Freedom of… expression?

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What would you do if your stand is not the common one? Would you be quiet and unassuming? Or would you be unflinchingly honest and vocal?

If you remember the Perumal Murugan controversy, you would have also remembered the tremendous online and offline support the author received earlier this year. While I am in awe of his talent and, as a reader and as a writer, learned a lot from his Mathorubagan series, I belong to the small minority who were of the opinion that Perumal Murugan had erred when he claimed fiction to be fact.

Recently, I was discussing about the same with a writer friend and her parting response effectively (and temporarily) silenced me; she said, quote unquote: “You cannot afford to do this! I don’t hear any other writer saying what you’ve been saying, and that’s because they are smart – they know they would be boycotted by the industry if they say they aren’t supporting that guy.”

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Freedom of expression is not just about what you want to say. It’s also about what you dare to say, about how your lone voice should not be lost amidst the louder ones.

My friend’s words brought back the memory that I was, indeed, alone.  I also recalled another incident;  Author Charu Nivedita’s, at Chennai Book Fair in Jan 2014, declared that he found Mathorupagan to be an average novel and started to describe why, when he was attacked by Perumal Murugan supporters. His next blog entry revealed that he received death threats that entire week. For what? For speaking his mind against another author, of whose freedom of expression the world and his brother were supporting!

So here is my question: can good literature really be created by some one who is afraid to speak up her mind? Answer: NO.

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The freedom to speak up is synonymous with the freedom to write, and if one is subdued, the other will be too. If you suppress your external voice, the internal one will suffer too. I am not going to cater to the masses just so that I could be safe from the threat of “boycott”. And it’s not news either; the world always poses some threat or other to a creator; so whats one more?

I agree there are a lot of writers who did write masterpieces while living under dire circumstances, but let’s be honest here – we do not belong to that tribe. Most of us are privileged enough to possess a computer, an internet connection and at least an hour’s free time everyday to write. These tools are enough to write a legible sentence, but without the courage to stand your ground, without the proud beauty of honesty, your words would be artificial, hollow and prone to a short life.

This incident gave me two options: I could stay silent and write safe and forgettable words or I could be true to my beliefs and bring that daringness to my art. I choose the latter.

What about you?

Poynter’s Journalism workshop

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Why should a children’s writer attend a workshop on journalism & ethics?

Because she might:

1. Need guidelines / parameters. Though I write fiction, my research for the novels I write are based on often anonymous interviews and confidential confessions. I also maintain a craft blog, which is largely non-fiction and while I am no journalist, I do want to follow proper protocol while handling sensitive facts..

2. Learn e-techniques for better blogging. My blogger prowess stops with uploading content and video on WordPress – my goodness, there is so much more to learn, if I don’t want to become ‘e’xtinct soon!

3. Was SELECTED! I was one of the few selected to attend these workshops, sponsored by the awesome Poynter Institute of USA. When I started writing in 2004, I used their free website to learn the intricacies of writing and reporting, so it was particularly nostalgic for me to attend their pilot workshops in India.

Not yet full circle, but half way there I guess :). And no harm in having a personal chat with a professor from University of South Florida or attending a feature writing session by the Sunday Editor of Dallas Morning News!

I attended only the first day, since the second day was for newsroom journalists (not me) and the third day for journalism educators (not me, again). but the first day, zoning on digital journalism, was more than enough for me.  Casey’s presentation on digital journalism and Vidisha’s presentation on content dispersion online were the most info useful this blogger took away from the workshop. Here are some pics!

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Workshop for one

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The Picture Book Writing Workshop did not happen. I am no stranger to last minute cancellations; I always knew when people don’t pay upfront, they never really were interested in the first place. So I was content to push the workshop to a later date.

Yet one person, an artist and a storyteller, would not take no for an answer; he had arranged for transport (from Kancheepuram) and was eager to take part in the workshop. And I was glad to share my craft with him.

It’s not quantity, but quality that matters. I prefer to teach one passionate soul than ten curious ones.

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Credit: Silvia Viñuales / Photopin.com

Mr. Shafi, thank you for making it and addressing me as guru, even though you are decades older than me. And thanks for the gift of a pen, as your guru dhakshina… nobody has ever honoured me that way. I’ll always treasure it.

“How could I?” and other fan mail

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I never thought a WIP excerpt would offend anyone. But it has.

Some feathers were ruffled and questions have been raised. Apparently I can’t term myself as a children’s writer if I write stories about boyfriends who bite.

Technically that is right – a Young Adult (YA) writer is not a children’s writer. But a children’s writer can be a Young Adult writer.

I write stories for toddlers, 10 year olds, tweens and Young adults. Now do I write them well – only my readers can be the judge of it! I only know that I like writing for various age groups and I’m not going to stop it for anyone (I am having too much fun!).

Of course, I’m well aware of the danger of possible reader alienation, so I write cute, child-friendly stories under my real name and gritty YA stories using the pseudonym Smara. So I can assure you – no danger of a pre-schooler reading a PG 13 rated story 🙂

HOW CAN I

Credit: Imkelsi / Photopin.com

Teenage is like the twilight zone – everybody is a scared of it and most hardly know how to deal with it, including the person living it. A lot of parents (I know) have willfully suppressed the fact that teenagers, like children, do need unconditional acceptance along with guidance and support, in a different dosage, in a far subtle package. That’s why YA is and will always come under the umbrella term “Children’s writing”

Censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them. – Laurie Halse Anderson, author of SPEAK

So for the gentle reader who wondered how I could write “sexy” stories for teens and distract them when they are at such an impressionable age, three things:

1. Teen novels dealing with sensitive issues need NOT to be a negative influence. SPEAK has been credited as having influenced many teens, i.e., school girls, to come forward and report their rape / abuse by their boyfriends. Teach one to fight rather than hide, I say. Remember what that wise fish said?

2. Edgy YA is so saturated in the West that it has become the norm. At least such an extensive collection like that exists there – where’s ours? Indian teens face the same temptations and dilemmas as any average western teen, so why shy away from writing about it? It’s high time Indian kidlit had its own contemporary YA line.

3. Please wait till the book is finished and I will send you a free copy. “Sexy” is the last adjective you’d use to describe that series!

Picture book writing workshop in Chennai: March 15 (Sat), 5pm

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Head over to Annanagar on March 15, to take part in this 2-hour picture book writing workshop for budding writers!

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Credit: Cobalt / Photopin.com

In this PB writing workshop, you will

– learn what a picture book really is

– Know what appeals to children 

– Browse through various styles of PBs

– Visualise PB ideas and concepts

– Arrive at a good PB concept

– Draft your PB story as an outline

– Create a PB dummy

– Get your PB critiqued

– Receive free handouts and resources

Workshop fee includes handouts, materials and refreshments. For any queries, please contact Radhika Meganathan at contact@childrenswriter.in

To enroll, go to http://www.meetup.com/Childrens-writers-in-Chennai/events/166862782/