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The Youth Whisperer

By Poornima Apte Email By Poornima Apte
September 2019
The Youth Whisperer

Nandini Bajpai has received rave reviews from industry trade publications for her novels that are a hybrid of both desi and American experiences. Writing for young adults is a challenge, but Bajpai has found her niche. Her latest novel is called A Match Made in Mehendi (Little, Brown).

What got you interested in writing books for children?
I loved reading when I was a child and I think that’s where it started. If you have read Enid Blyton’s books, too, you might remember that her signature was on every book cover, and though there was no author photograph that signature made her very real as a person in my mind. I dreamt of having books with my name on them one day—books about kids I could identify with instead of British kids doing British things. Then I grew up and that dream faded away. But when I had my own children and tried to find books that they could relate to, I realized that nothing had changed and there were still no quality books that reflected Indian or Indian- American children and their worldview and culture. So I tried to be the change that I wanted to see in the world, and write books for kids.

How difficult is it to write for a YA audience?
This is a tricky age group to write for. You can’t preach or moralize to them or sugarcoat reality. You have to try and be honest and write things as you actually see them. And yet, I also don’t believe in writing books with too many issues or unnecessary suffering. An optimistic and hopeful arc that also reflects reality is very necessary in books for young adults, and that is what I strive for.

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What are the biggest challenges and rewards in writing for children and teens?
The biggest challenge in writing contemporary YA is to stay in touch with the times when you are obviously not the same age as your characters. Of course people write horror and thrillers and science fiction without being aliens and serial killers, so it’s doable, but it takes research and empathy and a good group of beta readers who can call out mistakes. The biggest reward is to hear back from readers that have loved your books.

How do your books retain the touch of "Indianness" while also being American in essence? It's a tough balancing act to execute.
Well, you have to write from your lived experience and not edit out desi things that are part of your day-to-day just because they may not be part of mainstream American culture. I think there is no one proper way to write “Indianness” as there are many different versions of it, and some people are more assimilated and others less so without either being less valid. I can only try and put in what I have seen and experienced firsthand and hope that resonates and helps normalize the rich culture we’ve brought to the country.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to follow your path?
I would advise them to read, read, read widely. And when they’ve read a lot then to write, and keep writing even when the writing feels like rubbish. It gets better. Finally, get a critique group and get feedback and learn to revise. Reading, writing, and revising is how one becomes a writer. Then it takes a lot of patience because usually (though not always) there is a lot of waiting and rejection in the journey to get published. And I’d always advise aspiring writers to write from their own life experience as that is something only they can do.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love animals and I spend a lot of time with my pets. I also like nature, so walking my dog outdoors in the woods is something I really enjoy, and it also gives me the headspace to come up with story ideas. I love reading all kinds of different genres from nonfiction, especially history, to science fiction. I also love hanging out in libraries and bookstores and talking to kids.


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Poornima Apte is an award-winning writer and editor. Find her on Twitter @ booksnfreshair.



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