A Himalayan Affair: Interview With Priyanka Pradhan
Priyanka Pradhan is a Dubai-based journalist with over 12 years of experience in television, print and electronic media, across India and the UAE. Her debut children’s book, Tales From The Himalayas is a collection of 17 short stories published by Rupa Publications. The book was runner-up for the Montegrappa Writing Prize 2020 at the Emirates Literature Festival (Dubai), where it was picked amongst the top 5 manuscripts in the Middle East, from 600 entries. Priyanka also bagged the Ruskin Bond Promising Writer award for Tales From The Himalayas; at the Dehradun Literature Festival 2019 (October), where the manuscript was handpicked by Mr Ruskin Bond, from amongst hundreds of entries by Indians across the world.
- A few of the stories have been passed down to you from your grandmother. Do tell us how you wove these tales into your debut collection?
Some of the stories in the collection are my adaptations of folktales that my grandmother would narrate to me, as a child. I’ve retold these stories in my book, by updating them to reflect the times that we live in. I aimed to do this by incorporating contemporary issues that children deal with today.
For example, I’ve included themes such as colorism or color prejudice, body confidence and rejecting gender stereotypes, among others because these are issues that come up in their day-to-day lives and are important to address. There are also stories about environment conservation and wildlife preservation. There’s no set, ‘moral of the story’ here but you’ll find something that triggers a talking point. The idea is to discuss and ideate, not to preach.
- Can you tell us a little about how you put the collection together? What did you have to keep in mind considering your audience is young adults and pre-teens?
The 17 stories in the collection are varied and cover different topics- some are adventure stories, while others delve into darker subjects. Two stories in the collection are about real-life heroes from Uttarakhand while other stories are simply high on entertainment value. However, there’s a common thread that binds these stories together- the theme of building confidence and having faith in oneself.
Adolescence is such a tumultuous time for many of us- we don’t want to be called ‘children’ at this age. We want to be taken seriously but at the same time, are unsure about a lot of aspects of ourselves, our immediate world and the world beyond. The most important insight I got from reading books as an adolescent was to cultivate optimism, build confidence and to learn to have faith in my capabilities and judgement. My endeavour is to convey these aspects through my stories.
In all, there were 14 drafts for Tales from the Himalayas and it has changed a lot, over time.
- What was your writing routine and process? How did the book change along the way?
Well, I have the habit of quickly jotting down notes in a book or on my phone’s notepad whenever I get an idea for a story or a character. I find inspiration anywhere- while I’m dancing, painting, travelling or even eating something. My note-taking is also pictorial, with a lot of diagrams thrown in- I sometimes even draw out an entire story and then proceed to put it down in words.
So when I sit down to write, I assimilate all my notes and build upon them. The toughest part is to decipher my own handwriting and making sense of my crazy doodles.
In all, there were 14 drafts for Tales from the Himalayas and it has changed a lot, over time. I workshopped some of the stories in the collection, sent them to a few experts from the publishing industry and even just avid readers, for their critical feedback. This proved to be invaluable for me as a writer because it gave me an objective view of what worked and what didn’t.
- Do tell us a little about the story that got you started with the collection and one that stood out for you?
The story that got me started with this collection is the one I remember requesting my grandmother for, over and over again. It’s the story in the book called ‘Kafal’ – the memory is so vivid even now, it gives me goosebumps. Another story is based on a very popular folksong from Uttarakhand called,’Bedu Pakho’ – which has been such a big influence in my life growing up, I simply had to put it down.
But the story that stood out for me in this book is the last one, called, ‘Postcard’ because I drew from personal experience while writing about dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Image Courtesy: Instagram/@himalayan_tales
- As a debut author, what was your biggest challenge in publishing this collection?
The biggest challenge as a debut writer was the lack of guidance – how to approach a publisher? What should my pitch look like? Do writers even get positive feedback or am I just wasting my time submitting unsolicited manuscripts?
I’m glad a collective like Bound is here to help first-time writers, not only through writing workshops but also by offering advice and guidance through mentors who are published poets and novelists. This one-on-one contact with people established in the publishing world is crucial for debut writers.
To sum up, I believe persistence, perseverance and patience are most important for debut writers.