‘All of Me’ for children’s literature
Noted author Venita Coelho is set to release her new book ‘All of Me’ for young adults. The book features the famed jewel, the Kohinoor. Café speaks to the award-winning writer about the thought process behind writing for young adults
Based in Moira, Venita Coelho’s work revolves around a hectic schedule that contradicts her peaceful surroundings. She is juggling her career in writing and directing for Indian film and television as well as winning accolades for her children’s literature. She is the author of ‘Dead as Dodo’, which won her the Hindu Good Reads Award for Best Fiction for Children 2016 and ‘Boy No. 32’, which won the Hindu Young World-GoodBooks Fiction Award in 2018. Her latest book to hit bookstores is ‘All of Me’, published by Tina Narang at Harper Collins.
Based in London in 1854, Castor is imprisoned and his multiple personalities are trying to solve the mystery of why Castor was imprisoned. The clues lead them to the Koh-i-noor. What inspired Venita to take the young readers on this journey? “Inspiration never lasts. Anger does. When David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England, was visiting India some years ago, he was asked if his country would return the Koh-i-noor. His reply was, ‘I don’t believe in returnism.’ The colonial arrogance of that made me so mad it powered an entire book! The Koh-i-noor is central to the mystery in the book, and if you think it’s now in the crown of England – think again!” says Venita. The central character of the book, Castor, is dealing with multiple personalities including Mr Pickwick, Miss Trent, Skinner and The Infant Prodigy. Venita explains how the characters play together in the book. “Castor has been locked in a dark basement for years. He’s invented several personalities to keep him company. These personalities become detectives along with him to try and track down why he was incarcerated. I loved creating the personalities. Who would a little child, alone in the dark, want for company and comfort? Certainly a father figure, a woman’s touch, someone to play with, and someone really smart with all the answers. That led me to create Mr Pickwick the pastor, Miss Trent the governess, Skinner the street urchin, and, of course – the Infant genius. While I did a lot of research on multiple personalities, I finally approached it as a storytelling device.” The Kohinoor is one of the most debatable jewels in the world. It was on the crown of Queen Elizabeth in 1937 for her coronation as Queen consort. “I think there’s nothing debatable about the fact that the British stole it from us. They forced a 14-year-old Prince to hand it over to Queen Victoria. In later years, Duleep Singh called her ‘Mrs Fagin’. The British Museum in London is basically one giant crime scene filled with things stolen from cultures across the world. I thought it was time the colonised had their revenge. And how can a writer resist a jewel that is a ‘mountain of light’ and carries prophecies of death and despair with it?” she says. While writing for children is a huge challenge, this book was four years in the making. “I am always amazed at the number of first time writers who tell me they are writing a children’s book because it’s an easy start. It’s the toughest audience there is. Keeping their attention is very difficult. You have to work hard to engage them. But as long as you don’t talk down to them, I don’t think explaining any concept is difficult really. Just find the right story device. And remember – these are children who follow every single complication in ‘Avengers’ movies. They should certainly understand multiple personalities,” she says, adding, “I got the first draft out in a manic fit of writing during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. But the first draft was just too dark. I had to put it away for a long time to be able to see it afresh and rewrite it.” Her previous book, ‘Boy No. 32’, won the Hindu Award for Best Fiction. But awards are last on her mind when it comes to give quality reading to her young readers. “Children’s awards are so few in India that it’s always wonderful to get one. You’d imagine that publishers and parents would be more eager to recognise the storytelling that is shaping the world of their children. But you can’t sit down to write a book thinking about awards. That’s exactly the opposite of what a creative process should be like. You have to serve the story above all. Awards are a nice bonus but not at all what writing is really about.” As a single mother who practised home-schooling and is now starting an alternative school called ‘The Path Shaala’, for Venita, time is of the essence. “I try to get my writing out of the way early in the morning before the rest of my life takes over. If I get in three good hours then I’m done for the day. Luckily, writing for television is so tough and so relentless it teaches you to write in any situation and any circumstance – in auto rickshaws, in buses, at your child’s sports day... I just keep going,” says Venita with a smile. The book is available at bookstores and online platforms and Venita is planning an official launch soon. “Right now every bit of spare time is taken by the Path Shaala. I was hoping to launch the book on my birthday in July. As you get older, it’s difficult to find new ways of celebrating,” concludes Venita.
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