Welcome to the five hundred and thirty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author Jeyanthi Manokaran. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jeyanthi. Please tell us something about yourself.
Jeyanthi: Hi Morgen. I’m a writer and illustrator for kids living in Bangalore, India.
Morgen: You write non-fiction and fiction how do you decide what to write about?
Jeyanthi: I enjoy both genres. Fiction lets my imagination take wings – which is something kids love too. When I travel a bit and delve into folk art forms, I like to photograph the people I meet, interview them and put it all together with research.
Morgen: Since I’ve been eBooking, I’ve looked at photography differently; the composition to suit a front cover and where the title and my name would go. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Jeyanthi: Yes. Layouts for ebooks are different from print media, though they need the same creativity.
A pseudonym? Sometimes I like to shorten my long name to Jey Manokaran.
Some of my books are – ‘Saving Grandma’s Tree’ published by Scholastic, India. It is historical fiction, about the environmental Chipko Movement. Alerted by a little girl in their village, tribal women save their forest from being chopped down by a sports goods company.
‘Wake Up Lazybones’ is an Easy Reader written in a light-hearted tone and illustrated in the Warli Folk Art style for Scholastic, India.
Highlights Magazine, USA published a non fiction article ‘Magic Mitti’ about a day in the life of a potter’s son, with photographs by me.
I have just completed two picture books for the National Book Trust, India which have been sent to the Bologna Book Fair. I have used different forms of folk art from India to illustrate these books. The books have to be written so they can lend themselves to the folk art style.
Morgen: You certainly pick great topics. You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Morgen: You mentioned the Kindle, do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Jeyanthi: I do read e books but I love the feel of paper as well. But my daughter is quite addicted to e books.
Morgen: Most people I’ve spoken too enjoy both and I see no reason why they can’t live happily side-by-side. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Jeyanthi: Yes. I wrote the titles and designed the covers for all these books. It’s the most important ‘first look’ at your book that the reader gets to form an impression.
Morgen: They do have to entice the reader to investigate further. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jeyanthi: Something fun in fiction. Kids love a good laugh and so do I. The writing needs some clean up and I’m deciding on how I’ll illustrate it. I love experimenting with styles of illustration.
Morgen: Humour is so important. Even in the grimest stories (and I write some pretty grim ones) touches of humour can make it ‘human’. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jeyanthi: No. I can’t write everyday. I like to alternate between writing and illustrating. Sometimes, I take a break after I complete a book. When the ideas come flowing in, I jot them down, then build on them later.
Morgen: I love that you say the ideas flow in, I’m very lucky in that respect too. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jeyanthi: The first writing is fresh, but always needs to be edited a couple of times. It helps to have a good critique – my daughter or my son do this for me.
Morgen: That’s really handy. Do you have to do much research for your writing?
Jeyanthi: If its non-fiction, yes. There’s no such thing as too much research. To add depth to fiction and to sound authentic, some research helps.
Morgen: That true, although some authors do put too much information in their writing (and some make it feel like they’re showing off!). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jeyanthi: Yes. A few. But I do dig them out now and then to use the seed idea and transform it into something else.
Morgen: That’s what I plan to do with mine (except I keep coming up with new ones) because the more we write the more we know where we’re going wrong (and right). Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Jeyanthi: The National Book Trust of India commissioned me to write, but I do pitch for submissions abroad.
Morgen: I hadn’t realised until I started looking into the submission process (and adding them to the submissions page of my blog) how many opportunities there are out there for any genre of writing. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jeyanthi: So far, except for four articles in Highlights Magazine, USA, there’s been no luck overseas. I’ve learnt to take rejections in my stride and move on. It’s a competitive market and I don’t hang around waiting for answers – some editors are slow even to reject.
Morgen: And some don’t reply at all. Do you enter any non-fiction competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Jeyanthi: I did once try for the Scholastic Asian Book Award. Perhaps I could try again someday. It has to be an unpublished manuscript targeted at children aged 6 to 18 years, written by writers of Asian descent, living in Asia, set in Asia.
Morgen: If you have something you feel is suitable then you never know, you do have to be in it to win it. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jeyanthi: So far, I haven’t used an agent myself, but I think an author should try to publish her own work and then get in touch with an agent to do the nuts and bolts of the contract. Good agents are as tough to reach as good publishers.
Morgen: They are, sometimes harder and why many of us go down the self-publishing route. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jeyanthi: I do school visits whenever asked. I’m now looking at good bloggers like you, Morgen.
Morgen: Thank you very much. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Jeyanthi: The last edit. When I submit and later find there still is a mistake peeking at me from somewhere.
Morgen: Which is why you need as many extra pairs of eyes as you can. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jeyanthi: Don’t let rejections discourage you. Get a job that pays you and do this part time so you’re not dependent on the income.
Morgen: Oops. I quit my job in March and rely on having two lodgers (that’s been a bumpy ride this summer!) to pay the bills but I wouldn’t swap it back for my old life. Poor but happy isn’t just a saying. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Jeyanthi: Dick King-Smith, Roald Dahl, Georgette Heyer. A country dish for Dick King-Smith who was a farmer, something chocolatey for Roald Dahl who loved chocolates, and a crazy dish served with an aristocrat’s aplomb for Georgette Heyer who loved anything tongue-in-cheek.
Morgen: I’m with you on Roald Dahl. He’s my favourite short story author (and the inspiration for my twists in the tales) . Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Jeyanthi: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ~ Milton Berle
Morgen: They’re great but I especially love Milton’s. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jeyanthi: I get and idea and let it grow. I sleep on it, toss it over many times, when it feels true to me, I write it out as a story. Then I plot, plan, edit and chop.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Jeyanthi: My main characters usually spring from Me, Myself and I with all their infirmities. Though I do research the setting, my characters come first and drive the stories.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jeyanthi: Third person. No. I haven’t ever thought of writing from the second person POV.
Morgen: Second person is fun but an acquired taste. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing, and what do you do when you’re not writing?
Jeyanthi: Illustrating and photography. It’s a lot of fun and gives me a break from writing. I enjoy being with kids, teaching them some art and craft and some writing tricks!
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Morgen: I’ve heard of write4kids but not the others. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Jeyanthi: The linked in groups – some of them have good information and that’s where I found the link to your blog, Morgen. The SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and the Published Authors Groups are good.
Morgen: Ah yes, LinkedIn has been great, especially supplying me with a few months’ worth of authors to interview. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jeyanthi: e-publishing has opened new vistas and even more competition. The reader has a zillion choices. Word of mouth and readers’ ratings and critiques will be the way to become a best seller.
Morgen: I totally agree. My editor, for example, only buys eBooks with 20+ reviews of 4.5* and over, but then she gets given so many books anyway. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Jeyanthi: My website – www.sunbeam4kids.com.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jeyanthi: To write comfortably, all writers need to be in close touch with their target audience and with their inner selves.
Morgen: I love that. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jeyanthi: You are inundated with posts for your blog. What is it that makes an interview stand out?
Morgen: Various reasons really. Sometimes it’s for book content (I’ve only had to put a warning up on one so far), Sheila Quigley’s for the time it took her to get her novel published (30 years!) and (from memory) only one interviewee has said her (mainstream) publisher does all the marketing but she’s still very active on Twitter and Facebook so it’s part of the ‘deal’ of being a writer these days. Thank you, Jeyanthi.
I then invited Jeyanthi to include an extract of her writing and this is an excerpt from ‘Wake Up Lazybones’, about Cuckrukoo Cock and Bopu Buffalo.
Cuckrukoo had done a good job. He hopped off the fence. Oh! Oh! He was on Bopu Bufffalo who was fast asleep!
“Cuckrukoo!” crowed the cock in Bopu’s ear. But Bopu did not stir.
“CUCKRUKOO!” he screamed angrily.
Bopu twitched his ears and slept on.
The women brought water from the river and threw it on Bopu. Bopu enjoyed water. He turned and slept on.
The men circled around and blew a horn loud in his ear. It was a lovely lullaby.
The children pulled his tail and horns. They jumped all over him. Bopu felt soothed by the massage. He smiled in his dreams.
“Cuckrukoo! Cuckrukoo! Cuckrukoo!” yelled the cock who had never been disobeyed before. Bopu slept on peacefully.
This non-fiction picture book is multicultural, has photographs and gives insight into sericulture as a cottage industry in South India. Meet the people who are busy growing silkworms at home. These silkworms spin cocoons that are processed to make silk cloth.
Jeyanthi Manokaran lives in Bangalore, India where she writes fiction and non fiction and illustrates for kids. She has been published by Highlights Magazine, USA and Scholastic, India. With a writer’s scholarship from Highlights Foundation, USA, and a UNESCO award for illustrating, she reaches kids around the world with fun ideas.
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