5 Questions for Mahtab Narsimhan

Interview by The Young Adulting Editors

Mahtab Narsimhan is an award-winning author with numerous acclaimed books in the fantasy, horror, mystery, and contemporary genres. Many of her books have landed on prestigious award lists, and The Third Eye won the Silver Birch Fiction Award in 2009. She is inspired by the desire to make sense of the world through stories and is deeply committed to representing diversity in her books. Please visit www.mahtabnarsimhan.com for more information

1) Hello Mahtab! Thank you so much for joining us here at Young Adulting. We are so excited to have you! You write for a variety of age groups, with books tailored toward middle grade and young adult readers, as well as a few picture books! What do you love most about writing for younger readers?

Thanks for inviting me!

Of all the age groups I’ve written for, middle-grade novels are my favourite! The sense of wonder this age group still retains is a joy to experience. They’re enthusiastic about the story, the settings, the characters, and their well-being, long after the story is over. The characters become their friends, and frankly, I’m thrilled.

There’s no greater joy than to connect with readers through a book I’ve spent years crafting, and have them love it as much as I do.

Though I love writing picture books, chapter books, and young adult novels, I always return to writing novels for tweens, or middle-graders. It’s like coming home.

2) If you could pick a book that has influenced you most in your writing career, what would it be?

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I read it in fifth grade and it was an unforgettable experience. At the time, I didn’t know that it was a book in the fantasy genre for kids, or that it was called a portal fantasy. All I knew (and loved!) was the magical world of Narnia, accessible from the back of an ordinary wardrobe, where time behaved in strange ways. Animals could talk, and magic was everywhere. This book was a watershed moment and since then, I’ve been drawn to fantasy literature.

Another book that had a profound influence on me when I was younger was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. Four siblings move to the countryside, discover an enchanted wood in their backyard and have lots of adventures in various lands that come to the top of the faraway tree.

Both these novels had me peering up at treetops or into the backs of wardrobes. Just in case…

I know better now. I have only to look inward and let my imagination create exciting adventures.

3) Your new young adult novel, Careful What You Wish For explores themes of bullying and loneliness through a teen girl who struggles to fit in. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write this book?

In the last couple of decades, we’ve all seen the devastating influence of social media on kids and teens. Everyone is glued to their phones or tablets. Nowadays, when I use public transit, the one thing that saddens me immensely is that barely anyone is looking up, out, or around. That tiny device captures everyone’s attention. Their world view is filtered through what is “fed” to them, their self-worth measured in likes. I don’t think they’re attuned to the real world. Cyber-bullying has led to tragic consequences.

Paired with the above was the wish-fulfillment dream most of us have. If our wishes/dreams could come true, but at a heavy cost, what would we do?

All these observations informed my decision to write a story about the dangers of looking for friendship on unknown sites and its consequences.

4) What is your favourite part of the writing process?

The initial creation of the plot, settings, characters, and all the brainstorming which goes into it. I even enjoy the first draft because I give myself permission to write as badly as I want. Then come the countless revisions. Those can get tedious because I’m already brainstorming my next story.

Having said that, holding a book “baby” in my hands is a joy that never goes away, and one I’ll never take for granted. Since I mostly write fiction, I always get a thrill knowing that this story is a product of my imagination. When I do school visits and listen to students identify with and love these characters, I realize that all those hours, days, years of solitude and creation were well spent.

5) You offer valuable presentations and workshops for children and young adults to learn more about writing, books, as well as your own personal and professional experiences. Why do you think it’s important for authors to connect with young readers?

While I was in school, I didn’t meet any authors. Like so many of my generation, I always thought anyone who’d written a book was dead, or in a tall tower. Totally unapproachable. When I immigrated to Canada and took up writing for children, I finally met the authors of books I’ve read and loved. It was such an eye-opening experience to know they were ordinary people, like me, who had the talent and the discipline to work hard and publish books.

It’s important for kids to meet authors to understand that books do not emerge, fully formed, like a phoenix out of the ashes (out of our heads in this case). We sweat and toil to perfect our craft and we’re forever learning. For any student who aspires to be a writer, knowing about the journey and the obstacles is valuable information.

Even for those who don’t want to write, but merely enjoy reading books, be it fiction, or non-fiction, it’s a worthwhile exercise to meet the creators. To understand the work that goes into it and be inspired to apply that same dedication into whatever field they decide to pursue.

It’s even more important for authors who tackle difficult topics based on their own experiences, to connect with young readers. Their stories, and struggles, can inspire and give hope to the kids who may be experiencing similar challenges.

I firmly believe that students meeting the authors of the books they read is a win-win, all around!

For extra content, Mahtab chatted with our managing editor about writing for children and young adults! Be sure to check out the recorded conversation on our new YouTube channel!

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