent, and she was no exception. So, in an attempt to avoid getting into yet another debate about my future, I reluctantly sat down to write a story. It was more of an effort to make her happy than anything else. I didn’t expect much from it, to be honest. I figured I’d write something, show it to her, and she’d finally see that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. So, armed with a pen and paper (or maybe it was a laptop, I can’t remember, but let’s go with the dramatic image of a quill and parchment), I began to write a children’s story. And something unexpected happened. I found myself getting lost in the process, in the act of creating a world and characters of my own. Once the story was ready, I sent it off feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness. To my surprise and immense joy, I received a special award for my submission. That recognition felt like a spark, igniting a flame of motivation within me. Thank goodness I have continued to write ever since, because it didn’t take long for me to come to a realization: I’m not particularly good at anything else!
So, it’s safe to say that I owe my career as a writer entirely to my mother’s unwavering persistence and determination. Little did I know back then that writing would become not just a way to make my mother happy but a genuine passion and a fulfilling career. It just goes to show that sometimes, the paths we resist the most can lead to the most unexpected and rewarding destinations.
How do you manage the delicate balance between your professional commitments and your family life?
I can’t help but notice that this question is often directed at women. While I appreciate the inquiry, I believe that achieving balance is a universal concern, regardless of gender. It’s my hope that we can collectively move towards asking this question of all individuals, acknowledging that everyone’s experiences and efforts in juggling responsibilities are valuable and worth discussing. I’ll gladly respond to this question when it becomes a standard inquiry for both men and women alike.
What are the challenges of creating literature for a woman writer? Are there no challenges for male writers?
The literary world is competitive for everyone, and both male and female writers struggle to stand out and find their unique voice amid the abundance of talented writers. Creating stories is a wonderful journey, but like any creative endeavour, it does come with its own set of challenges.
It’s important to note that both male and female writers can face difficulties, but they might manifest in different ways due to societal dynamics. For women writers, there can be some unique obstacles that they might encounter in their creative journey. For example, historically, the literary world has been dominated by male voices, and this can lead to gender bias in various forms – from fewer opportunities for publication to stereotypes about the kinds of stories women should write. Similarly, the lack of representation of strong, diverse female characters in literature can make it challenging for women writers to find relatable role models for their own work. This can also impact the kinds of stories that publishers are willing to invest in. However, it’s important to recognize that male writers also face their own set of challenges. For example, in some cases, male writers might face challenges in expressing vulnerability or exploring emotions in their writing due to societal expectations about masculinity. As a result, they might feel pressurized to adhere to certain genres or styles that are traditionally associated with male writers, limiting their creative expression.
The key is to support and uplift all writers, regardless of their gender, so that a diverse range of voices can contribute to the literary world. Each writer’s journey is unique, and by addressing these challenges, we can create a more inclusive and vibrant literary landscape for everyone. In my opinion, striving to come up with original ideas that resonate with readers while staying true to oneself is the biggest challenge for all.
It seems you have wholeheartedly devoted yourself to children literature. Why such urge for this genre?
There’s nothing quite like the joy of creating a magical world where anything can happen. I believe, crafting stories for children is a choice that brings immense joy and purpose to my creative journey. The opportunity to spark a lifelong love for reading while nurturing creativity is a privilege that fuels my passion. Children are curious explorers, eager to learn about the world around them. Through stories, I can introduce them to new cultures, ideas, and perspectives in a way that’s accessible and engaging. Moreover, stories have an incredible capacity to foster important skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence. Being a children’s author is a chance to inspire, educate, and enchant, all while contributing to the development of a generation that will shape the future.
Apart from that, like I said earlier, the first story that I wrote was for children. With time, as I continued to explore the field of children’s literature, a sense of responsibility began to emerge. I realized that just as I had the privilege of reading so many wonderful books from around the world during my formative years, our Nepali children also deserved the opportunity to experience the magic of stories that reflected their own culture, traditions, and values. This realization became a driving force in my writing journey. I felt a profound need to write Nepali stories for children, stories that would resonate with them, celebrate our unique heritage, and convey important life lessons in a relatable way. It was a way for me to give back to the community that had nurtured my love for literature and storytelling.
I have enjoyed reading some of your stories, in both, Nepali and English. However, I feel that those stories are now like children abandoned by their mother. Why are you so unkind to them?
Haha! I truly appreciate your heartfelt perspective and concern for my stories. Your analogy of these stories being like abandoned children makes me smile. In my defence, I would like to say that just like a child, each story needed nurturing, care, and devotion while it was in its formative stages. I dedicated countless hours to crafting and shaping these tales, pouring my heart and imagination into every word. Now that they have matured and found their place in the world as published works, it’s true that my role has evolved. However, rather than unkindness, my distance is a reflection of the natural progression of their journey. Imagine a parent watching their grown-up child venture into the world. While I may not be directly involved in their daily lives, I still hold them close to my heart. I watch over them lovingly, observing how they touch the lives of readers, evoke emotions, and transport imaginations to new realms. Just as a parent feels a mix of pride and nostalgia when their child reaches new milestones, I feel a similar sentiment as I witness my stories reaching out to readers of all ages. It’s a bittersweet feeling – one of letting go yet also experiencing a deep sense of accomplishment.
I want you to know that I will always hold all my stories dear, cherishing the journey we’ve shared and the adventures they continue to embark upon.
What is your opinion on the Women’s Rights Movement? Does the women’s movements in other parts of the world differ from the Nepalese women’s movement? How do you, as a children’s author advocate for women rights?
I believe that the women’s rights movement is an essential and empowering movement that promotes gender equality and advocates for the rights and opportunities of women. It’s about creating a world where everyone, regardless of their gender, has the freedom to pursue their dreams and aspirations.
While there may be similarities between the Nepalese women’s movement and women’s movements in other parts of the world, it’s important to recognize and respect the unique context and history of each movement. While the core issues of gender equality and women’s rights are universal, the specific challenges and strategies can vary based on cultural, social, and historical contexts as cultural factors shape gender dynamics.
The challenges faced by Nepalese women, as well as the strategies and achievements of their movement, may differ from those of women in other countries. The Nepalese women’s movement has been instrumental in raising awareness in various issues and advocating for policies that promote gender equality. The Nepalese women’s movement has also been active in combating harmful traditional practices and promoting women’s rights within the framework of the country’s cultural diversity.
Having said that, a matter of concern for me is that, sometimes, I see an excessive focus on gender disparities and identity politics. While there are valid concerns related to gender equality, some activists within the movement tend to emphasize group identity over individual merit and choices. This can potentially lead to unintended consequences, such as restricting free speech and infringing upon individual rights. We also need to understand the importance of acknowledging biological differences between men and women, suggesting that some gender disparities may have biological roots.
In my role as a children’s author, I have the opportunity to inspire young readers with stories that highlight the strength, resilience, and achievements of women from diverse backgrounds, including the Nepalese women who have contributed to their society and the women’s movement. By portraying these stories in an age-appropriate and culturally sensitive manner, I can help shape young minds to appreciate the importance of gender equality and social justice. For example, I am proud to have contributed to the internationally acclaimed Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls book, when it collaborated with Room to Read, last year, to publish She Creates Change. This book showcases twelve remarkable tales of girls from around the world, who have initiated positive change in their lives and the lives of others. These girls’ stories are paired with accounts of their heroes—inspirational women from across the globe. I was honoured to write five stories about powerful women from Nepal, India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Laos, contributing to the empowerment and education of girls worldwide through storytelling.
As a children’s writer of the new generation, how do you perceive your satisfaction with contemporary writing, and who, in your view, holds the power to reflect society’s changes? Does your perspective on the definition of literature differ from that of previous generations?
I’m delighted to be a part of the new generation of children’s writers, and I find immense satisfaction in the current state of writing. As authors, we have the power to reflect society in meaningful ways, shedding light on various issues and perspectives that shape our world. It’s our responsibility to capture the essence of our times and weave narratives that resonate with readers of all ages. Ultimately, as a children’s author, my focus is on crafting stories that engage young minds, encourage imagination, and impart valuable life lessons. I believe that literature for children is particularly powerful, as it lays the foundation for a lifelong love of reading and learning. It’s a privilege to be part of this dynamic literary landscape and contribute to shaping the literary experiences of the younger generation.
In terms of who holds the power to reflect society, I believe it’s a collective effort. Writers, along with artists, filmmakers, musicians, and other creative works, contribute to the multifaceted mirror that reflects our society’s complexities. Each medium offers a unique lens through which to view the world, and together, they form a more comprehensive picture.
The definition of literature is indeed evolving in this digital age. While the traditional forms still hold their value, new avenues such as digital storytelling, interactive narratives, and online platforms have expanded the horizons of literature. For me, literature is a bridge that connects emotions, ideas, and experiences. It’s about crafting words in a way that not only entertains but also sparks contemplation and empathy.
In today’s time, we too have become an active part of the world. How extensively do you engage with world literature?
Reading is the foundation upon which a writer’s imagination and creativity are built. I couldn’t agree more about the significance of reading world literature, and I firmly believe that we should read more than just our own.
It’s important to remember that world literature isn’t limited to the classics or adult fiction. Children’s authors, like myself, often draw inspiration from a wide range of literary books. I’ve found immense value in reading adult books from diverse cultures. These readings have enriched my understanding of human nature, societal dynamics, and storytelling techniques. Similarly, my formative years were indeed shaped by my exposure to world literature. For instance, the adventures of Asterix introduced me to the vibrant world of French comics, while Nancy Drew mysteries took me on thrilling journeys in the United States. Tintin whisked me away to captivating Belgian adventures, and the Famous Five led me on exciting escapades in England. Similarly, Hindi comics introduced me to the vibrant and diverse landscapes of India’s own storytelling traditions. These early encounters with world literature ignited my curiosity about different cultures and broadened my horizons.
After all, reading isn’t just a pastime, it’s a journey into the minds and hearts of others. It’s a way to gather inspiration, learn different writing styles, and connect with the world on a deeper level. So, while being an active part of the world is important, being an active reader is equally vital on the path to becoming a skilled writer. Reading world literature is like embarking on a journey around the globe, collecting experiences, stories, and insights that can be woven into the fabric of children’s literature.
Your recent book, ‘The Story of Babur: Prince, Emperor, Sage’ has taken your name across the globe. It has received some exciting recognition, earning a spot on ‘The Guardian’s’ prestigious list of outstanding new picture books and novels and securing a place on the long list in the ‘Best Historical Fiction for Young People 2023’ category. Can you tell something about how the project came about and your experience?
I’m genuinely humbled and grateful for this recognition and the book’s global reach. Baburnama is the memoir of Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, who was a Central Asian ruler and the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. His book is the Islamic literature’s first true autobiography written in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Early in January 2021, Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers, UK reached out to me with a proposal to write a children’s edition of the Baburnama. After a few emails and a couple of zoom meetings, by the end of January, we were ready to go ahead with the project. Eventually, the more I studied and researched on the subject, I was fascinated by the true story of a young boy whose life is no less adventurous than any fictional story. It was very interesting to get an insight into the cultural, literary and intellectual world of the time and to read about how Babur laid the foundation of the Moghul Empire in the Indian subcontinent. This was the first time I was writing a story based on an autobiography and I had to do research to a great extent. The Baburnama was not available in book stores here in Nepal and I had to get it couriered from India. Since this was during the pandemic, I had to rely hugely on online information. The next few months, I extensively read whatever information I could get my hands on. Also, I spoke to people to get an idea of what they knew about Babur. Similarly, I was in constant touch with my publisher who helped me verify the facts.
My experience of first time working with a publisher from abroad has been extremely interesting and what is more remarkable is that the book has now transcended linguistic boundaries after being translated into Russian, French, and Uzbek. It’s heartening to see the story of Babur reaching readers around the world, opening up new horizons and cultural exchanges.
Translation is tricky job but necessary one. What is your experience of translation? How challenging is it?
Absolutely, translation is indeed a fascinating yet challenging endeavour. As a children’s author and a translator, I’ve had the privilege of diving into the world of words and cultures in a unique way. Translating children’s literature comes with its own set of joys and difficulties. On one hand, translation allows me to bridge the gap between languages and cultures, making captivating stories accessible to a wider audience. It’s immensely rewarding to know that my work enables children from different corners of the world to enjoy the magic of storytelling.
However, it’s important to acknowledge the intricacies and challenges that come with the task. Preserving the essence, tone, and emotional impact of the original text while adapting it to a different language requires a delicate balance. In the world of children’s literature, maintaining the spirit of the original story while catering to the linguistic and cultural needs of young readers is a responsibility I take seriously. In the end, despite the challenges, being able to introduce young minds to new worlds through the power of translation is a rewarding journey that I’m grateful to embark upon as both a children’s author and a translator.
You work as a freelancer. Is survival possible for freelance children’s authors in their chosen field?
Survival for an author can mean different things to different people. By ‘survival’ do you mean achieving financial stability, gaining recognition and awards, or simply continuing to create and share stories?
In my case, surviving as a children’s author, and any author for that matter, is not just about writing and selling books. It’s about resilience, determination, and the willingness to explore different avenues within and beyond the literary realm. While making a living solely from writing and book royalties can be challenging, by diversifying income streams and engaging in related activities within the children’s literature field, authors can certainly enhance their chances of thriving in their chosen profession. It’s a dynamic and evolving field that requires adaptability and creativity, just like the stories we, as authors, craft for our young readers.
From my experience, to survive in this field, authors must be adaptable, evolving with the ever-changing publishing landscape. We have to try our hand at various writing styles, genres, or even venturing into related fields. This can open new doors. Another aspect that has helped me a lot is networking. It has become my compass, guiding me toward opportunities such as workshops, collaborations, and industry connections. So, while it may not be easy, the dream of flourishing as a children’s author remains attainable for those willing to embrace the journey.
Why don’t some adults read children’s books? Do you believe there’s a tendency among adult writers in Nepal to overlook the value of reading children’s books?
Why don’t some adults read children’s books? Hmm. Well, it’s a bit like refusing to eat ice cream because you think it’s only for kids. You are missing out on all the flavours and the delicious taste that it has to offer.
It’s indeed a rather unfortunate reality that many adults, including writers, often overlook the rich and valuable world of children’s literature. There are several reasons why this might be the case. Perhaps, some of them may have missed out on the experience of reading children’s books during their own childhood. Without that exposure, they might not fully understand the profound impact and depth of emotion that well-crafted children’s literature can offer. Their reading habits might have been cultivated with adult literature, making it their preference as they grew older. Apart from that, there’s a common misconception that children’s books are simplistic or trivial, which can discourage some adults from exploring them. They might perceive these books as less intellectually stimulating or less relevant to their mature interests. This misconception is quite unfortunate, as many children’s books tackle complex themes, emotions, and issues, often in a beautifully concise and accessible manner. Furthermore, there might be a social stigma associated with adults reading children’s books, as some individuals believe that such literature is beneath them. This kind of bias can prevent adults from openly embracing children’s books. However, it’s essential to challenge these preconceptions and encourage adults, including writers, to explore the world of children’s literature.
On a positive note, it’s encouraging to see that many adult writers in Nepal are venturing into writing children’s books. This trend is a good start in breaking down the barriers that separate adult and children’s books. Doing so can not only provide a broader perspective on storytelling but also offer fresh insights into creativity, imagination, and the universal themes that transcend age boundaries.
Illustrations are a vital component of many children’s books. How do you collaborate with illustrators to bring your stories to life visually, and what role do illustrations play in conveying your narratives?
It’s fascinating to see the evolution of the relationship between authors and illustrators in the field of Nepalese children’s literature. The shift from having no say in illustrations to actively collaborating with talented illustrators is indeed a significant development. We have reached a point where, as authors, we can recommend illustrators to publishers. We (author, illustrator, editor and publisher) engage in discussions and it allows for a deeper integration of the author’s vision with the visual elements of the book, creating a more cohesive and enriching reading experience for young audiences.
As for the role that illustrations play in conveying my narrative, I have repeatedly mentioned that the credit of the success of my books undoubtedly goes to illustrators as well. It’s really the power of teamwork and the ability of words and visuals to come together harmoniously to create memorable stories. Especially, when it comes to pictures books. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for both authors and illustrators, as well as the young readers who get to enjoy the fruits of this creative collaboration. Ensuring that our stories are not only well-told but also beautifully illustrated, makes them even more enchanting for children.
The world of children’s literature is diverse and ever-evolving. What trends or changes have you observed in children’s literature recently, and how do you adapt your writing to resonate with today’s young readers?
It’s been thrilling to witness the recent trends and changes in the world of children’s literature. One of the most noticeable shifts has been the growing emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in children’s books. There’s a greater recognition of the need to represent a wide range of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences in stories, ensuring that all young readers can find characters who resonate with them. To adapt to these changes, I’ve been proactive in creating characters and narratives that reflect this diversity. It’s essential to me that my stories are inclusive and that they offer windows into different worlds while also celebrating our shared humanity. I believe that books have the power to foster empathy and understanding among young readers, and it’s our responsibility as authors to harness this potential.
Furthermore, the focus on mental health and emotional well-being in children’s literature has gained prominence. There’s a growing awareness of the importance of addressing complex emotions and mental health challenges in an age-appropriate manner. Not very long ago, I did a project in collaboration with the British Council where I conducted a story writing workshop for children aged 10-18, with focus on gender and mental health. It was a pleasant surprise to see how children of today are aware of these issues and their depth of knowledge in these subjects was truly impressive.
Another trend I’ve observed is the increased use of technology and interactive elements in children’s literature. With the rise of digital platforms and e-books, there are new opportunities to engage young readers through multimedia experiences. While I cherish the traditional printed book, I’ve also explored these digital avenues to reach tech-savvy young readers.
Staying updated to these evolving trends in children’s literature is essential to remain relevant and connect with today’s young readers. It’s an exciting journey, and I look forward to continuing to evolve and grow as a children’s author in this dynamic and ever-expanding field.
How ambitious are you as a writer?
My ambition is unwavering when it comes to my commitment to delivering quality children’s literature. My ambition as a children’s author is not just about the books I create but also about the positive impact I can have on young minds.
I am dedicated to pushing the boundaries of my creativity, promoting diversity and inclusion, and being a source of inspiration for children as they embark on their own literary journeys. I am deeply passionate about my work as a children’s author, and I approach each project with a high level of dedication and enthusiasm. I constantly strive to improve my craft, explore new storytelling techniques, and connect with my readers on a deeper level. My ambition as an author is to create engaging and meaningful stories that resonate with young readers, spark their imagination, and leave a positive impact on their lives.
I view constructive feedback as a valuable tool for growth and am open to refining my storytelling techniques to captivate my audience even more effectively. Therefore, I engage with my readers by taking part in interactive events, workshops, and readings at schools and libraries. It not only provides an opportunity to meet my readers in person but it is also a great way of receiving direct and honest feedback on my writings. Interacting with an audience also allows me to inspire the next generation of storytellers and foster a love for literature.
What is beauty? What is the politics of women’s bodies? And why are women showing interest in beauty pageants despite knowing this?
Ah, the age-old question of beauty, and the complex politics surrounding women’s bodies! You know, in the world of literature, is a bit like attempting to understand why writers insist on using that old typewriter from the 1950s when we have sleek, modern laptops at our disposal.
Despite knowing the complexities and politics surrounding women’s bodies, some women participate in beauty pageants for various reasons. Sometimes, a desire to conform to certain beauty standards or even just a pinch of curiosity can play a role. And sometimes, it’s the thrill of showcasing their talents, the allure of opportunities, or the chance to make a positive change in the world (or perhaps just to wear a sparkly crown – who can resist?). If I compare it to the world of literature, it is similar to authors subjecting themselves to countless interviews about their work, even when we know the questions are as predictable as a sunrise in the east. Sometimes, it’s the thrill of sharing our unique stories and perspectives, the chance to connect with readers, or simply the opportunity to shine a spotlight on our literary creations.
Beauty is a multifaceted concept. It encompasses physical attractiveness, sure, but it’s much more than that alone. It is also about confidence, kindness, intelligence, and quite frankly, a killer sense of humour. Beauty is as unique as a fingerprint, and it’s perfectly okay to embrace it in your own way, whether you’re wearing a tiara or a pajama. So, let’s celebrate the diversity of beauty because at the end of the day, it’s the quirks and imperfections that make us all beautifully human.